Why does the U.S. government hate immigrant children?

Over the last week there have been a number of stories that have illustrated the ways in which the Trump administration’s war on immigrants is having a disproportionate impact on children. From continuing a hard line against the caravan of migrants, mostly people fleeing violence in Honduras, to the shocking admission that the administration lost track of 1,500 immigrant children last year, the war on immigration is hurting families, and doing so with the intention of discouraging their claims for asylum in the United States.

Caravan Update

The Trump/Fox invasion isn’t happening. Indeed, the rhetoric about the caravaners crossing Mexico to seek asylum in the United States met a reality check point Sunday. The number of people who arrived at immigration checkpoints in southern California as part of the Pueblo Sin Frontera’s caravan was under 200, mostly women and children fleeing violence in Honduras. Upon arrival, caravaners were told that the port of entry had been closed because the facility at San Ysidro was at capacity. Late Monday, eight members of the caravan were admitted for asylum processing. From the San Diego Union Tribune:

On Monday morning, some 20 members of the caravan, most of them women with small children, spread out on blankets at the door to the port’s PedWest entrance, watching as northbound pedestrian crossers filed past at a rapid clip, heading to jobs, school and shopping excursions.

“I feel that God will help me cross, and will touch the president’s heart,” said José Cristobal Amaya, 16, among the small group waiting at the PedWest door.

The Honduran teenager, who was traveling alone, said he was fleeing gang members he calls Los Mareros who beat his father and threatened to kill his entire family.

The eight caravan members to go through were from this group, with mothers and children the first to be selected, according to a spokesman for Pueblo Sin Fronteras: three mothers, four children, and an 18-year-old were in the initial group.

The spokesman said that they will remain detained at the port until they receive a “credible fear” interview, an initial screening that launches the asylum process.

Meanwhile a larger group of caravan members continued waiting, spread farther from the PedWest entrance in an open area outside El Chaparral, Mexico’s federal port that connects to San Ysidro.

Attorneys who have been assisting them have said that up to 200 participants had been preparing to apply for asylum.

Lost 1,500 children?!?!

The Trump administration was forced to admit that its Department of Health and Human Services had lost track of 1,500 children that were processed through our immigration system. 1,500. Children.

From the Washington Post:

A Senate subcommittee has found that federal officials lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children last year after a government agency placed the minors in the custody of adult sponsors in communities nationwide.

The Health and Human Services Department says it uses its limited funds to track the safety of at-risk children, and could not determine where 1,475 missing minors had gone.

The Health and Human Services Department came under fire two years ago for rolling back child welfare policies meant to protect unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America. An Associated Press investigation found that more than two dozen were placed in homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work.

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations says federal agencies need to take full responsibility for the children’s care.

A more detailed report from Think Progress is here. The number represents 19% of the children processed through the system from October to December last year. Importantly, HHS’s system for placing children in custodial arrangements while they await processing has been flawed for years, and cannot be laid entirely on Trump’s doorstep. From the Think Progress report:

Two years ago the subcommittee released a report, detailing how HHS placed more than a dozen immigrant children with human traffickers after officials failed to conduct thorough background checks to sponsors. To prevent this from recurring, HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) signed a memorandum, agreeing to establish procedures together within a year to protect unaccompanied minors who come to the United States. The agencies have not completed the new guidelines, and said they would tell senators Monday, by close of business, when they would complete the agreement.

The systemic problems may not have originated with Trump. Yet, the rapid increase of child separation as a tactic by this administration, without providing adequate safeguards, means the problem is now just worse.

1,500. Children.

 

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Sister Pauline Quinn

Part V of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

Click here to support Sister Pauline’s work in Uganda

Sister Pauline Quinn, a Dominican recognizable in her full habit, is best known for launching one of the first, revolutionary, prison puppy programs in the United States, expanding it to dozens of prisons around the world, and inspiring similar programs across the country.

Sister Pauline Quinn and Pax

Pathways to Hope provides puppies to prisoners who have volunteered to mold these rambunctious, unruly (and absolutely adorable) puppies into disciplined service dogs for veterans with PTSD, people with disabilities, and children with autism, among others. The program offers opportunities for licenses and certifications that improve prisoners’ ability to find employment upon release, and participation in puppy programs is correlated with a significant reduction in recidivism. Puppies trained by inmates also have a higher success rate than those trained in private homes due to the time participants are able to devote to training as well as their emotional investment in their puppy’s success. Indeed, when her own late PTSD service dog – a Doberman named Reni – died of cancer, Sister Pauline chose one of the prison puppies, a Golden Retriever aptly named Pax, as successor.

But the puppies serve a greater purpose than all that. For Sister Pauline, the program is about feeling, healing, and forgiveness. Indeed, Luis Diaz, serving 25 to life at Fishkill Correctional Facility in NY for murder, said, “I’m looking for forgiveness. This puppy, this is gonna be my second chance. That’s just how I see it. As a second chance to do something right.”

When I asked Sister Pauline if inmates serving life sentences without the possibility of parole could participate, she was adamant, “We like the lifers.” Their long-term participation in the program makes them the most skilled trainers; and their long-term incarceration also leaves them in greater need of the emotional and spiritual support that the puppies offer: connecting offenders to the community, providing the “positive touch” that the incarcerated are denied, reviving their sense of their own humanity, and allowing them to feel this mutual bond of love and trust. Yes, the prisoners frequently cry when their puppies graduate, but, as Sister Pauline told me, “You can’t start healing until you start feeling.”

Though guards are now some of the biggest supporters, they were the most skeptical when Sister Pauline first proposed the program, fearing that the dogs could be taught to attack them. (This concern, she explained, was unfounded: Cultivating aggression requires frequent agitation, leading the dog to bark, growl, etc. – sounds that, you know, might stand out in a prison setting.) Instead, guards note an increase in empathy and a decrease in violent incidents among participants. As one guard observed, “Dogs have brought humanity into this prison setting.” (As you have seen and will see in future posts, humanity is precisely what’s lacking in the prison system.)

Sister Pauline paints a picture in which the puppies transform the entire ecology of the prison. The relationship between prisoners and guards change. During difficult days, guards stop by the cells to hug the puppies and interact with their trainers, no longer mere “inmates.”

This process changes relationships among prisoners as well. Participants must learn to trust one another, cellmates take part in the puppy’s care, and positive interactions with other inmates increase.   

Sister Pauline’s goal is to encourage prisoners to become “other-centered,” and thereby to help them heal. After the traumas she suffered earlier in her life, which left both physical and mental scars, her own healing began with a dog – a stray German Shepherd named Joni – who made her feel safe, worthy of God’s love, Joni’s, and her own.

She chose to become a Dominican nun, but was shunned by those made uncomfortable by her visible scars. Some in the Church have been skeptical about her, including one official who called her “an embarrassment.” (On the other hand, her encounter with Pope Francis in 2017 made the cover of Il Mio Papa, a weekly dedicated to the current Pope’s activities. She and Pax have met Pope Francis three times.)

But the criticism between her and the Church is definitely mutual.

The role of the Church, in her view, is to promote peace and reconciliation, but it fails both frequently and miserably. As she told me in a recent conversation, “Helping heal people is more important than having meetings at luxury resorts,” but those who hold positions of power in the Church typically choose to “focus on whatever makes their power more powerful.” Leaving the Church, however, is not her solution to the problem. Rather, her purpose is “to challenge them in the hope that they’ll change.” To do so, she says, she uses the “one tool they can’t take away: the Gospels.” Though she was once afraid of “being a troublemaker,” she doesn’t worry about that anymore. “I know who I am.”

She is pleased with those sisters who are “taking back their lives” while remaining as witnesses within the Church. And she is embraced as a Sister by the Church and especially the Dominican leadership, including Timothy Radcliffe, the former Master of the Order of Preachers (now at the Vatican), Fr. Michael Stock, her spiritual advisor, and Bishop José Raúl Vera López (then a coadjutor bishop in Chiapas, Mexico) who witnessed the profession of her vows. While she does not live within a religious community (she currently lives in a hermitage in Wisconsin with Pax as well as Joey and Vinny, also trained service dogs), her community is expansive, and includes the thousands of refugees, children, veterans, prisoners, cats, and dogs she has helped through her vocation. Moreover, being rebuffed by the Church certainly puts her in good company and leaves her free to do just what she wants: whether helping children in the middle east don gas masks during the Gulf War, helping African refugees in Italy find homes in Canada and the United States, bringing kids from El Salvador here for medical treatment, living for several weeks each year in an Argentine prison, visiting prison mental health and hospice units with Joey and Vinny, taking Pax to visit death row inmates in Angola, or raising money to sustain a school in a village in Uganda.

If you want to support Sister Pauline’s work, please visit her GoFundMe campaign to help school children in Uganda. Even as she faces a very aggressive form of cancer, she continues to be “other-centered” and is eager to help this fledgling school (recently founded by Emmanuel Kisitu) by providing as many resources as possible before she is no longer here to help.

[Sister Pauline provided the photos below. Additional photos and info can be found on her GoFundMe page.]  

Font Prep School, Uganda

Emmanuel Kisitu (middle) and faculty

Sister Pauline at Font Preparatory School

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Yes, we still oppose the NICA Act!!

The NICA Act is legislation proposed by Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the U.S. Senate (a version has already passed in the House) that would require the U.S. representatives at multilateral institutions to vote against new loans for Nicaragua (at the World Bank and IMF that means a veto). The NICA Act is in response to U.S. “concerns” over electoral manipulation by the Sandinistas, and would require suspension of assistance until democratic reforms are undertaken.

We feel certain that there will be a rush to get this passed in the wake of the violence in Nicaragua last week. The NICA Act already has some Democrats as co-sponsors. This was a bad piece of legislation when introduced and still is, even after this past week of conflict.

The result of this legislation will simply be to punish those already on the economic margins.

Suspension of loans will reduce government revenue, while also raising Nicaragua’s cost of borrowing from other sources. The IMF estimates that the fiscal shock of the NICA Act would increase annual public sector deficits from 2% of GDP to over 6% of GDP by 2022. Predictably, the only way the IMF sees to offset this outcome is fiscal adjustments – meaning cuts to social programs and ending exemptions under the current VAT (Value Added Tax) formula. And then, only if the INSS solvency issue is solved.

The NICA Act, will thus usher in a period of economic instability that will simply lay the groundwork for further political polarization. Such polarization is probably the goal of the bill’s sponsors. We need to stop it.

This is particularly true since an effort to establish a process of national dialogue is underway in Nicaragua, to be mediated by the Catholic Church. Passage of the NICA Act would constitute a major disruption to these talks.

Call the Capitol Switchboard  (202) 224 – 3121 to connect with your member of Congress and tell them No NICA Act!

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Initial Reflections on the Violence in Nicaragua

As many people – certainly most likely to be reading this – already know, Nicaragua was roiled by protests that turned violent over the last week. Estimates are that 34 people have been killed, most on Friday and Saturday as the conflict extended throughout the country, though the majority of deaths were still in Managua. Sunday, President Ortega announced that the reform of the social security system that set off the protest would be annulled and new negotiations begun. On Monday, a large peace rally in Managua seemed to signal the winding down of the tensions, though some protests continue. The details of the events over the last week are far from clear; how to interpret them is even murkier. Despite efforts to pack them into a tight narrative, the reality is that the sources of the violence and their purpose are difficult to synthesize from the conflicting reports. What we can discuss are the broad outlines of the conflict, and the short-term winners and losers that have emerged from it. Finally, for those in the United States, we can continue to stand firm against U.S. intervention in the political process in Nicaragua, which has only ever made things worse for the majority of the Nicaraguan people.

Context for the Protests

The National Social Security Institute (INSS) in Nicaragua is facing a long-term sustainability crisis. Expenditures have increased while anticipated revenue has not been met. Unless reform is undertaken, the social security fund will deplete its reserves by 2019. Nicaragua completed its Article IV consultation with the International Monetary Fund in November of 2017. The crisis in the INSS was highlighted in this consultation as urgent and policy recommendations for reform were made. The IMF did not dictate a specific set of changes, but offered a menu of four alternative reform packages, all of which included sharp reductions in benefit payments of 20-30%. Three of the four proposals also included raising the retirement age (to 63 or 65) with increasing contributions featured in some as well. From the IMF’s perspective, the threat from INSS insolvency is that the government will have to transfer revenue to cover shortfalls, impacting its ability to service debt payments. Even if that outcome is not a first priority for others, it is clear that INSS insolvency will create enormous budget tension at a time when other factors are also pinching Nicaragua’s economy.

Negotiations over reform for the INSS involved COSEP, representing private industry, workers’ representatives, and the government. COSEP left the table when its proposed reforms, largely based on the most regressive IMF recommendations, were rejected. The government then took the step of announcing its own attempt at a compromise reform package on Wednesday. In the government proposal, the formula for expanding contributions to the system included a 3.25% increase in business contributions, compared to .75% increase for workers, with the government contribution increasing by 1.25% for public sector workers. In addition, a 5% contribution for health benefits was also announced, far short of the 20-30% benefits cut recommended by the IMF, but still falling squarely on the shoulders of people with limited means. The government kept the age for receiving benefits at 60 (COSEP’s position had been to raise this to 65). Increasing contributions while cutting benefits was guaranteed to spark some protest, and indeed, pensioners marched the day it was announced, but they were later followed by students. Likewise, adopting a formula opposed by the business community led to COSEP issuing its own call for demonstrations.

The causes of the turn to violence that escalated on Thursday and grew into a national crisis by the weekend are less clear. There are competing explanations. One view, dominant in the reporting of La Prensa and through its reporting, the international media, is that the government was to blame. In this narrative, groups of pipe-wielding “orteguistas” weighed into crowds of peaceful demonstrators in an effort to intimidate, and ultimately shut down, the demonstrations. When protests continued, the police, later joined by the military, used excessive force to try to stop them.

An opposing view is that the escalation of tensions was the result of government opponents using the protests as a pretext to engage in a violent campaign of destabilization. In this narrative, militant groups associated with the opposition parties, Citizens for Liberty (CxL) and Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), ratcheted up the tensions, burning government buildings and firing on police. One of the first deaths on Thursday, for example, was a police officer killed by a shotgun blast; social security buildings, FSLN offices, and other public spaces were set aflame all over the country. Clearly not all the demonstrators were peaceful.

It is possible, of course, that elements of both explanations are true: that the original protests were a peaceful, legitimate expression of grievances; then the government overreacted, and in that space of increasing conflict, opposition groups opportunistically sought to heighten the tensions.

Maybe.

Of course, if one is to step back and ask who benefitted from the violence, the answer is clear: COSEP and the opposition parties. The government withdrew the INSS reforms, and signaled a willingness to go back to a table that COSEP had previously walked away from. This is not good news for the poor. COSEP’s position has now been strengthened in these negotiations, and that likely means deeper cuts, and a possible increase in the retirement age. Also possible is that no agreement will be reached, which risks INSS insolvency and/or trouble with Nicaragua’s creditors. In addition, Ortega’s government has suffered a further blow to its legitimacy, both domestically and internationally, which will likely lead to lasting diplomatic repercussions. For example, the protests make the passage of the NICA Act, which would limit Nicaragua’s access to new loans, in the U.S. Congress, more likely. This is also bad news for the poor who will suffer the most from any reduction in loans from multilateral lenders. The opposition will treat the events of the last week (or at least their spin on those events) as vindication of their position and seek further support inside and outside of Nicaragua. The U.S. government already provides support to opposition parties. Will those parties now get more?

Meanwhile, the Ortega government gained nothing. Indeed, it is hard to imagine any scenario last week by which the government could have thought it would gain anything by attacking protesters. Left alone, the demonstrations would have faded in a few days. But state actors are often short-sighted; so, who knows? The point is not to presume the government is blameless here, since obviously it is not, but simply to point out that this was not a one-sided use of force. And, to be clear, what has emerged on the other side of the violence is an emboldened business sector and political opposition, alongside a weakened state that, for all its faults, is the only instrument with the capacity to confront poverty at the national level.

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Is The Catholic Church A Lost Cause?

Should we give up on the Catholic Church? From the lack of equality, to the silence about the mistreatment of minorities, to the decades-long sexual abuse, one might ask, is there any hope for the Catholic Church?

On March 8, the Voices of Faith Conference was held at the Aula of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. The conference was originally supposed to be held at The Vatican but the speakers, who included Ssenfuka Juanita Warry and Mary McAleese, didn’t fit the ideal Vatican event, as described in an astute commentary authored by three Catholic female leaders in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Since 2014, Voices of Faith has marked International Women’s Day (March 8) with an event that examines how the intersection of Catholic doctrine and practice impacts women globally. This year, the Vatican denied the women the use of a hall inside its walls due to Voices of Faith’s selection of speakers, including former Irish President Mary McAleese and Ugandan lesbian activist Ssenfuka Joanita Warry. Voices of Faith held its forum a short distance away at the Jesuit Aula.

We applaud the decision to stick with speakers who would address issues in a way that challenged Vatican authority, instead of replacing them with more ‘acceptable’ individuals in order to be inside the walls. It is a sign of growth and integrity for Voices of Faith and a signal that our movements will not be dismissed or stopped.”

On the other hand, a letter published earlier this month by The Buffalo News responded to the same gathering in a totally different way:

“While there is serious damage done to individuals, in this case, the reportage is out of proportion to the damage to the community. In fact, this over-the-top sensationalism does damage of its own, eroding the morale of good Catholic priests (the majority of them) as well as faithful parishioners. Enough already.”

Enough already? Were not the children, boys and girls, that were molested by church leaders, these pillars of servitude and sanctity, saying “enough already” to these priests? Are not the children, now adults, who were sexually abused by priests and forced to live with the memories of betrayal and confusion, saying “enough already” to the praise and glorification of these priests? And are not the women of the church, who continue to be overlooked for priesthood, saying “enough already”? What about the cries of the marginalized such as African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, and the LGBTQI community? Are they not saying “enough already” to being ignored?

The Catholic Church is broken. The patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes of the whole institution are causing major cracks in the religious foundation. The Catholic Church needs women leaders. Church leadership needs to be at the forefront of confronting social injustices; they need to hold themselves accountable for the wrongdoings of their clergymen because at the end of the day:

  • Women priests have just as much to offer as any male priests
  • The church should not sit idly by and watch injustices, such as the mistreatment of marginalized groups, occur
  • The church needs to stop preying on children while praying over their heads

Many Catholics who are proud of their faith want an end to the hypocrisy. How can they go to church and listen to church leaders, priests, bishops, archbishops, and/or the Pope say the homily with such compassion and understanding and yet find no faults with the Roman Catholic Church? They only wish to see and hear what will validate their continued privileged existence, but fail to hear the truth from those who lack their privilege.

To answer my opening question, giving up on the church is not an option because so many injustices continue to occur. In the words of Mary McAleese: “We are here because we care, because I care” (CRUX). Because of the effort and organizing and attention of so many strong women (and even a few men), things will change for the better as long as the broader community of the faithful continues to support this critical work. As a young Catholic, I will continue to support positive, progressive change because the Church becomes a lost cause only if we turn our backs and say nothing.

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Climate Change Refugees and Haiti

Environmental changes have always been a driving force for migration. From natural disasters to drought and flooding, changes in the environment impact lives and livelihoods, forcing people to abandon their homes. Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to migrate as a result of environmental factors. Catastrophic storms are more common, areas suffering from prolonged drought have tripled in the last 40 years, and rising sea levels put coastal communities at risk. By 2050, the International Office of Migration estimates that as many as 250 million people could be displaced as the result of environmental impacts. Unlike those displaced by war or systemic violence, people forcibly displaced as the result of environmental change are rarely recognized as refugees when they cross borders.

Forced migration due to effects of climate change will impact all countries. The United States could see 13 million people internally displaced as a result of rising sea levels by 2045, especially along the east and gulf coasts. The majority of the communities facing permanent inundation are socioeconomically vulnerable communities. Around the globe, drought has already led to displacement and related social tensions as rural communities are forced to move to urban areas. The origins of social conflict and violence are certainly complex, but as climate change forces the movement of people, tensions increase. In Syria, for example, “record drought and massive crop failure beginning in 2006 led to the mass migration of predominately Sunni farmers to Alawi-dominated cities, increasing sectarian tensions and generating conflicts over diminished resources.” Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, from drought and increased transportation costs, led to protests across the globe, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The UN estimates 144 million people were driven into poverty by the increase in food prices by 2011. In Niger alone, 5.1 million people became food “insecure.”

In Haiti the intersection of environmental degradation, climate change and forced migration is apparent. At the root of this crisis is the transformation of the rural economy that began under the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haiti’s economy was re-engineered as an export platform to feed U.S. interests, from agriculture to banking. By the mid-20th century deforestation, soil erosion, insecure land tenure and population growth was driving an exodus from rural areas to cities. However, in the last 30 years these trends have accelerated. Under pressure to lower tariffs for imports from the United States, Haiti saw the local market for staple crops such as rice collapse. De-forestation accelerated, leading to a situation today where only 3% of Haiti’s tree canopy remains. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced, forced into urban areas not equipped to handle the influx of people. Today, less than half of Port-au-Prince’s population was born there. Areas like Cite Soleil, with over 400,000 people, are overcrowded and under-resourced. The rapid growth of insecure building and overcrowding is the reason that the 2010 earthquake was so deadly, killing up to 300,000 people.

People migrating to major cities like Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien are in effect moving to coastal areas. Here rising seas, more intense storms, and areas of extreme drought combine to create a recipe for recurrent disasters. Mudslides in 2004 killed tens of thousands of people near Gonaives, as treeless hillsides collapsed on the city. Every new storm brings with it the risk of crop failure, flooding and further soil erosion. Overcrowding has also increased the risks of disease. When UN troops introduced cholera in to Haiti in 2010, the disease spread rapidly, killing 9,400 individuals and infecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Interconnected with the process of internal displacement is outward migration. Nearly one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, primarily seeking work on sugar plantations and other agricultural positions. Tensions have resurfaced in recent years leading to mass expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, whose government denied citizenship to people of Haitian descent. Over the last thirty years, the United States has been the primary destination for Haitians with 650,000 people moving to the U.S. since 1986. However, tensions have mounted within the U.S. over immigration – leading to the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which covered over 50,000 Haitian migrants. Meanwhile, other countries with less restrictive policies are becoming a destination. It is estimated that close to 105,000 Haitians, equivalent to 1% of the population, moved to Chile alone last year.

The confluence of environmental degradation, climate change, and forced migration in Haiti is part of a global process driving people into insecure situations; exacerbating political conflicts and violence. There is no easy solution. Clearly, binding agreements to reduce emissions and move the planet away from a fossil fuel based economy is necessary. Even if this is acheived, the process must be inclusive. Alternative fuels are no panacea if accompanied by the expansion of extractive industries and agricultural practices that further drive forced migration. In the interim, people are already being forced to migrate.

International law is behind the times

The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The Convention does not cover people who are forced to migrate due to environmental reasons when they cross borders. The result is a variety of short-term measures, such as TPS in the United States, that affords very little protection to people whose status can change overnight. Within the United States, at least, there needs to be more effort to craft lasting solutions, that offer people who previously migrated an opportunity to seek permanent residency.

Currently there are efforts to recraft refugee and migrant laws. For example, the United Nations’ International Office of Migration is overseeing the creation of A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The draft compact should be completed this year. However, enforcement mechanisms will be limited. In the United States and Europe in particular, migration is re-crafted as a crisis for the receiving country and thus there is resistance to any kind of binding obligations to accept more people. Given the current political environment it is not surprising that Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Compact negotiating process in December last year.

Until there are binding protections afforded to migrants as well as binding agreements to ameliorate the worst impacts of climate change, the world will face increasing migration, accompanied by ongoing political conflict. The current zero-sum, nationalistic orientation of so many, who view migrants as a threat rather than as fellow human beings in need of solidarity, continues to infect any effort for change. We must be better than this.

 

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Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure, Colonialism, and White Supremacy

Given the pace of anti-immigration news over the past several months, the termination of another immigration initiative should hardly come as a surprise, but the announced wind-down over the next year of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians hardly made a blip on the radar of national news. This change is further evidence of the current administration’s wanton disregard for the lives of those who come to the United States to carry on their lives with dignity and hope. 

Rewire.News supplies answers to many questions in an excellent piece from last week titled: “What is Deferred Enforced Departure? It’s Complicated.”  Here are a few answers to a couple of basic questions from that piece:

How do you receive DED status?

According to an official from USCIS, eligibility requirements for DED are up to the discretion of the president and any relevant requirements established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Applicants for immigration benefits are subject to criminal and national security background checks, but DED differs from other benefits in that there is no formal application process.

“There is no form associated with DED. This means they do not apply for DED but are instead covered by DED,” a USCIS official said in an emailed statement to Rewire.News.

How many Liberian DED beneficiaries are there?

Because there is no application or registration for DED, the official number of Liberian DED recipients is unknown. According to USCIS, the maximum number of Liberians covered by DED would be approximately 3,600, the number of Liberians who held TPS when it was terminated in 2007. Roughly 840 Liberian DED recipients who applied for and currently have work authorization will be affected by Trump’s decision to end DED for Liberia.

The relatively small number of Liberian DED recipients means that the impact on the national level is minimal, but we must think about the context in order to understand why this case matters.

To begin with, Liberian history is directly linked to the U.S. institutions of slavery and colonialism dating to the pre-Civil War era. In the face of a growing population of freed black slaves in the abolitionist northern region of the United States, the American Colonization Society proposed to create a nation in Africa where freed slaves could live. This process of colonial settlement of a diverse population of freed slaves started in 1820 and resulted in conflict between a new ruling class of Americo-Liberians and the indigenous peoples of the region. The government was led by Americo-Liberians from the nation’s founding in 1847 until 1980. The other 95% of the population, descended from local ethnic groups rather than the descendants of settlers from the United States, was totally excluded from power.

A coup d’etat in 1980 marked a shift in political power. The resulting instability and struggle would lead to two civil wars and death of 250,000 people.

Although the country has been in a process of recovery for the past 15 years or so, an Ebola outbreak in 2014 created further pressure for people to leave. Economic restructuring has led Liberia to have one of the highest levels of foreign investment as a percentage of GDP in the world. The resulting growth of concessions to foreign extractive industries since 2006 has displaced tens of thousands of people. As a result of the wars and crises that have followed, many people have been traumatized and can hardly be blamed for seeking new beginnings elsewhere.

Since the political consequences of this U.S. colonial enterprise continue to affect Liberia even today, the United States should accept its responsibility to provide – if not reparations – at least a welcoming policy for any Liberian who seeks life in the United States.

Moreover, apart from the particular gravity of the Liberian case, there is another important pattern to observe in the immigration decisions made by this administration. All of the immigration program suspensions and wind-downs that have been announced in the past year – Central American Minors, TPS for many countries, DED for Liberia – share a common feature: they target immigrants who come from places other than Europe. #45, who has been married to two women from Eastern Europe, seems to be unconcerned about European migration to the United States and has even reportedly suggested that he would be happy with fewer people arriving from Haiti and Africa, and more from places like Norway. (DACA represents a minor deviation from this general practice, since 0.7% of Dreamers were born in Europe.)

Finally, if the President actually had any level of concern about a vulnerable population from a particular place, it would be within the power of the office to allow them to remain in the U.S. legally under DED. Any statement he makes to blame others for the brutal and inhumane immigration policies of his administration is simply empty rhetoric. And ending DED for Liberia serves as one more example of a pattern of abuse of some of the most resilient – yet vulnerable – among us. Our place is to stand alongside these neighbors and not to allow them to be forgotten when the next Tweet comes along.  

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Myriam Merlet

Part IV of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

Myriam Merlet was considered one of Haiti’s most prominent leaders and catalysts of the women’s rights movement. Merlet was one of the 300,000 people who perished in the  7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. As part of our series on inspirational and influential women, we take a look at her work as an advocate for gender equality and the rights of women facing sexual violence.

Myriam Merlet

 

In the 70s, Merlet left Haiti and sought refuge in Canada, where she studied economics, women’s issues, feminist theory, and political sociology. Upon the completion of her studies, Merlet returned to Haiti in the mid 1980s, stating, “While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. We’re a country in which three-fourths of the people can’t read and don’t eat properly. I’m an integral part of the situation…as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them [the problems].” Upon returning to Haiti, Merlet used her education to lead grassroots advocacy to promote the rights of Haitian women and worked with others to change the culturally accepted norm of gender-based violence.

Merlet was involved in an array of organizations seeking to create and enforce gender equality. In Merlet’s early advocacy years, she founded EnfoFanm, an organization that sought to raise global awareness about the challenges Haitian women face, namely the history and continued use of sexual assault by government soldiers, police, and criminal gangs as means of controlling and oppressing women. EnfoFanm also led a campaign to name streets in Port-au-Prince after famous Haitian women to celebrate and commemorate their work as well as elevate the status of women within Haitian culture. Later in 2006, Merlet took part in creating the Coordination Nationale pour le Plaidoyer des Femmes [National Coordination for Women’s Advocacy] and served as a spokesperson for the organization to fight against sexism within the public sector.

One of Merlet’s greatest accomplishments was leading the efforts to reclassify rape. Prior to 2005, rape was considered a “crime of passion” or an “offense against morals” in Haiti. Rape victims and their families seldom received monetary compensation from the perpetrators, and had no hope for a legal sentencing or justice for the victim. In large part thanks to the work of Merlet and many other women activists, rape has been reclassified as a criminal offense. However, there remains a lack of a precise definition of rape as well as strong judicial system to uphold and enforce the criminalization of rape. As a result, many rapes continue to be overlooked by authorities and there is a stark lack of rape prosecutions, leaving victims vulnerable and susceptible to further gender-based violence.

From 2006 to 2008 Merlet acted as the Chief of Staff to Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women. There, she continued to promote equal rights and end gender discrimination and violence. Though in a government position, Merlet continued to participate in grassroots advocacy and worked closely with the Minister for the Coordination of Women and Women’s Rights, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. Together, Merlet and Lassegue opened the first Haiti Sorority Safe House and V-Day Safe House, both of which act as safe houses for women who are victims of domestic violence. At both of these safe houses women can access medical, legal, and psychological aid as well as gain life skills through the business and computer training courses offered. There continues to be an overwhelming lack of safe houses and aid offered to victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Merlet and Lassegue’s work is carried on by organizations like Fanm Deside, but more needs to be done.

The earthquake served as a reminder of how crucial the work in which Merlet was involved continues to be. A report by Amnesty International stated, “the displacements and living conditions in the displaced persons camps have increased the risk of facing gender-based violence for women and girls, while the destruction of police stations and court houses during the 2010 earthquake further weakened that state’s ability to provided adequate protection.” Women and girls living in the camps with poor lighting at night, unsecure tents, and limited police presence continue to be increasingly susceptible to rape and gender-based violence. Furthermore, the child sex ring run by United Nations Peacekeepers exacerbated the sexual abuse women and girls faced in the camps in Port-au-Prince.

The work Merlet started for the promotion, empowerment, and protection of Haitian women’s rights at the grassroots level remains imperative. The UN’s debacle illustrates why women and local leaders must be involved in the disaster relief process and the need to bring female issues to the forefront of government policy in the hopes of strengthening the justice system to deter rape and gender-based violence as well as provided justice for female victims.

Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Sister Pauline Quinn coming April 20th

 

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Trump Unhinged

Over the last few days Trump has been tweeting and fuming over a caravan of migrants crossing through Mexico. Some, not all, may try to gain access to the United States, seeking asylum from economic marginalization and political violence in Central America. Nearly 80% of the 1,200 caravan participants are from Honduras.

Caravans have been common in recent years, as people travel in larger groups to avoid trouble with gangs in Central America and Mexico. Until this year, these caravans gained little notice in the United States. But Trump is in trouble with scandals and desperate for a legislative victory. In this environment, he seems to be turning to what got him to the White House: Exaggerate, mislead, and outright lie about some facet of immigration law, or immigrants themselves, to rally support. Referencing the caravan, Trump is renewing calls for border wall funding, and has declared there will be no deal on DACA. In a tweet Sunday, Trump declared:

Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. “Caravans” coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!

Yesterday, Trump went even further, declaring that the U.S. would begin using the military to police the border. Quoted in the New York Times, Trump said:

We have very bad laws for our border, and we are going to be doing some things — I’ve been speaking with General Mattis — we’re going to be doing things militarily…Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.

Trump’s latest tirade is political theater of the sort we’ve come to expect. Bombastic declarations that clutter the political space for compromise, all with the aim of getting a “deal.”  Withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA, sending troops to the border, and refusing to bargain on DACA – when it was just a few weeks ago he encouraged such a bargain in exchange for funding for the wall and other reductions in immigration – are all on the surface losing propositions. Clearly he is trying to shake things up to force the hands of congress, while giving red meat to his Fox-News-watching supporters.

Along the southern border, crossings are at a near 40 year low. The last four administrations have built a legal framework on immigration that has granted enormous authority to ICE to arrest, detain, and deport millions of people. Far from being hamstrung, ICE has been given near free rein along the border. Federal prosecutors and judges are now forced to spend half of their caseloads prosecuting illegal entry and reentry violations, in an unnecessary dragnet that violates the most basic tenets of due process.

The only crisis in immigration right now is the inhumane treatment being meted out against people fleeing violence and economic collapse. While Trump’s rhetoric is theatrical, the results of his ongoing war on migrants is very real. We are facing a human rights crisis in this country of enormous proportions. Trump wants to make it worse. Congress will likely go along in some measure. We need to stop them.

 

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Farmworker Awareness Week Day Seven, Support UFW’s’ Push for Overtime Pay

“Life here is very hard when we harvest fruits and vegetables. The sun burns so much and we get weak, and you get irritated from so much heat. And despite that we have to work all day putting up with the fatigue, dehydration and hunger. I’ll also tell you that it’s very sad to be far from our land which is Mexico… and our loved ones like my parents, my wife and my son. But we’re here working hard so that we can support our family… and well, it’s very hard to be a farmworker, and sad because you work from sun up to sundown in the fields.”

Farmworker Awareness Week is an effort to educate people about the conditions under which farmworkers labor and the economic forces the lead so many to do this work away from family members. In supporting this year’s Farmworker Awareness Week we have been taking the lead from Student Action with Farmworkers. Student Action posts daily actions for the week, with quotes like the one above from farmworkers to offer reflection.

The action for today is to support the United Farm Workers efforts for legislation to ensure that farm workers receive overtime pay. UFW is working on a proposal that would, “remedy the discriminatory denial of overtime pay and the minimum wage to all farm workers under current law. Farm workers deserve basic minimum wage and overtime protections like any other US worker. Workers in agriculture would be entitled to time-and-a-half pay for working more than 40 hours in a week. It would phase in overtime pay over a period of 4 years beginning in 2019”

The campaign for national regulation follows on UFW’s successful campaign for reform in California:

The farm worker movement is determined to address Jim Crow era discrimination against farm workers like the UFW’s huge 2016 victory in California that ensures the implementation of more inclusive regulations for farm workers starting in 2019. In California, overtime law for farm workers ensures farm workers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. The change started in California it is time to set this standard for the entire nation.

You can read more about this effort and sign the pledge to support the effort and hold legislators accountable here.

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)