Work to End Title 42 Now!

Quixote Center organized the Vigil to End Title 42 at the CDC offices, Washington, D.C. on March 21, 2022. Click on image to see video of the Vigil.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection issued the Order Suspending Introduction of Certain Persons from Countries Where a Communicable Disease Exists on March 20, 2020. The order claimed authority under Sections 362 and 365 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act, 42 U.S.C. 265, 268 – hence the shorthand, “Title 42” – to immediately remove people from the United States without granting them access to asylum processing or other humanitarian relief. The order was issued days after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and the fact of the pandemic provided the political cover for ending access to asylum for almost everybody encountered at a US border, a long-standing, but to this point unfulfilled, Trump administration goal.

Over 1 million people have been summarily expelled under Title 42 policies in the two years since, far more since Biden took office than under Trump. Indeed, Biden remains committed to Title 42 despite the rejection of it by public health professionals, human rights organizations, and Congressional leadership

In recent weeks there have been conflicting decisions on Title 42 implementation from our increasingly partisan federal court system. The result is that if the CDC does not end the policy on April 2 (the next renewal date), it will have to issue a new set of procedures to accommodate a court decision requiring that families have access to credible fear interviews. The administration has already pressed the CDC to enact exemptions for refugees from Ukraine and unaccompanied children (the latter in response to a lawsuit from Texas that was seeking reimplementation of expulsions for unaccompanied children). Both are reasonable decisions if Title 42 was a legitimate policy, but in context these exemptions simply underscore the fact that Title 42 is a political order, not a public health one.

Further, the decision to expel 1 million people for public health reasons has to be viewed alongside the fact that even during the pandemic Customs and Border Protection processed an average of 491,000 border crossings every day. In other words, the pandemic did not halt border traffic by a long shot. The idea that asylum seekers or other migrants crossing between Ports of Entry, representing something like 0.01 of all border crossings in FY 2021,  constitute a unique public health threat defies logic. 

Additionally, many people are now being detained in congregant settings while awaiting expulsion by plane – something that has been common for Haitians since March of 2020, but only applied to others on a large scale since August of 2021 when Biden launched near daily Title 42 expulsion flights to southern Mexico – since expanded to Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia and elsewhere. As the primary “public health” rationalization for implementing Title 42 back in March of 2020 was avoiding detention in congregate settings, the current expansion of this practice to facilitate removal by plane is just another example of how Title 42 is not a public health order and should be rescinded.

Finally, Human Rights First has documented that at least 9,886 people removed under Title 42 have been victims of physical assault in Mexico, including murder, after being expelled. Which is to say, far from any kind of defense of public health, Title 42 actually represents a public health disaster for the refugees it is inflicted upon.

For all of these reasons, between now and the end of March we need to pressure the CDC (and the administration which is clearly, if unofficially, the source of the policy) to end Title 42 once and for all!

Contact your members of Congress: We have made that easy, just click here to send a message to your representative and senators. Feel free to share this alert, and also take additional steps of calling and/or writing members’ offices if you are able.

Contact the CDC and the White House with a simple message – end Title 42!
White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 800-232-4636

 

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Press Release: Immigrants’ Rights Advocates Call on the CDC to Restore Asylum

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 21, 2022

CONTACT: Alexandra Gulden
alexandra@quixote.org
504-495-6970

Washington D.C.—“We are here today, marking the second anniversary of the public health order known as Title 42,” stated Quixote Center Executive Director Kim Lamberty, DMin. “We present ourselves at the DC offices of the Center of Disease control to call on the CDC to renounce and put an end to this order, which denies families, children, and adults arriving at the southern border their right to seek asylum in the United States. Over 20,600 Haitians—including pregnant women, children and babies—have been sent back to Haiti. There is no public health justification for Title 42. We call on the Biden Administration to rescind the order and restore an orderly, welcoming, and just asylum system.”

March 20th will mark two years since Title 42 was first implemented. On March 21st, asylum seekers in Nogales are bravely taking to the streets to reenact the Way of the Cross, drawing parallels between Jesus’ journey to death and the violence migrants face along theirs. Today, we—along with faith leaders,  immigrants’ rights advocates, and human rights defenders across the country—stand in solidarity with their call for justice. 

The harm that the Title 42 policy has caused is irreparable. Over one million migrants and asylum seekers have been denied the opportunity to seek asylum, a universal human right. And since President Biden took office, there have been at least 9,866 reports of violent attacks—including rape, kidnapping, and assault—against people blocked in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42. 

“The Title 42 expulsion order was never based on sound science, even during the early months of the pandemic. However, with vaccines and other effective public health strategies now widely available, the faulty rationale for keeping the Title 42 order in place is more than intellectually bankrupt, it is morally reprehensible,” said Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, medical director at PHR and professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of Michigan. “Time and time again since March 2020, leading medical experts have shown that there is no public health justification for Title 42. We know what works to protect people from COVID-19, including masks, testing, and vaccines—certainly not discriminatory expulsions of asylum seekers. Instead of protecting public health, the Title 42 order violates the right to seek asylum and fuels an unnecessary humanitarian crisis mere yards from the U.S. border. Two years into this cruel policy, it’s past time to end Title 42 expulsions.” 

“The outpouring of compassion and solidarity for Ukrainian refugees is a critical reminder of our global responsibility to offer a safe haven for all those seeking refuge, without discrimination,” said Kathryn Hampton, MSt, MA, deputy director of the PHR Asylum Program. “Ukrainian refugees arriving at the U.S. southern border face the same inhumane policy that other asylum seekers have been facing for almost two years — summary expulsions with no chance to seek asylum under the Title 42 order. Thousands of Ukrainians are joining the thousands of Mexican, Haitian, Central American, and African asylum seekers who have also been waiting for the chance to seek refuge, but who have been turned away because of the Title 42 expulsion order. Families with small children, elderly people, people with serious medical conditions, and people with disabilities are sleeping on the ground outside U.S. ports of entry or in crowded tent encampments. Whether applied to a Honduran, a Cameroonian, or a Ukrainian, the Title 42 order is a profound injustice.”

 “Today, across the country faith-leaders, public health officials, human rights advocates, and concerned individuals are taking on the streets in solidarity with asylum seekers demanding that the administration restore access to asylum humanely and end Title 42. For two-years Title 42, an obscure provision of public health law, has been weaponized by both the Trump and Biden administrations to deny families, children, and adults arriving at the southern border their right to seek asylum in the United States for two years,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. “Today, I’m proud to stand with #WelcomeWithDignity partners outside the CDC office in Washington, DC to demand the agency to listen to public health experts and finally put an end to Title 42 – a policy that does not protect public health.”

“On March 12, 2022, the CDC Director terminated with respect to unaccompanied noncitizen children an Order under Title 42,” said Lorena Del Pilar Bonilla MD, Doctors For Camp Closure Co-Founder. “This essentially now means that unaccompanied noncitizen children will not be expelled from the United States under CDC’s order. Doctors For Camp Closure urges the Biden administration to terminate these harmful policies like Title 42. We ask that our government ensure that people fleeing persecution and torture can request asylum at the border, including at ports of entry. There is no public health justification to continue to enforce Title 42 and we want our country to get back on track by respecting human rights access to asylum.”

“America’s welcome mat is quite tattered and stained following the anti-immigration efforts of the last five years. The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd had hoped that America would put out a fresh clean welcome mat with President Biden’s arrival in the White House, but thus far we are disappointed. We call on the President, his White House and the CDC to remember their compassion and purpose, and the first thing they can do is to rescind Title 42 and cease expelling migrants immediately under this faulty judgment,” said Fran Eskin-Royer, Executive Director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

 “As people of faith, we are called to love our neighbor without distinction. Title 42 dishonors the dignity of migrants and violates the internationally recognized right to seek asylum. President Biden must act in accordance with his Catholic faith and end the racist Title 42 policy before more people are subject to violence and persecution,” said Mary J. Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.

“Title 42 expulsions have got to stop,” said Susan Gunn, Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. “The harm inflicted on those who seek safety at our borders and are turned away cries out to heaven. We must end this disastrous policy and create a robust system of asylum processing for our migrant brothers and sisters who arrive at our Southern border. With enough resources, we can create a just and efficient asylum system at the border – we just need the will to do it. As Christians we are called to extend mercy and welcome, and we urge the CDC and the Administration to allow us to live out this mission.”

The Quixote Center calls on the CDC to end Title 42 and restore an orderly, welcoming, and just asylum system. We are joined by the Haitian Bridge Alliance, United We Dream, the #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign, Physicians for Human Rights, the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, Pax Christi USA, Franciscan Action Network, the Latin American Working Group, Detention Watch Network, Doctors for Camp Closure, Oxfam, Human Rights First, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, CISPES: Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

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Is Title 42 on the way out?

The short answer is yes. The United States government cannot continue to expel asylum seekers on the basis of a public health crisis that is no longer a crisis – not that the policy was ever about public health. Title 42 must end, eventually. However, given the hyper-partisan politics of immigration, human rights obligations and public health are secondary concerns. In the end, shutting the border to asylum seekers is much easier than opening it back up, and clearly the Republicans are ready to pounce should it happen.

All that said, the end of Title 42 may be closer than we thought. Federal courts have issued conflicting rulings over the past week that make the continuation of the policy problematic. According to a Reuters report, “President Joe Biden’s administration is leaning toward ending a COVID-era order that has blocked more than a million migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter, a major policy shift that would restore the U.S. asylum system but could provoke backlash from Republicans.”

One of the rulings was the result of Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, filing a lawsuit to force the Biden administration to end an exemption for unaccompanied children under Title 42. Put another way, the attorney general of Texas sued the federal government to force the Biden administration to restart the summary expulsion of unaccompanied children under Title 42 as was the norm under Trump.

The second ruling also involves children – but in family groups. The ACLU, joined by Oxfam, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and other groups sued the federal government to halt the summary expulsion of families under Title 42. The court issued a mixed ruling. 

The court ruled that the administration had the right to implement Title 42, and thus under that policy, did have the authority to expel people without granting them access to asylum proceedings. However, the court also said that the administration could NOT expel people to places where they could face persecution or torture. Which means, people who claimed a credible fear of torture of persecution could not simply be sent back home.

Though the ruling was about family groups, there is nothing in the decision that would limit its application. However, if we are speaking about unaccompanied children, the two rulings conflict with each other. One judge has ordered the administration to end the exemption for children. The other ruling is saying the administration has the authority to deny asylum, but it cannot expel people (including children!) to a situation where they face harm. In essence, requiring a credible fear interview process that is currently denied. 

As the administration is weighing what to do, it is important that we nudge them along the road of ending the program.

There are two dates of importance for getting the message out. March 20th will mark two years since Title 42 was first implemented. There are a number of actions being planned around the country and at the border. The Quixote Center is organizing a vigil at the D.C. office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on March 21 at 1:00 p.m. If you are in the area, please join us, if not, the event will be live streamed on Facebook.

The second date is April 2nd. This is the next renewal date for Title 42 – and if the administration is going to end it soon, this would be the date to do so. Between now and then, we should be flooding the White House with calls with a simply message: End Title 42 expulsions!!


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Texas’ Attorney General: Refugee children are not welcome

“‘He won over everyone with his smile, fearlessness and determination worthy of a real hero,’ the statement said. It is unclear why the boy was unaccompanied.”

The story of an 11-year-old boy, who was put on a train to Slovakia by his parents so he could get out of Ukraine, was celebrated by Slovakian authorities who called him a “hero of the night.”

The boy is lucky he was not sent to Texas.

In Texas, the attorney general, Ken Paxton, is fighting to force the federal government to expel unaccompanied children who arrive at our border.  To be clear, Paxton wants refugee children to be immediately expelled. No access to asylum. No opportunity to locate relatives within the United States who may house them. Expel them. Period.

A federal court, also located in Texas, agreed with Paxton on Friday, and ordered the Biden administration to once again include unaccompanied children under the Title 42 expulsion policy.

What we refer to as Title 42 is a series of orders issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that claims authority under Title 42 of the US legal code to halt the migration of people from a country where an infectious disease is present. The disease in question was COVID-19, of course, which in March of 2020 was already present in the United States – indeed, at a far higher rate of infection than Central America or Mexico. With the implementation of Title 42, practically all asylum processing was suspended. People picked up between ports of entry were simply expelled. People arriving at ports of entry who sought asylum, denied entry.

Since the first Title 42 order was issued in March of 2020, there have been 1.6 million expulsions, involving at least 1 million people (as many as 500,000 expulsions represent people who tried to cross the border more than once). Most of these people have been expelled within two hours of being encountered by Border Patrol. While certainly not all were seeking asylum, even those that were, had no chance to make their case. The only humanitarian relief possible under Title 42 comes from a self-declared fear of torture, and even then, the required screening has not been uniformly granted.

Until Biden became president, Title 42 expulsions included unaccompanied children. Between March of 2020 and January of 2021, at least 15,000 unaccompanied children were expelled under Title 42. In October of 2020, a federal court issued a temporary injunction against the expulsion of children. However, when the case was finally decided in January of 2021, the court sided with the government, allowing the expulsion of children to continue.

When Biden became president, he declared that the United States would no longer expel unaccompanied children under Title 42. In February of 2021, the CDC issued new rules formally exempting children from expulsion under Title 42. As Title 42 was an administrative order, implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, this should have been the final word. The CDC implemented the order with no consultation (something that did NOT brother Paxton at the time), certainly it could modify the order. End of story. Right? 

Wrong….

In April 2021, Texas sued the federal government, claiming that the administration had failed to consider the impact on Texas of the change in policy, and had not followed appropriate procedures in bringing this part of the policy to a close. The case was briefly suspended when Title 42 was re-implemented in July, but the inclusion of the exemption for children in an August update, led Paxton to re-introduce its suit against the Biden administration in September. 

Paxton is clearly not motivated by concern for public health. Paxton has routinely sued cities and counties in Texas to block mask mandates and with Governor Abbott and the Texas Board of Education, has supported insane policies forbidding schools to mandate basic COVID-19 protections – including requiring masks, and parental notification of positive tests. 

He is also not motivated by concern for the children involved. On Friday, Paxton tweeted that the ruling was actually a win for “Texas & children – loss for Biden & cartels!” His spin is that this ruling is going to somehow slow down a “wave of smuggling.” It is not clear how. Paxton who has been posturing about trafficking for years now, has not actually done anything about it. Despite getting the Texas legislature to quadruple the budget for addressing trafficking in Texas, for example, Paxton’s office failed to deliver a single trafficking conviction in 2020. Not. One. Conviction.

All Paxton is doing is waging a war against the Biden administration. As a result of Paxton’s efforts, Texas has led the charge in blocking a temporary deportation moratorium, and forcing the Biden administration to re-implement the Migration Protection Protocols (“Remain in Mexico”). Paxton is now using refugee kids to score political points during what has proved a tough primary season for him. He is being challenged – from the right.

Of course, Texas politics are national politics. Paxton is cut from the same cloth as Trump, a brand that still sells – and not just in Texas. Indeed, this week thirteen Republican members of Congress visited the Del Rio border crossing to once again talk about how the Biden administration supports open borders and is otherwise “doing nothing.” Reality has long since left the immigration debate in the United States. People believe what they want to. And Paxton and Trump are prime examples of the result: Substantively vacuous posturing, that nevertheless pleases the right wing algorithms dropping racist vitriol onto news feeds across the internet. 

What this means is that the kids who have suffered through lengthy journeys, and grave dangers to reach our borders will once again be summarily expelled unless Biden fights and wins an appeal.

That an elected official in this country sees the summary expulsion of refugee children as “good politics,” however, should frighten us all. 

UPDATE: The Biden administration announced late Friday that it would end Title 42 for unaccompanied children

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World order, war and refugees

The news from Ukraine is terrifying. Russian troops continue their advance, shelling the cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, and seizing lands to the south along the Black Sea coast. Negotiations to end the war have not gone well, though Ukraine and Russia’s governments did agree to create a “humanitarian” corridor to allow civilians to leave conflict zones and seek refuge. The number of refugees has already topped 1 million, with at least another million people internally displaced.  

The United States and European allies are pouring billions of dollars of weaponry into the conflict to shore up the Ukrainian government’s defenses. Thus far, the United States and Europe are not committing their own forces, and seem unlikely to unless fighting crosses into neighboring countries. There is an open question about whether the United States is providing targeting information to Ukrainian forces – which would mean something closer to direct involvement in the conflict. The Biden administration was not particularly clear when asked about this. They admitted sharing intelligence about Russian troop movements, but stopped short of confirming the US was helping direct missiles to specific targets.

Within the German government, there has been a dramatic change in course – one that could prove very dangerous down the road (not that too many people outside the military-industrial complex are looking down the road at the moment). Jeff Rathke, writing for Foreign Policy details some of these developments, which include an emergency appropriation of $115 billion, commitment to expend the equivalent of 2% of Germany’s GDP on its military budget, and “the Defense Ministry announced that it would provide 1,000 anti-tank systems and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, reversing Germany’s long-standing policy against providing arms to crisis zones.”

Prior to the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration was already set to request a $770 billion budget for the military in FY 2023, an amount anticipated to grow to $800 billion by the time members of Congress finished funding pet programs in their districts. What the budget ends up looking like now that Russia has invaded Ukraine is anybody’s guess, but no doubt even more obscene. No other country on the planet spends anywhere near this; indeed, the United States military budget is roughly equivalent to the rest of the world’s combined. 

Amidst the condemnations of Russia’s violent intervention into Ukraine we are also asked to look past the sad reality that the United States is currently involved in counter-terrorism/counter-insurgency efforts in at least 85 countries around the world right now. We are asked to forget that US interventions into Iraq and Afghanistan – countries nowhere near the US border, mind you – unleashed two decades of bloodletting that effectively destroyed both countries, and utterly failed to achieve the long-term goals these interventions were supposed to achieve.

In the case of Iraq, the invasion further destabilized a long-standing, though admittedly tenuous, balance of power, that led to an explosion of regional conflict, from Syria to Libya to Yemen, with deadly consequences. All together, direct deaths from the conflicts that grew out of the United States’ “Global War on Terror” are estimated between 900,000 and 930,00 people, with another 3-4 million dead from indirect causes (collapsed infrastructure, disease and so on). 

These wars also forcibly displaced 38 million people

It is also notable that the Biden administration moved swiftly to extend Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians, protecting tens of thousands from deportation, and has completely suspended deportation flights to Ukraine. Ukrainian refugees deserve to be welcomed in a dignified way, as do asylum seekers from Cameroon, Haiti, Central America, and so many others who continue to fight for any form of relief from deportation.

The sad reality is that Russia’s brutality is a logical product of the world order that has been created out of the rubble of the Cold War – with the United States a central player in its formation. So, we should not hesitate to condemn Russian actions. The idea, however, that the war was unprovoked, or that the United States and the EU are playing the role of some kind of neutral arbiter trying to salvage international peace and other such nonsense, must be set aside. 

After all of the shouting about who is to blame, what is undeniably true is that there are at least 2 million more people displaced by war today than last week. They join the nearly 83 million people already displaced by violence. That, ultimately, is the measure of the current iteration of great power competition and proxy war making.

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Workers protest for higher wages, better conditions in Haiti

Workers in Haiti’s free trade zones are protesting for better wages and improved work conditions. The latest demonstrations began in the CARACOL industrial park near Cap Haitien, but shifted to the industrial zones near the airport in Port au Prince over the last two weeks. Workers have been beaten during the demonstrations, and last week three people were shot, one of whom died. Those shot were reporters covering the protests and it seems they were targeted as such by police, but there is no way to confirm.

Back in January, a coalition of nine unions issued an appeal to the government, “seeking a minimum wage increase from 500 gourdes (about $4.82 a day) to 1,500 gourdes ($14.62).” At first glance this is clearly a large increase, but it is one that is long overdue. In the face of demonstrations, the government negotiated a wage increase with free zone companies – one much smaller than the unions were seeking: Just 185 gourdes a day – bringing the total daily wage to 685 gourdes, or roughly $0.80 an hour..

While the question of wages has taken center stage, the concerns are much broader than wage levels, and include unsafe working conditions and the high taxes workers are charged for pensions and health services; benefits most will never enjoy. 

The question of rights violations and workplace safety are institutionally separate from the setting of wage levels: the government decides the minimum wage, while issues around health and safety, and concerns over other rights violations in these factories flow through a monitoring process mandated by the United States government as a condition for the passage of the HOPE II Act. As a result, solidarity with workers also requires a multidimensional approach. We can denounce the treatment of workers at the hands of the Haitian government, but must also press the US government and the clothing brands that source in Haiti to do more.

The apparel sector in Haiti employs 63,000+ workers, 53,400 of whom work in factories that are registered under the monitoring system tied to HOPE II. At $988 million in value, the textile sector contributed 83% of Haiti’s total exports in 2021.  Textiles are thus a critical source for foreign exchange, a reality that gives the companies in these parks an outsized (in relationship to total national employment) leverage over government policy. 

And almost all of this apparel is currently coming to the United States. Companies like Gilden, Hanes, Old Navy, Reebok, DIsney and others source their clothing from factories in Haiti. 

We will be writing more about the situation as the workers decide how to respond to the government’s wage increase proposal, and we decide how to best stand in solidarity with them.

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BHM Series: Garifuna Activist & Land Defender Miriam Miranda

For our last installation of this year’s Black History Month series, we are highlighting the life and work of Honduran Garifuna activist Miriam Miranda. 

Miriam Miranda is a Honduran Garifuna human rights activist and land defender. As the head of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)—which defends the rights of Garifuna communities—Miranda has worked to stop land theft by the tourism industry, to reclaim ancestral Garifuna land, promote sustainability, and support community leadership development for youth and women.

The Garifuna people, or Garínagu, are an Afro-indigenous group that lives predominantly along the Atlantic Coast of Central America and St. Vincent. They are descendants of indigenous Arawak and Carib and African maroon communities, peoples who fled enslavement, who worked together to resist British and French colonial authorities. Garifuna language, food, and culture retain strong ties to their West African and indigenous roots. 

According to Garifuna traditions in Honduras, ancestral lands are inherited by women and passed down to their children. Garifuna women are often deeply involved in preserving Garifuna land and culture, a belief that Miranda has reflected:

Everywhere throughout Honduras, like in all of Latin America, Africa, Asia, women are at the forefront of the struggles for our rights, against racial discrimination, for the defense of our commons and our survival. We’re at the front not only with our bodies but also with our force, our ideas, our proposals. 

Today, Garifuna ancestral lands and communities are under threat by tourism developments, mining projects, and drug cartels. With OFRANEH, Miranda has fought for litigation in defense of Garifuna lands, successfully bringing cases forth to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. She also helped develop a network of community radio stations to counter the predominantly state-controlled media. 

However, the human rights situation in Honduras remains precarious for Garifuna communities. In 2019, Honduras was ranked the most dangerous country in the world to be a land and environmental defender. Garifuna leaders have been the targets of violent attacks such as arson, abduction, and threats at gunpoint. On July 18, 2020, the Honduran Investigative Police (DPI)—which has received U.S. training—forcibly disappeared four Garifuna land defenders; SUNLA, an initiative launched by OFRANEH, continues the search. 

Miriam Miranda herself has been violently attacked by both the Honduran government as well as cartels, and was even labeled a criminal on Honduran news. In 2012, following a peaceful protest, Miriam was arrested, beaten, and detained for 12 days by Honduran police, and charged with sedition. In 2014, Miranda, along with several other community leaders, was kidnapped by drug traffickers building an illegal airstrip on Garifuna land. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has granted Miranda protective measures, but the Honduran government has done little to address these crimes. 

In 2015, Miriam received the Óscar Romero Human Rights Award, alongside fellow Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated less than a year later. You can watch that ceremony, and her speech at the end, HERE. In 2016, Miriam received the Carlos Escaleras environmental prize for her 30 years of activism defending Garifuna communities.

Despite the dangers of her work, Miranda continues to fight to defend the land, culture, and rights of her community. 

“OFRANEH and the Garifuna will continue our fight to live and prosper in Honduras,” Miranda stated. “As for the politicians who would tell us ​‘do not come,’ we call on them to stop backing the regimes that would displace us.”

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The long arm of US border policy

“We are looking for a way to get out of Chiapas because in Chiapas there is no way to live because people are treating you like animals, your rights are being violated. So if we are refugees we are fighting so that we can get out and looking for a way to live so that we can eat.” —Haitian migrant statement to the Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Méxicano, August 2021.

Migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Cameroon, and other parts of Africa and Latin America are once again mobilizing in Tapachula to protest their treatment by Mexican immigration authorities. The latest demonstrations have been building for weeks, with the same grievances that have led to cycles of protests and multiple caravan attempts going back to 2020: The Mexican government refuses to let people leave Chiapas until their asylum claims have been processed by COMAR, and COMAR is backlogged with growing requests and thus months behind.

Nicole Narea of Vox reported last week that, “On Tuesday, a dozen migrants staged a protest in which they sewed their lips together and went on a hunger strike. They are among the thousands staying in what has become known as an “open-air prison” in the city of Tapachula on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Migrants there have struggled to access food and shelter, and have reported being preyed on by government officials.”

This week there have been clashes between migrants and Mexico’s National Guard, which has been mobilized to monitor the border and prevent the movement of migrants out of Chiapas. Edgar Clemente from the Associated Press reports that, “Dozens of migrants from Haiti, Cuba and African nations threw stones and sticks at Mexican National Guard troops and immigration agents Tuesday in the southern city of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala.” The Mexican National Guard and INM agents have, in turn, repeatedly suppressed efforts by migrants to leave Chiapas in caravans over the past 6 months. 

The situation in Tapachula has been deteriorating for some time, the context very much shaped by US border policies and pressure on the government of Mexico.

Back in March 2021, the Biden administration 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 forefront 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.

Mexico followed this by announcing the temporary closure of its border with Guatemala and Belize to all but “essential” travel.

These moves may have been intended to target Central American migrants, but caught up in the same dragnet have been many others, including Haitians. Their circumstances have been made worse by changes in the law governing the issuance of visas—a change also made under pressure from the United States – this time Trump. 

In 2019, Mexico changed rules covering oficios de salida, or “exit visas.” Prior to the summer of 2019, people arriving in southern Mexico could receive a visa for 15 to 30 days—allowing them time to apply for a change in status. Many traveled to the border with the United States instead. 

Visas now require exit through the nearest (for most) southern border, leaving people with the option of applying for asylum, or other change of status within that time frame. If trying to reach the United States, they can now only cross Mexico in an unauthorized manner. With expanded enforcement, doing this carries great risks, so people apply for asylum in Chiapas—and then have to wait. 

In October of 2020, there were several attempts at organizing caravans to protest these new visa rules and other restrictions on mobility for asylum seekers. The resulting caravans were violently repressed by the National Guard in a preview of what we are seeing now.

From October 2020 to today, these issues have not been resolved. The rules remain in place. People, in increasing numbers, remain trapped in Tapachula. Those who have tried to leave have been attacked by the National Guard and immigration authorities. 

Organizations in Mexico have been advocating for the government to respect the right of free mobility, which is enshrined in Mexico’s constitution. It is widely understood that the current restrictions are being maintained under pressure from the United States. Of course, it is also true that if freedom of movement is restored, more people would likely try to come to the United States. As  the Biden administration seems unwilling to alter border policy in any significant way right now, if people get to the US border, most will be immediately expelled anyway.

Currently, there are tens of thousands of migrants, including many Haitians, trapped in Tapachula. The protests this week will continue until there is some relief offered to people – asylum decisions made, freedom of movement restored. Long-term, however, the change that must happen is at the United States border. Asylum must be restored here, and border enforcement overhauled so that people are treated humanely. 

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Opening the Veils of Vodou 

For this week’s Black History Month series at the Quixote Center, our board member Serge Hyacinthe explains the cultural and historical significance of Haitian vodou, and how it is often misrepresented. 

Vodou Ceremony (1980s) Madsen Mompremier, Courtesy of Haitian Art Society

By Serge Hyacinthe & Dr. Sandra Duval 

Vodou Spirits (1990) Ramphis Magloire, Courtesy of Haitian Art Society

Archeologists and ethnographers can attest that since the dawn of time, humans in every culture have left artifacts that gave us clues to their responses to questions about creation and the afterlife. So, understandably, African civilizations have also used creation myths to explain the cosmos, the elements of nature, human conditions, and their relationship with the transcendent. Over time, they have developed technologies and honed different ways of knowing to explain and interact with the universe around them. For example, the Dogon people of Mali knew the location of the star Sothis (Sirius) centuries before western technologies enabled us to see it. Ancient civilizations understood the impact of nature on daily life – from floods to tides, weather, fertility, and harvests. Science and spirituality were not separated. As people moved voluntarily and involuntarily to the Americas, they carried their faiths, beliefs, and knowledge with them. 

In dire times when faced with overwhelming grief, impossible feats, calamities and the prospect of death, many instinctively summoned the spirits and the Creator. For example, it was noted that during the Constitutional Convention of June 28, 1787, Benjamin Franklin had reminded his fellow citizens that their prayers were always answered during the war against England. Americans triumphed over stronger opponents on many occasions. He stressed that they should continue to seek God’s help as they write the constitution and build their empire. He states, “God governs the affairs of men…is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”.  Likewise, the enslaved habitants of Haiti plead for the support of their Creator in their affairs – to unleash the chains which separated them from their families, land, language – their very identity, their name. Their way of life was based on Vodou principles. Vodou helped them survive in a place so harsh that their lifespan was reduced to a mere 21 years. 

The most commonly referred and earliest presence of Vodou in Haitian history takes place in August 1791 at the infamous Bois Caiman (Bwa Kay Iman) ceremony.  Faced with enslavement and the most atrocious and barbarous conditions, over two hundred of our Haitian forefathers and mothers from various plantations came together for a Vodou ceremony and called upon the Creator to give them the strength and courage to take on one of the most formidable empires of modern history. Imbued by the spirit of the God within, they swore to take on their oppressors and fight for their liberty to the death.  Their act of faith led to what is still considered by historians as one of the greatest military upsets and the only successful slave revolution that has culminated in the formation of an independent Country.  The mere survival of the Haitian people and state for over two centuries in the shadows of great imperial aggression and conquests is a demonstration of Haitian Spirituality.  

Vodou Ceremony (1940-50s) Leon LePierre, Courtesy of Haitian Art Society

Vodou, much like Santeria in Cuba and Candomble in Brazil, is one of the syncretic religious expressions that have emerged in the African Diaspora. They emanate from the shared experience of expropriating black bodies from the shores of Africa to their enslavement in the Americas and the Caribbean where all expression of native religion and culture was forbidden and a complete rupture from everything African was attempted. More than a religion, Vodou is a way of life and a comprehensive belief that merges the relationship to the Creator and nature and therefore is present in all aspects of life. It includes a connection with cosmic energies that harmonizes the sacred and the profane, the material and the spiritual, and the world of the living with that of the ancestors and the Lwa.   The lwas represent the diversity of characteristics and expressions in the cosmos.  Vodou believes in the sanctity and unitary God and shares some common denominator and universal ethical principles with other world religions.  Among them are a strong sense of justice and service, respect for elders, benevolence and harmony with the environment.  This includes harnessing the characteristics of plants and nature for wellbeing and healing.  Vodou temples, oumfo, and ceremonies are led by an ougan priest or mambo priestess who are equal in stature and operate in a nondiscriminatory or hierarchical gender order.      

Ethnocentrism and two centuries of sustained attacks have led to its misunderstanding and malignment. Overt practices are historically shunned and adherents often prosecuted, physically harmed, and even killed.  One of the genesis of the attacks is the 1860 Concordat which the Haitian leaders, faced with complete isolation, signed with the Vatican. It granted the Catholic Church free reign to educate. The church unofficially gained religious monopoly and supremacy. French priests were sent to enforce and maintain the religion while denigrating the indigenous spirituality and culture.  Under the banner of anti-superstition, at least thirteen Catholic church and state-sanctioned campaigns were conducted from 1896 to 1942 which resulted in countless deaths, the burning of Vodou temples, and the destruction of artifacts.  The American Occupation of 1915 led to further debasement and attacks with the US media and Hollywood supplying an endless barrage of sensationalized and racist stories and nefarious depictions. The machination of mythic creations such as the diabolical Zombies and voodou dolls depicted in those movies still serve as a backdrop to popular perceptions of Vodou. Christian Evangelical extremists with their racist and intolerant theology have further contributed to the propaganda machinery and blame Haiti’s underdevelopment which is tied to two centuries of foreign, including American, exploitation and even the devastating quake of 2010 which killed over 225,000 people to voodoo.   

Vodou Ceremony (1960s) Adam Leontus, Courtesy of Haitian Art Society

Notwithstanding, the enormous and longstanding pressures and attacks, Vodou is ingrained and has become more institutionalized and understood.  A number of Haitian intellectuals such as Max Beauvoir, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, and others have invested in literary works and projects to dispel the myths and disseminate accurate information about the ethnography, practices, and norms of Vodou.  In the late ’80s, Haiti witnessed a social reckoning against the cultural elite and sought ways to embrace and honor its African roots.  The 1987 Haitian constitution eliminated the ban on the practice of Vodou and for the first time acknowledged it as a legitimate religion and national treasure. The normalization and open acceptance of Vodou is still in progress, but the demonization of its adherents and practices is roundly rejected by many. 

 

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Biden has deported nearly as many Haitians in his first year as the last three presidents – combined

Biden has expelled nearly as many Haitians in 12 months (20,200+) as were deported during the previous 20 years (22,000-23,000)*** under three different presidents. Indeed, Biden’s administration has likely expelled far more: In addition to these official removal numbers, another estimated 8,000 Haitians were expelled back into Mexico in September of 2021, voluntarily according to DHS Secretary Mayorkas, but in circumstances that make that characterization suspect.

The numbers

Through the end of January 2022, the Biden administration expelled 19,189 Haitians via flights to Port au Prince and Cap Haitien according to the International Organization on Migration. There have been an additional eleven flights from February 1st to February 21th – bringing the estimated total number of people expelled to 20,200 and growing. For regular reporting on flights, see Witness at the Border.

Another 8,000 Haitians “volunteered” to return back to Mexico in September of 2021 according to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, speaking during a press conference about the situation in the Del Rio sector. The degree to which people voluntarily went back into Mexico must be weighed against what they were facing – certain detention and deportation to Haiti. In addition, the entire fiasco that occurred at the Del Rio crossing was an abomination of human rights violations. There has been an internal DHS investigation into Border Patrol attacks on Haitian migrants and a lawsuit brought by the Haitian Bridge Alliance and other organizations concerning the overall poor treatment of Haitians by US immigration authorities in Del Rio. 

The Trump administration expelled **6,691 Haitians. Just over 2,800 of those removals occurred early in 2017, following the Obama administration’s decision to expand deportations to Haiti in October of 2016. Indeed, of the 5,567 Haitians expelled in FY 2017, 2,737 were expelled by the Obama administration between October 2016 to January 2017. Most of the rest expelled that year occurred in February to April, and more accurately reflect an Obama policy. Trump announced his intention to suspend Temporary Protected Status for Haiti in late 2017 – but that suspension was tied up in courts throughout his presidency. 

The Obama administration expelled *6,758 Haitians over an 8 year period. As noted above 40% of those removals occurred in the first 4 months of FY 2017. Temporary Protected Status was re-designated for Haiti by the Obama administration in 2011 – a year after the massive earthquake that wrecked Port au Prince in January of 2010. Despite TPS being in place and the country in shambles, deportations continued for new arrivals and so called “criminal deportees” who did not qualify for TPS. The deportations were condemned by the United Nations and others. A detailed report on these removals was published in 2015 jointly by the law clinics at the Universities of Miami and Chicago.

In 2016 the massive increase in deportations was the result of an increase in arrivals of Haitians near San Diego, and was intended then (as today) as a deterrent. The Haitians arriving in San Diego were mostly leaving Brazil where many had relocated after the 2010 earthquake. From 2010 to 2015 Brazil admitted tens of thousands of Haitians in a drive for workers to help prepare for the Olympics and World Cup. Starting in 2015, Brazil fell into a recession, and the situation for Haitians deteriorated quickly. Many tried to come to the United States in 2015 and 2016. They were mostly blocked at the border, as the Obama administration instituted its “metering” system, which forced Haitians to wait in Mexico for their number to be called. Some are still waiting. 

The Bush administration deported 9,100 Haitians – during a time that included an increase in removals following the 9/11/2001 attacks and an increase in border militarization more generally. The Bush years also covered the 2004 coup d’etat in Haiti, following which the US Coast Guard interdicted and returned hundreds of Haitians caught at sea – though nothing like the number that had been interdicted in the 1990s. Those numbers are not included here or in any other year, as the people interdicted in this manner rarely make it to the United States.

Take Action to Stop Removals:

We need to tell Biden to halt the expulsion of Haitians. At least 85% of these expulsions have taken place using Title 42 policies – a faux public health order issued under the Trump Administration permitting the Department of Homeland Security to expel people without any possibility of asylum screening. So, not only has Biden removed far more Haitians, but he has shut many out of the possibility to apply for asylum in the process and at a time of great distress in Haiti.

This week members of the House and Senate called on the administration to halt the removals, writing:

Haiti is in the midst of a deteriorating political, climate, and economic crisis. In fact, Haitians now face the compounding challenge of increasing food insecurity, malnutrition, waterborne disease epidemics, and high vulnerability to natural hazards, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. … Haiti simply cannot safely accept the repatriation of its nationals, which is why we are so deeply concerned with the large-scale removals and expulsions of individuals back to Haiti. To that end, we are concerned that the Administration’s use of the Title 42 authority is depriving legitimate asylum seekers the opportunity to pursue their claims, contrary to our obligations under international and domestic law.

See who signed the letter – and thank your Representative and/or Senator if they did!

We need to keep up the pressure: the message is halt all removals to Haiti given the current humanitarian crisis, and end Title 42 expulsion for everyone!

Send a message to Congress asking them to speak out against this policy by clicking here.

Sources

  1. Removals under the Biden administration, from International Organization on Migration
  2. October 2020 to January 2021, the end of FY 2020 and start of Biden’s term, is estimated based flight reports, The Biden administration has not yet issued the ICE Annual Report for FY 2021. Estimating 1,425 for this period.
  3. FY 2020 ICE Annual Report
  4. Fiscal years 2003-2019 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse 
  5. FY 2001 to FY 2002: Immigration and Naturalization Services statistics accessed at Year Book of Immigration Statistics 2002

There have been a few questions about the numbers reported which I address in these notes:

*Figures updated on February 22 to more accurately reflect the period of transition between the ending FY 2016 and Trump taking office in late January 2017 – a period where removals to Haiti reached their previous high.
** For FY 2020 the Department of Homeland Security reported 895 removals to Haiti. 490 of those removals come before the March 20th implementation of Title 42. From March 20th to end of September, DHS is not clear if removal figures include Title 42 expulsions. Which is to say, it is possible that there were more 405 removals during the remainder of the year. Based on Title 42 apprehensions and tracking of likely deportation flights, there may be up to 500 more people removed under Trump than captured in this estimate.

***A final note on numbers: The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse documents 19,727 ICE removals for Haiti from October 2002 to March 2020. In FY 2001- and 2002 there were 941 removals under INS. That is a total of 20,688 deportation to Haiti from October 2000 through March 2020. The only real questions concerns the figures from March 2020 to January 19, 2021 because 1.) the FY 2021 DHS annual report has yet to be released, and 2.) because of the lack of clarity concerning whether Title 42 is included in the DHS removal figures that year. Therefor, the overall original estimate of 21,900 removals for Bush, Obama and Trump combined should more accurately be reported as a range 22,000 to 23,000 because of the possibility of some undercounting.

However, none of this changes the overall conclusion that the Biden administration has removed far more Haitians than the last three presidents, and is fast approaching their combined total.

As of February 21, Biden has expelled at least 20,200 Haitians back to Haiti since taking office. 

 

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