Demand Justice for Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza

Photo: Red Franciscana para Migrantes

Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza was murdered on March 27 in the Tumbe Ka neighborhood of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. She was killed by members of a municipal public security patrol, who first handcuffed her and then continued to press on her body to subdue her, breaking her neck in the process. Victoria was originally from El Salvador and was in Mexico with her two youngest daughters, as refugees.

Victoria’s case is not isolated. Thousands of migrant women fleeing violence in their countries of origin paradoxically become victims of direct, structural, and symbolic violence in Mexican territory, making them a vulnerable group, making urgent the call for dignified care and respect for their human rights, in accordance with the law, as established in Article 1 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and in various International Treaties signed and ratified by the Mexican State.

Violence, brought about by immigration policies applied by the Military and the National Guard, exacerbates racism and xenophobia on the part of the authorities at all three levels of government: municipal, state and federal.

The Quixote Center, as a member of the Franciscan Network on Migration, joins with them in rejecting this femicide, which is fraught with xenophobia, racism and discrimination on the part of the police authorities. 

Migrants are not criminals, they are not a criminal threat; but in cases such as this one, they are victims of corrupt police and local governments. We join the call by her relatives in demanding justice — zero tolerance for impunity in this case, which has drawn attention and been publicized on social networks. The officers involved have been detained at this time, but justice, as we know, still requires much more work.

Accordingly, we join the Franciscan Network on Migration in demanding from the Mexican authorities at all three levels:

  1. Respect for the human rights of each and every migrant regardless of their immigration status.

  2. Policies aimed at preventing and eliminating all types of discrimination and xenophobia by the authorities.

  3. The intervention of the Consulate of El Salvador and Mexican authorities, to provide protection to the daughters of Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza, exposed to physical and psychological violence, where the best interests of minors prevail.

  4. To the Attorney General of Quintana Roo, the correct handling of the investigation file, with respect for due process, as well as reparation for damages and non-repetition of the violation of the human rights of migrants.

  5. In conformity with the rule of law, we strongly urge that victims be offered adequate reparation, including compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction (including restitution of reputation and public recognition of the damage suffered).

For more information on this case:

“Who Was Victoria Salazar? Woman’s Death at Tulum Police Hands Evokes George Floyd” in Newsweek, March 29, 2021

“Missing Teen, Daughter of Woman Killed in Mexican Police Custody, Is Found” in VOANews, March 31, 2021

“Comunicado público sobre asesinato de Victoria Salazar” Franciscan Network on Migration, April 1, 2021. 

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At the border: 2019 was worse. What can we learn from this?

CNN reported on Thursday, April 1, “There were about 17,650 unaccompanied migrant children in US government custody….including 5,767 in CBP custody.” So, 5,767 in Border Patrol custody, leaving “about” 11,883 in the custody of Health and Human Services (or in the process of being transferred into HHS custody).

In July of 2019, there were well over 14,000 children in HHS custody. Indeed, between October of 2018 and September of 2019, the average daily population of kids in HHS custody never dropped below 11,000!! 

Meanwhile, Border Patrol facilities were packed: A daily average of people in custody hovered at 16,000 in June of 2019 – including children, families and single adults. The people evaluating detention practices at Border Patrol stations were shocked at conditions, and the publication of their findings led to a widespread outcry.  In an interview with The Atlantic, Warren Binford, an attorney inspecting facilities, said:

Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

At the border today, there are again a large number of unaccompanied minors, in numbers that apparently exceed current capacity at HHS shelters to receive them (though it is not clear why). The scenes of kids in crowded pods are a striking reminder of the sorry state of U.S. border policy. However bad that it is, it does not approach the catastrophe that faced migrants, including children, on our border in the late spring and summer of 2019. 

One reason is that there are fewer people in custody today. While the number of kids in custody is high today, this is not true of the overall population – which is actually very low by historical standards. In fact, the vast majority of migrants apprehended attempting to cross the border are single adults and they are being expelled immediately under “Title 42.” Title 42 is an abusive policy which claims authority under public health provisions of the federal code to expel people. 536,000 people since last March. We oppose this program. Last week we released a report with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack Network documenting multiple problems with Title 42, with a particular focus on harms to Haitian migrants. The fact that people are being summarily expelled in this manner is a shocking abdication of responsibility. 

What this also means, however, is that there are far fewer people in custody right now than any point in recent history. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention soared during the summer of 2019, reaching an all time peak of 55,000 people in custody a day by August. Currently the number of people in ICE custody is less than 14,000 (data sheet linked here – updated weekly) – the lowest level in over 20 years.

As noted, Border Patrol facilities were well over-capacity in 2019 – above and beyond the number of kids in custody. In addition, record numbers of people were being redirected for Federal Prosecution for “illegal entry” or “illegal re-entry” at the time as part of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy. As a result, at least 23,000 people were either in Federal Bureau of Prison or Marshall Service custody on any given day serving time or in pre-trial detention. Indeed, as we reported at the time, there were approximately 100,000 people in some form of immigration detention in July of 2019. We are nowhere close to that now.  In addition, there were tens of thousands of other people (approximately 50,000 in summer 2019) waiting in Mexico to make an asylum claim under the Migrant Protection Protocol. 

Comparing 2019 to today raises a couple of important points. 

First, the U.S. immigration system remains broken. It is a disgrace that people are treated this way. But the situation now is by no measure worse than we saw in 2019. Talks of a 20-year high in apprehensions ignore that 80% of the people apprehended are pushed back out of the country within two hours of being encountered by Border Patrol under Title 42. Ignoring this fact also seriously mischaracterizes what is happening right now compared to other periods in history, when detention was much higher and conditions far worse. Also, while we may hit a 20 year high in total apprehensions before the year is over, we are still below 2019 at this point (April 2, 2021).

Secondly, we want to shout at Biden and his team with every decibel we can muster: Deterrence DOES NOT WORK!!! It is increasingly infuriating to hear the media talk about this increase in numbers as a result of the perception that Biden is going easy on people. There is anecdotal evidence of this, of course. Reporters can always find people who will say they expect Biden to be nicer. The administration needs to ignore this narrative, which implies generosity is an invitation to crisis, and, therefore, deterrence works.

A far worse human rights debacle was visited upon migrants, amidst a larger increase in border crossings while Trump was president. Trump’s DHS brutalized people, proudly and on camera, under the delusion that doing so would keep others from trying to come. It did not work! The twenty year peak in apprehensions actually happened while Trump was president – the year after his administration decided that taking people’s children would be an effective deterrent. If Trump’s immigration program failed to “deter,” Biden needs to rethink the idea that staying tough-ish is the answer. 

People are fleeing desperate circumstances and their decisions to leave home generally have nothing to do with U.S. border policy! For example, people from Haiti arriving at the border today generally left Haiti years ago, and are actually arriving from Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere. Yet, the U.S. embassy in Haiti this week is posting pictures of Biden telling Haitians “not to leave.” It is a patronizing and frankly ignorant response to the criticism Biden has received for expanding removals to Haiti.

Finally, Border and Customs Services proudly proclaims it processes 650,000 people a day. Given that, I have to ask how on earth 400 unaccompanied kids crossing a day is crippling the system? So, rather than doubling down on Title 42 expulsions, and co-opting Mexico to yet again play enforcement partner, as Biden is currently doing, resources should be redirected to facilities that improve processing  at the border so these kids are spending minimal time in custody (more asylum screeners and less Border Patrol for example). Also we need to be sure that adults and families can also be interviewed quickly, screened for COVID-19 and released safely upon the revocation of Title 42 – which must happen now.  People will keep coming – we need to be clear on that and adapt our approach to be far more humane. The media sensationalizing the border situation, however, is not helping.

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Media Release: The Invisible Wall: New Report on Title 42 and impact on Haitian migrants


Media Contact:

Nicole Phillips, Legal Director, Haitiian Bridge Alliance,, +1 (510) 715-2855

Tom Ricker, Policy Director, The Quixote Center,, (301) 922-8909

Biden’s Invisible Wall: New Report Describes the Hardships that Title 42 Expulsions Create for Haitian Migrant Families and Calls on Biden to Stop Expelling Migrants to Haiti

San Diego, California, March 25, 2021 — Today, one year after the “Title 42” policy was enacted, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Quixote Center and UndocuBlack release the report, The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impacts on Haitian Migrants, and call on the Biden-Harris Administration to immediately revoke Title 42 and end expulsions to Haiti. According to Guerline Jozef, Executive Director of Haitan Bridge Alliance, “Most if not all of the expulsions to Haiti are per the Title 42 policy, which was adopted  under a false pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Title 42 is Trump’s invisible wall that effectively closed the U.S.-Mexico border to migrants.” “Our Report,” says Ms. Jozef, “presents the voices and hardships of Haitian migrant families who have been abused in immigration custody and then expelled under the Title 42 policy without the opportunity to seek legal counsel or request asylum or other protection.”

On February 1, 2021, the first day of Black History Month, the U.S. government drastically expanded removals and expulsions to Haiti. Rather than dismantle the Trump Administration’s invisible wall, the Biden-Harris Administration doubled down. More Haitians have been removed per the Title 42 policy in the weeks since President Joe Biden took office than during all of Fiscal Year 2020. The Report provides the narratives of Haitian families who were apprehended at the U.S. Mexico border within the last year under the Title 42 policy and were subject to expulsion to Haiti or Mexico. 

The Report explains how Haitian migrants are expelled under the Title 42 policy without being informed whether or when they will be expelled, and without the opportunity to seek asylum or other forms of protection.  “Abigale” (name changed), a Haitian woman interviewed for the Report, describes the cruelty of immigration officials during her family’s expulsion, “None of the officers ever confirmed that we were being deported. No one would even say the word deportation. None of them, through this whole process. All the families were crying on the bus, for over an hour. My husband and others kept asking what was going on, if they were deporting us. They would not tell us anything despite our desperation. It was all extremely emotional.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration has continued cruelty against immigrants,” said Patrice Lawrence, Co-director of the UndocuBLack Network. “We hope that this will not be their legacy. It is cruel to use Title 42 as a loophole for deporting immigrants in general and Black migrants in particular. It is a euphemism for removals and deportation of immigrants which the Trump Administration deemed expendable in the wider context of its eugenic agenda of creating a Whiter America and atmosphere of nativism. The invisible wall named Title 42 keeps at bay brown and Black people fleeting war, violence, poverty and disasters under the pretext of protecting Border Protection officers from COVID-19 and to minimize the number of persons in congregate settings, such as immigration detention centers. The Biden-Harris Administration continues to ignore the cry and plight of immigrants that are being forced to board a plane and are taken to the very places they escaped from. The xenophobic language of the previous Administration might be gone, but the practices still remain.”

“There is no sound public health rationale for the Title 42 ban on migrants,” says Tom Ricker, Policy Director with the Quixote Center.  “The idea for the policy came not from public health officials, but from the Trump White House. The entire justification for the Title 42 policy is the claim that the United States lacks the capacity to safely detain people. Yet, the United States is holding people for weeks only to then put them on crowded planes. How do you deny someone asylum who has been placed in detention – with no legal representation at all – based on the argument that there is no capacity to detain them?”

The Report also describes the high security risks that Haitian migrants face when they are expelled to Haiti or Mexico. As one woman who was recently expelled to Haiti under Title 42 describes, Now the country is in more turmoil so I’m even more afraid to leave [my home]. If these people find us, they would just kill us this time around.” 

“Haitian migrants flee violence, instability and persecution in Haiti, then travel a long and treacherous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking safety and security in the United States,” says Nicole Phillips, Legal Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Instead of security, they are abused by immigration officers and – under the Title 42 policy – summarily expelled back to the country they fled without any chance to seek protection. As this Report explains, these expulsions are not only tragic, they are illegal.”

The authors offer nine recommendations. “First,” says Ms. Phillips, “the Title 42 policy must be revoked immediately. It is also critical that asylum processing resumes, while migrants are released to shelter in place with their loved ones in the United States rather than being detained. Incarceration must stop.”

The Full report can be read here.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

The Biden administration has negotiated an agreement with the government of Mexico for expanded immigration enforcement within Mexico in order to keep unaccompanied children and other migrants away from the U.S./Mexico border.  From Reuters

The people familiar with the plan said Mexico would deploy security forces to cut the flow of migrants, the bulk of whom come from Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, whose economies were battered by the coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes last year.

Two of the people said the National Guard militarized police, which led efforts to bring down the number of illegal immigrants entering Mexico from Central America during an increase in 2019, would be at the fore of the containment drive.

“The operations will be more frequent, more continuous and we will be taking part,” from next week, a member of the National Guard said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Biden is not the first president to get concessions from Mexico for expanded immigration enforcement. Mexico has been pressured to adjust its own enforcement priorities and practices numerous times in deference to U.S. border policy – Obama pressed Mexico to expand enforcement when his administration faced an increase in unaccompanied children as well. Most recently, Trump threatened tariffs on products from Mexico unless President Obrador agreed to expand enforcement measures back in 2019. 

Biden is now doing the same, but offering assistance with COVID-19 vaccines, instead of threatening tariffs. Though the Biden administration is denying a quid pro quo here, the implication is clearly that absent agreement from Mexico there would be no extra COVID-19 vaccines coming from the United States. According to the Washington Post

“It’s not a quid pro quo, it’s a parallel negotiation,” said a senior Mexican diplomat who was not authorized to discuss the conversations. “If there is no mass vaccination campaign in Mexico, it makes it more difficult to open the border to nonessential activities. So vaccinations in Mexico are a benefit to the U.S.” Similarly, the diplomat added, “if migration is under control, it diminishes the image of a crisis, and facilitates the approval of immigration reforms that are key for both countries.”

Whatever the case may be, Mexico is going along for now, and this is concerning. The reason is that Mexico’s immigration laws, while very far from perfect, are, on paper at least, more in line with international norms than those in the United States. For example, in November, Mexico passed legislation that makes it illegal to hold children in detention facilities. That law went into effect in January, just before Biden came into the White House. What should be celebrated as an advance in human rights, has been received as a nuisance by U.S. immigration authorities, as the Department of Homeland Security is now frustrated it can’t send families back into Mexico with the ease it did under Trump. 

Enter the promise of delivery of AstraZeneca (stockpiled by the United States, even though it has not been approved for use here – itself a highly immoral practice, given the global shortage of vaccines), and “Mexican officials have told the Biden administration they are willing to alter or delay the implementation of a law passed in November that limits their ability to detain minors.” Bravo.

Of course, the “crisis” for Biden at the moment involves the kids that come here without families. The narrative of this manufactured crisis goes something like this. From the New York Times:

Biden and his homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, are balancing their desire to reject Trump’s uncompromising approach — particularly with regard to unaccompanied minors, who have arrived at the border this month at a rate of roughly 400 people a day — with an acknowledgment that proceeding with business as usual simply isn’t an option, as tens of thousands of migrants, fleeing insecurity and poverty at home, require housing and processing. 

400 children a day? Are these crisis numbers? While overall apprehensions are up, for unaccompanied children the numbers are still below 2019 and 2014 peaks. To keep this in perspective, we are talking about the entire border now, including scores of ports of entry, and Border Patrol stations. In speaking with a friend at Witness at the Border a few weeks ago about numbers, he mentioned that in late spring of 2019 he was volunteering at a border shelter that assisted 800 migrants a day. One shelter. So what’s up?

A couple of context clues here. First, up to 13,000 kids were simply expelled from the United States between March and October 2020 under a public health order, “Title 42,” that has effectively closed the border to asylum seekers, even children and families. Then, a federal court told DHS it had to stop expelling the (unaccompanied) kids. The Trump administration sort of stopped – only expelling 1,500 kids in November before slowing to double digits in December and January. In January, an appellate court said that it was okay for the government to expel these kids after all (WTF?!?!?). However, Biden decided not to. 

As a result, immigration authorities are being challenged to reimagine life before it was okay to summarily expel unaccompanied children from the United States. Given that the summary expulsion of children was only approved for seven months, such an exercise in ethical excavation seems possible for a freedom loving nation of immigrants. Right?

Well, it gets more complicated. Unaccompanied children, unlike kids with families (who are, by the way, still being summarily expelled) need to be held some place while the government locates family or community sponsors. Again, this is a process that has existed for years, managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Yes, Trump messed this up like everything else, but not irreparably. Trump’s main fault with these kids was to detain them as long as possible by making it harder for families to come forward. Longer detention time was intended to be a deterrent. That never really worked. It never does. 

That said, the shelters still exist. The “non-profits” that run them are still around (though, to be honest, some have lousy reputations). While there is a debate about shelter space at the moment, capacity seems to be close to 13,000 beds – more than enough to manage the current cases. Of course, not detaining these kids for extended periods of time is the answer. In most cases, family can be identified within days, and when not, other sponsors exist and can be pre-cleared. 

There is no perfect solution, of course, but the point is that capacity exists, and so the numbers seem manageable with a little bit of foresight. The media hand-wringing, however, seems to be scaring the administration, which has called in FEMA and is talking about re-opening highly controversial temporary camps to detain the kids. The optics of all of this is bad, and what this means for some of these kids, is even worse. 

So, back to Mexico. Unable to summarily expel these kids back to Mexico once they cross the border, the solution seems to be to keep them there, or even block their passage further south. Which is to say, if the optics are bad, get the kids out of the picture altogether. On Thursday, March 18, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry announced that it was closing its borders with Guatemala and Belize to all but “essential” travel, while also announcing new regulations on the treatment of unaccompanied minors. Immigration authorities also arrested, and detained 84 minors last week, in violation of the new law banning such detentions. Though possibly an isolated incident, in context, many are concerned this presages the next few months of “increased enforcement” for kids trying to cross Mexico for the United States. 

Hopefully, they can at least get a vaccine now.

Is Biden as bad as Trump? Of course not. The Biden administration seems to sincerely want to make immigration reform that is an advance over what we’ve seen in recent years (including from Biden’s former boss, Obama). Yet, Biden, and thus the country as a whole, is still being held captive by the logic of deterrence as the cornerstone of immigration policy: If we are tough on immigrants, fewer will come! Trump’s DHS argued. Biden is not saying this exactly, but is clearly being guided by the obverse: If we treat people decently, we risk a “surge” and a “border crisis,” so we must be cautious. 

Sadly, the results are the same. 

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A “State of Emergency” Declared in Haiti

On Monday, March 15, Jovenel Moise declared a “state of emergency” in Haiti in a decree endorsed by his Council of Ministers. According to news reports,

A decree adopted by the Council of Ministers said:  “The state of emergency is instituted in gangsterized areas for one month, during which certain rights can be suspended in neighborhoods concerned, in order to allow the PNH (National Police of Haiti) to regain control of the situation.”

The decree defines the state of emergency as “a situation in which a regime applies restricting certain fundamental freedoms and exceptional powers of the executive which are justified by a situation of proven or imminent national disaster, terrorist attack or serious breach of public order challenging the police and endangering national security and requiring the adoption of urgent measures.”

Though a “State of Emergency” is defined legislatively, the Council of Ministers amended legislative provisions in order “to give the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) the means to combat banditry and crime, and to empower the PNH and the Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH) to work in synergy to combat.” 

Specific areas named in the decree include: Village de Dieu, Grand-Ravine, Delmas 2, and Savien (in the Artibonite). However, the decree allows for the emergency declaration to be applied in other areas defined by the Council, so enforcement could ultimately reach anywhere.

With declaration in hand, Moise met with officials at the Organization of American States on Monday, and the United Nations on Tuesday to ask for “technical and logistical” support for police activity. 

Meanwhile, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, restated U.S. qualified support for Moise during hearings last week. Blinken’s statement was shared on Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Monday: “I share concern about some of the authoritarian and undemocratic actions that we’ve seen. Decrees need to be limited to essential functions. We need to see the Haitians organize, with international support, genuinely free and fair elections this year.”

The moves this week all point toward Moise attempting to consolidate his grip on power in the wake of the bloody and disastrous police invasion of Village de Dieu last Friday. The police effort to take control of Village de Dieu, reportedly a location where many kidnapping victims are held, and under the control of the “5 Seconds” gang, ended in disaster. Armed groups in the area seized one of the police’s armed vehicles, burned another, and killed four police officers, while wounding another eight – three of whom required emergency surgeries. Gang members shot video of the violence, including desecration of the bodies of the police officers; videos were shared widely on social media.

The whole episode has magnified criticism of the government – including, now, from members of the police force. For over a year, some members of the national police have been organizing periodic protests against the government in disputes over pay and dismissals. Formally, demands for better pay and treatment have come from the Syndicat de la Police Nationale d’Haiti (SPNH17). Informally, some members of the police have mobilized under the banner of Phantom 509, which has ridden through sectors of Port-au-Prince on motorcycles and burned vehicles during various protests over the past year.

This week, Phantom 509 issued an ultimatum to the gangs in Village de Dieu to hand over the bodies of police officers killed in the operation last Friday. Then on Thursday, Phantom 509 marched again with other police officers. Under the auspices of SPNH17 some police officers issued a call for the resignation of Chief of Police Leon Charles. Members of Phantom 509 also invaded a police station to set free members arrested in other actions.

Where does this all lead? If one interprets the police operation in Village de Dieu last Friday as an effort to establish credibility on Moise’s part, it clearly backfired – massively. Moise is now seen as even more inept, with calls for his removal widening even further (see #FreeHaiti). Among rank and file police officers Friday’s disastrous attack has only widened divisions further.

So, now Moise is retreating to where he always has – seeking support from international bodies and the U.S. government. 

Over the weekend the U.S. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere stated, “The vile murder of Haitian National Police officers in Village de Dieu highlights the broader insecurity challenges in Haiti. We call on the Haitian government to provide the police with the resources it needs to protect the Haitian people from gangs.” (emphasis added). Moise has taken this “advice” to heart with the declaration of a State of Emergency, providing expanded powers to the police, alongside the prospect of joint operations with the Armed Forces of Haiti (presumed to be loyal to Moise). 

Biden may well tire of standing with Moise, as the situation continues to unravel. Of course, Moise would not be in power were it not for the machinations of the last administration of which Biden was a part. Obama’s team at the State Department under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped put the PHTK in power back in 2010-2011, and U.S. pressure helped put Moise himself in power. Accountability for such interventions being foreign to the United States, I don’t expect Biden to actually change course now. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Haitians are left to reap what the elite and their allies in D.C. have sown.


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Next steps on Haiti: What will Biden do?

This week there was greater attention put toward U.S. policy in Haiti. The Biden administration continues to support the Moise government, despite the broad based opposition to his continued rule in Haiti. The crisis in Haiti seems to be at a stalemate at the moment, in part, as a result of Biden’s State Department backing Moise. Protests continue – as do the kidnappings. Meanwhile, Biden continues to remove people to Haiti despite outcries from all sectors: Congress, editorial boards across the country (for example, NY Times, WaPo, Miami Herald), human rights advocates and faith leaders.

While we, and most of the people mentioned below, argue that the solution to the current crisis must come from within Haiti, this cannot happen until the Biden administration changes course.  With that in mind, below I share some of the latest discussions on the crisis and U.S. policy.

Removals Continue!

As I am writing, there is a flight on the way to Port-au-Prince from Laredo, Texas (Friday, March 12). Like many of the other 19 flights that have left for Haiti from the U.S. since February 1, 2021, the people on this flight are being expelled under a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order referred to as “Title 42.” Under Title 42 people encountered at the border are summarily expelled, given no chance to seek asylum or other relief. Most are expelled back into Mexico. The majority of people from Haiti, however, are taken into custody where they are detained until they can be flown out.

In February, the Biden administration expelled 984 Haitians to Haiti. Another 76 Haitians (at least) were expelled into Mexico. Almost all under Title 42. Vice ran a story about these expulsions which you can watch here.

So far in March, the Biden administration has expelled at least 300 people by plane to Haiti.

As we noted last week, by comparison, the Trump administration removed 895 people in all of FY2020.

Haiti is the focus of Foreign Affairs Committee

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing today (March 12): Policy Recommendations on Haiti for the Biden Administration. The message was clear: the infrastructure is not in place for elections this year; Haitian civil society should lead on any transition, though the United States government has some role to play in speaking out against violations of rights and sanctioning individuals; the United States should not be defending Moise’s position on tenure. Guerline Jozef specifically testified on the need to halt removals to Haiti.

Testifying at the hearing were

Ms. Emmanuela Douyon, Policy Expert and Activist – Nou Pap Dòmi

Ms. Guerline Jozef, President – Haitian Bridge Alliance

Ms. Rosy Auguste, Program Director – National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH)

The Honorable Pamela A. Whie, Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti- U.S. Department of State

You can watch the hearing here.

Some notable op-eds this week

“Is the White House greenlighting Haiti’s descent into dictatorship?”

Brian Concannon of Project Blueprint (former director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) wrote an excellent opinion piece for Responsible Statecraft, published this week, on March 9th. He writes, 

As thousands of Haitians protest each Sunday against Jovenel Moïse, their embattled and increasingly authoritarian president, their protest signs and songs exhort the U.S. ambassador and the head of the United Nations mission in Haiti, who is also a career U.S. diplomat, “to stop supporting a dictatorship.” The protests reflect a broad consensus among politicians, intellectuals, lawyers and others in Haiti, supported by human rights experts and members of the U.S. Congress, that the Biden administration is propping up Moïse and preventing the emergence of a Haitian-led solution to the political crisis.….Further descent into autocracy in Haiti, however, is not inevitable, and the Biden administration can help stop it. Washington does not have to — and should not — bring Moïse down; rather, it should just stop propping him up. 

You can read the full article here

In Haiti’s Political Crisis, US Should Support Democracy and Human Rights

Pierre Esperance and Rosy Auguste Ducena of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights offer their reflections on the U.S. role in a piece published by Just Security on March 10th.

We see hope in the fact that some powerful Democrats in the U.S. Congress don’t agree with the Biden administration’s approach to Moïse. As Haitian human rights leaders, we know one thing for sure: the status quo is unacceptable. Under the Moïse regime, we are living in a dictatorship. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the proliferation of gangs and kidnappers supported by the Moïse regime. We have become victims of a state of terror.

It is time for the Biden administration to align its policies with its principles. The United States needs to reverse its policy of standing by Moïse, consult with Haitian civil society to help inform its approach going forward, and take the powerful step of placing democracy and human rights at the center of its foreign policy towards Haiti.

You can read the full article here.

Why is Biden continuing a cruel Trump policy? He should stop expelling Haitian migrants immediately

Finally, a forceful editorial from the Miami Herald calling on the administration to end Title 42 and suspend removals to Haiti:

A Feb. 23 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, spearheaded by Miami U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson — and signed by 61 House colleagues — said: ”In many cases these deportees are families and children who likely pose no security threat. The Trump administration misused Title 42 to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of migrants while denying them due process and access to the asylum system in contravention of international legal obligations.

“Numerous public health experts have also called on the CDC to rescind the Title 42 order as it has no scientific basis as a public health measure.”

Both are salient points. We will add a third: Immigrants are not the enemy here. And to deny them any semblance of due process is simply wrong. (emphasis added)

You can read the full editorial here.

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From the Archive: Bill and Maureen Testify before Congress (1987)

Over the weekend, I stumbled across a C-Span clip of Maureen Fiedler and Bill Callahan testifying before Congress about the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua and humanitarian aid shipments.

You can watch (or skim) the entire hearing on C-Span here.  A clip of Bill and Maureen’s testimony is can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

A little bit of context: In 1985 the United States launched an embargo against Nicaragua as part of its broader effort to destroy the Sandinista revolution. The Quixote Center began humanitarian aid shipments to Nicaragua in 1983 (following the CIA bombing of the Nicaraguan port at Corinto) and continued to ship to Nicaragua despite the embargo. For this, the Quixote Center was investigated by U.S. Customs in 1986. Though hassled, the shipments were never halted, as they met the humanitarian exceptions written into the embargo order. 

It was also in 1985 that Congress agreed to fund the Contras, after years of denying this request. The FY1986 appropriation was $30 million and contained some restrictions on CIA and Department of Defense support for the opposition in Nicaragua. In 1987 appropriations expanded to $100 million, and though some funds were designated for “humanitarian aid” to the Contras, military assistance was approved. 

The response from the Quixote Center was to launch the “Quest for Peace.” The Quest for Peace was a campaign to track the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to the people of Nicaragua. The goal was to outspend the U.S. government, or more to the point, to demonstrate that grassroots support for the people of Nicaragua within the United States was greater than the U.S. government’s determination to destroy the Sandinista government. Hence the closing of Bill’s testimony, “We are building a policy of peace and friendship between the people of Nicaragua and the United States.”

At the time this testimony was taking place, the campaign was at its peak. Bill, who tracked assistance from the Quixote Center and other grassroots organizations as the coordinator of the “National Tally” was just back from one of his many trips to Nicaragua when he testified. That year, Bill was able to document $100 million in humanitarian assistance raised for the people of Nicaragua, matching funds appropriated by Congress for the Contras in FY1987.

While all of this seems ancient history, the United States government is once again leveling sanctions against Nicaragua in an effort to remove a Sandinista government. Though the scale of the current U.S. effort is small compared to the 1980s, and the contexts are quite different, it is nevertheless useful to remind ourselves of the sense of entitlement the United States government feels in shaping political outcomes in Central America – an entitlement it has exercised for decades with deadly results. At the Quixote Center we continue to oppose all sanctions and other forms of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. It is the one consistent feature of our work for last 38 years. 

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Amidst the political turmoil, life goes on Gros Morne

Throughout February, as Haiti was facing an ongoing political crisis that has kept much of the country on edge, work continued. For the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center this meant visiting community organizations, presenting workshops, checking in with people and their livestock with the mobile clinic, and talking to farmers about the quality of the recent sweet potato harvest. I capture some of these activities below, with updates from the team. 

In the top-left photo above, participants in the goat program bring their goats to a mobile vet clinic led by Songé; in the top-right photo, Songé speaks with a young man who has brought a chicken in for a check-up. The goat program is built around the concept of “paying it forward.” Community groups receive training on the program and care for the goats, and then “cohorts” are formed including 10 female goats and one billy goat. When the goats have kids, they are shared with other members of the community. The chicken program works in a similar fashion, with community organizations involved in the distribution of chickens, which provide another source of food as well as eggs that can be sold in local markets.

On the bottom left, Aneus, a member of the agronomy team, holds a community meeting with people who are using a cistern to water their yard gardens in Bigue. The cistern project has been a major undertaking (funded by Focus on Haiti, a project of the Sisters of Mercy). More on this below. In the bottom right photo, Teligene, another member of the agronomy team, shows workshop participants how to prepare a smoked fish.

In this photo, Teligene & Songé hold a formation about land preparation before the spring planting in Baden. The spring planting is the primary one for the year (there is another in the fall). These kinds of trainings are one of the benefits for participants in the seed bank, through which farmers can purchase seeds at subsidized rates and hold them “in deposit” at the bank until preparations for planting are complete. The timing and success of plantings is highly contingent on rainfall, which has become increasingly unpredictable. 

Above is a map of program sites where the agronomy team is involved in training and other support for farming communities. You can see the various places where the goat and chicken programs have been launched, where work is being done with planting gardens, and in training on the planting of weevil free sweet potatoes. 

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More people removed to Haiti in last 4 weeks than all of FY2020

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From February 1 to 26, 2021 the Biden administration removed 981 people to Haiti, including at least 270 children.  In all of FY2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), the Trump administration removed 895 people to Haiti through ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. Trump did expel an additional 700 Haitians at the beginning of FY 2021, yet even then, the pace of removals was not as high as we are seeing now.

What is going on? The short answer is that the Biden administration is continuing to enforce an order by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shuts off asylum processing at the border. The CDC order was issued in March of 2020, and has provided the justification for the Department of Homeland Security denying people access to asylum processing or other relief. Claiming authority under “Title 42” of the U.S. code, the CDC order directs border agents to expel people as quickly as possible to the last country of transit, or, if that is not possible, to take people into custody briefly until they can be expelled to their home (or third) country. Under this order, 460,000 people have been expelled since March 20, 2020 (as of January 31, 2021). 

For people from Haiti, immediate removal to Mexico is not supposed to occur – though it has. Which means most Title 42 removals to Haiti are done by plane. We do not know how many Haitians the Trump administration summarily expelled to Mexico, nor do we know how many have been expelled this way since Biden took office. But we do know it happens – on February 3, for example, 76 Haitians (in additions to number above) were expelled by Border Patrol into Ciudad Juarez, most without papers and their belongings, all wearing the sandals they were issued at a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility prior to their expulsion.

There are many layers to this. One is that Haitians have always been treated poorly by immigration authorities in the United States. The determination of the Reagan administration to detain asylum seekers from Haiti, rather than parole them out as was typically done for other people seeking protection, led to the birth of our modern immigrant detention system. Bush and Clinton interdicted tens of thousands of Haitains at sea, most returned immediately to Haiti, others held at Guantanamo until they could be removed. The Obama administration launched a metering system at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 2015 to slow the entrance of Haitian asylum seekers, while relaunching deportations to Haiti (suspended after the earthquake in 2010) in order to deter more Haitians from trying to come. The list goes on.

Each of these steps eventually led to an erosion of rights for everyone seeking protection at our borders. Metering, for example, was expanded by Trump, and in a twisted turn, underlay the logic of the Migrant Protection Protocols which forced 72,000 people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.  

The fact that Haitians are typically treated more harshly is a by-product of the idea that deterrence is an important framework for immigration enforcement measures. In various ways, deterrence has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy for decades. Certainly, jailing Haitians seeking asylum was intended to discourage others from trying. The same “logic” was used by Obama to justify the metering system and expanded deportations. 

Of course, deterrence ultimately targets everyone. Trump detained all asylum seekers, to deter more from coming, and his administration explicitly cited deterrence as the reason for the child separation policy employed in 2018. The Migration Protection Protocol was followed by the Transit Ban, which denied people access to asylum if they crossed a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border without first applying for asylum there. The message all around: Don’t bother trying to come here, you won’t get in at all.

This is sadly the same message Biden is currently sending. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday: “To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is:  Don’t do it.  We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures.  The border is closed to irregular migration.”  The Secretary of Homeland Security is offering a similar message. From the NY Times:

Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the United States continued to rely, for now, on a measure at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach: a public health rule that requires border agents to quickly deport border crossers to Mexico without a chance to request asylum. “They need to wait,” Mr. Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers. “It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch.”

For the Biden team, this message is justified by two things: 1. COVID-19 is still a threat and thus the CDC order must remain in place. 2. Biden is committed to reforming border policy but, he notes, it will “take time.” In the interim, his administration is afraid that liberalizing rules too quickly will lead to a “surge” of immigration.

There are a number of problems with these arguments. The CDC order was a political stunt from the beginning, not a serious public health measure. A surge in the number of people seeking entry is certainly possible, as a result of the ongoing deterioration of conditions in the countries people are fleeing rather than a misreading Biden’s generosity. The idea that treating people humanely makes for bad politics is a strange notion indeed. 

But none of these arguments mean much for folk from Haiti. Haitians apprehended are mostly placed in detention until they can be removed, which means they can be tested, are in effect being quarantined, and so on. There is no reason to then deny them due process, certainly not a public health argument. The deterrent argument, generally flawed to begin with, makes no sense for Haitians either – most of whom left Haiti years ago, and are arriving now via Brazil, Chile and Peru. They no doubt try to read the situation at the border the best they can, so they can decide when it is best to try and cross. But deterrence has little impact on their decision to travel thousands of miles to begin with.  

Considering all of the above, and given the ongoing political crisis in Haiti, the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitians at this rate is unconscionable. There are many ongoing efforts to halt the expulsions to Haiti (latest letter here), as well as efforts to end Title 42 enforcement, and deportations more generally. As with Trump’s DHS team, Biden’s folk seem unmoved by these efforts. Congressional outrage, editorials from the New York Times and Washington Post, and even simple reason seem to not matter much – there was another removal flight to Haiti on March 2. Meanwhile, Biden’s administration does seem to fear the daily scorchings they are receiving on Fox News. If Obama’s presidency holds any lessons for Biden, it is that they will be scorched on Fox News no matter what they do – so why not do something bold? Or in this case, do what is right: Halt removals to Haiti! 

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The good, the meh, and the ugly: Another week of immigration politics

Over the last week there have been several advances as well as setbacks in the evolution of immigration policy under the Biden administration. The process of bringing the Migration Protection Protocols to a close was launched and the administration’s immigration reform legislation was finally introduced in Congress. Meanwhile, new operational guidance concerning enforcement priorities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement was released to mixed reviews, while a District Court judge overturned the Biden administration’s efforts to implement a 100-day moratorium on most deportations. After 10-months of being largely ignored in Congress, Title 42 is finally getting some attention, with calls for its rescision from 61 members of the House. Finally, as a reminder that U.S. border enforcement extends to Panama an agreement among Central America’s migration authorities was reached on February 23rd to block the entrance of Haitians and others traveling to the United States from South America.

Here’s what’s happening…

Migration Protection Protocol is rolled back

On Friday, the administration began implementation of its unwinding of the Trump era (error?) “Remain in Mexico” program. Outside of white nationalist circles, MPP has been a widely unpopular move with deadly consequences. Under the program, people seeking asylum in the United States were enrolled in MPP and then told to wait in Mexico for asylum hearings. The program was launched in January of 2019 and ultimately led over 70,000 people made to wait in Mexico. Hearings did not really begin until April of 2019, and when they did begin, it was something of a farcical process whereby people were escorted from the border into tents for a hearing with a judge via video conference. No legal observers or press were permitted, and representation for people in the MPP program was nearly impossible to organize. Very few people received asylum (only 643). In April of 2020 the hearings were suspended because of COVID-19. 

As a result of people being turned back to wait, informal refugee camps were set up near the Mexico side of ports of entry as people were afraid to leave the area and miss their hearing. People in these settings frequently became victims of cartels. Over the course of the two years MPP was in place, Human Rights First has documented 1,300 victims of murder, rape and assault among those enrolled in MPP. 

As of January 2021, estimates were that 25,000 people remained on the border waiting for hearings. Upon taking office, Biden suspended new enrollments into MPP, and set about creating a protocol for processing people already enrolled in MPP. That process was announced on February 11, and implementation began on Friday, February 19. People will be screened for COVID-19, and those who test negative allowed entry into the United States to await their asylum hearings. The administration has indicated it will seek to minimize the use of detention, using community support programs and possibly ankle bracelets as alternatives.

The official roll back of MPP began on Friday, as people began to be admitted in California. For some, this comes after two years of waiting.

The Citizenship Act of 2021

On the first day of Biden’s presidency, a summary of proposed immigration reform legislation was released to the media. Though submitted to the Senate a couple of days later, it has taken nearly a month for the full text of the legislation to be made public. Now it is.  We did a high level review of the contents of the legislation when announced in January. A more thorough review of the details is still to come. Vox’s excellent summary from January is here. Some other analysis and responses to the bill: Detention Watch Network, National Immigration Law Center, and Alianza Americas and Presente.

The full text of the Senate version here. The texts in the House and Senate are essentially the same for now. As the bill proceeds in both chambers, and is sliced up and amended the versions will no doubt begin to drift apart.

Congressional letter calling on Biden administration to Rescind Title 42

On February 23, 61 members of the House of Representatives called on the Biden administration to end the use of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order invoking Title 42 of the U.S. code as a means to shut out asylum seekers. The letter was organized by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), and Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2).  The letter says,

We write out of deep concern about continued Title 42 expulsions and deportations that have taken place in recent weeks, seemingly regardless of whether these migrants meet priorities for removals,” the letter reads. “In many cases these deportees are families and children who likely pose no security threat. The Trump administration misused Title 42 to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of migrants while denying them due process and access to the asylum system in contravention of international legal obligations.

The criticism of Title 42 is long overdue. It was inspired in part by the Biden administration’s use of Title 42 to expel close to 1,000 people to Haiti over the first three weeks of February despite the ongoing political crisis.

You can read the press release, and see a full list of Congressional signers, here. If your member of Congress is on the list, be sure to thank them for taking this stand!

The full text of the letter is here.

New Operational Guidance for Immigration and Customs Enforcement

On Biden’s first day in office, the then acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, David Pekoske, issued a memo that mandated a system-wide review of immigration enforcement policy and practice. The memo also included language on re-orienting enforcement priorities to focus primarily on people with criminal backgrounds. On Thursday, February 18, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued temporary guidance to ICE officers on implementing these new enforcement priorities. This interim guidance is only in place for 90-days. The director of Homeland Security, now Mayorkas, will be issuing new operation guidance at that point, following the review mandated in January.

So, what is in the new guidance? Enforcement priorities are defined under three categories: People who are deemed a threat to 1. national security, 2. border security, and 3. public safety. The priorities:

  1. National security: people possibly engaging in acts of terrorism, espionage, or whose arrest is otherwise deemed necessary to protect national security;  
  2. Border security: people apprehended after illegally crossing the border since November 1, 2020, or otherwise not present in the United States on or before November 1, 2020;
  3. Public safety: people convicted of “aggravated felonies” or thought to be involved in gang activity

Behind each of these definitions is a long history of questionable practices and abuses. For example, aggravated felonies as defined under Clinton era immigration law is overly broad. It is one reason why the single largest basis for “criminal” removals are traffic violations. Which is to say, the narrowed focus in the interim guidance will lead to fewer arrests and deportations, but is still problematic. A statement from the We Are Home Campaign, for example, said of the new priorities:

they continue to rely on flawed and racist frameworks that stigmatize all immigrants as potential threats to national security or public safety, with vague and sweeping criteria for identifying such “threats” that will disproportionately harm Black and Brown immigrants, including Muslims. The guidelines also fail to make an explicit commitment to providing meaningful access to asylum for recent border crossers.

Other responses to the guidance came from the ACLU, Detention Watch Network, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Texas refuses to come in from the cold…

I’ll admit my first take at a headline came out something like this, %#^@%$!^& Texas!!!, but I was overruled. “Why the frustration?” you ask. Back on January 20, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a memo – the same memo mentioned above – that also included a 100 day moratorium on deportations. To be clear, the moratorium did not cover all deportations, and did not include people expelled under Title 42, which is the basis upon which the vast majority of people have been removed from the U.S. over the last ten months. But, it was a start. The temporary moratorium was envisioned as part of the system-wide review of immigration enforcement procedures. Halt most deportations, while reviewing the policy. Makes sense, right? 

Enter the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton. He decided to make some right wing hay out of this order, (he referred to it as a “ seditious left-wing insurrection”) and sued to block it. His main argument (at least the one out of six specious arguments the court accepted) was that Texas would suffer tremendous cost from the detention of immigrants not deported.* Absolute. Nonsense. There is always executive discretion on who gets deported and when, and most detention costs are carried by the Federal Government, not the state of Texas (whose localities, sadly, actually make money hosting detention facilities). Yet, a district judge, Drew Tipton, appointed by Trump, agreed, and on January 26 to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the order. The TRO was extended until February 23rd. Then, late in the evening on February 23rd, Tipton issued a national injunction on the moratorium. 

It is not clear if the Biden administration will appeal. 

*Update:  To clarify: The question of costs incurred by Texas is the basis upon which Texas claims to have standing in this case as an injured party. The actual legal questions at hand are largely procedural. Texas claims, in various ways, that the Biden Administration did not follow agreed upon procedures in terms of informing/consulting with Texas, seeking alternative measures and so on. For those interested you can read the ruling here.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)