Why is the GEO Group getting paid to fly deportation flights to Haiti?

Flow of money from ICE to subcontractors. Source: Hidden in Plain Sight: ICE Air and the Machinery of Mass Deportation, Center for Human Rights, University of Washington.

Deportation flights are a big business. Typically these flights are managed by ICE Air Operations – yes, ICE has its own airline. The chain of responsibility runs like this: Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is the entity responsible for deporting people. ERO oversees ICE Air Operations. ICE Air Operations owns none of its own planes. So, ICE signs a contract with a private vendor to coordinate removal flights. 

The company that has the current contract is Classic Air Charter. For managing ICE Air Operations from October 2017 through the end of September 2022, CAC’s contract is potentially worth $739 million. Classic Air Charters doesn’t actually fly the planes either – that would be too easy. No, CAC subcontracts with other carriers to operate deportation flights. The company that flies 95% of ICE Air flights this year is iAero (formerly Swift Air). Starting in August, ICE began flying too many flights for iAero to manage, and so World Atlantic Airlines was brought back in. 

Despite having this system in place, when the Biden administration made the decision to deport thousands of Haitians beginning in mid-September this year, they gave a $15.76 million, no bid contract to the GEO Group to manage the flights. 

The GEO Group is a massive government contractor that runs many of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention facilities. They also oversee much of ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program (ankle monitors). If someone is given an ankle monitor, they are probably checking in with a GEO group office – not ICE. Crazy system. The GEO Group reported $1.14 billion in income through the first half of 2021.

The one thing GEO group does not do for ICE is fly planes. At least, not until September.

Like Classic Air Charters, the GEO group did not actually fly any of these planes themselves. They subcontracted with iAero, World Atlantic, Global Crossings Airlines, and Eastern Airlines (note: this is not your parents’ Eastern Airlines, but a much smaller regional carrier operating in the Caribbean).  Between September 19 and October 7, there were 70 removal flights to Haiti involving about 7,600 people. At least 64 of these flights were under the GEO Group contract.

At the contracted rate, the GEO Group is receiving $179,000 per flight, or about $1,700 per person deported. This comes to at least $11.4 million so far. How much of that they turn over to the subcontractors is not clear. A typical ICE Air flight to Haiti would pay out $68,000 to contractors, at least at ICE Air’s published flight hour rate of $8,577 (assuming they also pay for the, usually empty, return flight). 

The dirty little secret of immigration policy is that private corporations make a lot of money engaging in this mandated cruelty. The GEO Group typically makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year in immigrant detention contracts, for example. And they get paid even when the beds are empty, due to guaranteed minimums written into their contracts. Which is to say, the story here is not that some company made money off of deporting people. That sadly happens every day with multiple flights to countries all over the world.

The question here is why ICE is paying the GEO Group to do what they are already paying Classic Air Charters to do, but at something close to 3X the rate? The answer can’t be that CAC was over capacity, as the GEO Group is basically using the same subcontractors CAC would have. And the GEO Group has no public history of managing deportation flights for ICE. The only thing different about these flights is that they are not departing from traditional ICE Air hubs, but from airports in Laredo and Harlingen, Texas. That said, both airports are part of ICE’s network – and even if not common staging areas for international flights, they have been used for this purpose before. 

So, the GEO Group is getting paid because they are a large, well connected company. Absent some compelling inside scoop suggesting otherwise, this is the only reason. Congress should be asking for more detail about this transaction.

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Earth Day Reflection on Ecological Debt and Human Mobility

Designed by Robert A. Jackson III

As we commemorate Earth Day this week, it is fitting to consider the Pope’s reflection on his namesake: “I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically […] He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (LS 10). That lesson is one that animates the work of the Franciscan Network on Migration. 

Fundamentally, people who migrate have in a very literal sense become alienated from their original homeland. A major cause of such alienation is that the land becomes unreliable as a place to support human existence. While we have increasingly begun to hear about “climate change refugees,” it might be more meaningful to consider the even broader category of “environmental refugees,” people who flee their land because the material conditions necessary for human thriving are in short supply. Who are we talking about? To take just a couple of examples, the people whose soil is contaminated by environmental waste or lack access to water because a hydroelectric dam diverts the flow of water that once nourished their land may experience environmental displacement. Environmental conditions like these may very well give rise to further climate change at both the local and global levels but environmental degradation is a broader category than climate change and a significant driver of human migration. 

Such conditions are highlighted in Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì (On Care For Our Common Home) promulgated in 2015. “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever” (LS 25). He discusses the roots of this sort of environmental destruction in a pattern of consumption that pays little heed to the needs of the systems of life on this planet, of which people are one part. 

But if people are a principal cause, they are not all implicated individually or equally. Instead, Francis writes: “Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.” (LS 51) This debt of the wealthy countries with massive rates of consumption demands payment – but the costs cannot only be financial. When people are forced from their lands by actions taken abroad, it seems clear that any reasonable attempt to repair the harm must include a new place where life can thrive. For this reason, it is time to call for a new understanding of refugee and asylum claims grounded in an understanding that the wealthier countries have been able to insulate themselves from harm but have disproportionately acted in ways that were harmful to their more vulnerable global neighbors. 

As we acknowledge and commemorate Earth Day this week, we should be mindful of the new refugees who must seek higher ground – sometimes literally as sea levels rise, but also metaphorically as desert soil often cannot provide enough food and water to support human needs – much as biblical famine and flood drove Abraham and Noah to find new places to live. The way in which we enforce national borders, however, has made such forced relocation into a cruel shell game where each space that might be a better home may be made unavailable to people in a moment of dire need. This pattern simply cannot persist. Justice and basic human decency demand better treatment. Moreover, Catholic social tradition is clear on the universal destination of goods – a position that has “stressed the social purpose of all forms of property” (LS 93), including the land itself.  

The call to an “ecological conversion” thus entails a call to change our relationship to the environment around us from one of dominance and coercion to one of peaceful coexistence, healing, and restoration. Alongside that commitment, we must also make space to welcome those who seek life in new communities when their old ones have suffered environmental harm. The Franciscan Network on Migration has made that mission of welcoming and inclusion tangible by opening doors to shelters, kitchens, clinics, and legal aid for thousands of migrants in search of new spaces alongside us in “our common home.” 

If you are interested in supporting the work of the Franciscan Network on Migration, you can make a contribution here.

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What does it mean for Pope Francis to endorse civil unions?

Pope Francis ©Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In a torrent of media coverage, it has been reported that Pope Francis, the spiritual and political leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples. Those of us who read this story today each bring to it a different set of lenses that filter the story and color its meaning. Before considering a couple of different perspectives and raising some concerns, it is worth looking at the context in which the statement was made. Like previous seemingly earth-shattering pronouncements of Pope Francis, this statement came during an informal interaction rather than an official channel, captured in the documentary film, Francesco, screened for the first time on October 21 at the Rome Film Festival.

As reported by Reuters, the quotations taken from the film seem to cast Pope Francis as an armchair policymaker, saying, for instance, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” Further, in a gentle tone, if somewhat antiquated language, Francis adds: “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it. I stood up for that.” 

The documentary also includes interview footage with Andrea Rubera, a married gay man and father of three, who was advised by Francis to bring his children to mass, who comments, “He didn’t mention what his opinion was about my family so (I think) he is following doctrine on this point but the attitude towards people has massively changed.”

Those who are inclined to optimism about progress on human rights may feel the triumphant sense that this age-old institution is embracing new families. But is this progress? Returning to the initial observation that there are many different perspectives from which to consider this question, it depends on where you are standing right now.

If you are standing in a country where same-sex relationships can carry penalties of imprisonment or worse, this must seem a remarkable development – having the leader of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge that you have a right to legal recognition of your relationship and freedom from violence against you on that basis. Given the source of the statement, it is hard not to rejoice that legal campaigns led and sanctioned by church officials in recent years in places as diverse as Poland and Cameroon and the Philippines are apparently being challenged at the highest level of authority in the Church.

On the other hand, if you are standing, as I am, in a country that, after a long struggle, now affords recognition of your marriage – so designated – a civil union might feel like an attempt to carve out another class of relationship, purportedly separate but equal.

The last sentence of Francis’s quotation from the documentary, in particular, should give us pause. For the pope is not looking forward; he is looking backward, when he says, “I stood up for that.” A decade ago, the man who would become Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was Archbishop of Buenos Aires in his native Argentina. At that time, he was involved in church organizing against the passage of same-sex marriage legislation, putting him into direct confrontation with the country’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He was publicly part of church-led opposition to this legislation, calling it “a destructive attack on God’s plan.”

And he advocated the politicially expedient measure of making space for civil unions for same-sex couples as an alternative to marriage. As proposed to the Argentine bishops conference, the civil union was apparently similar to marriage – except that it would not permit such couples to adopt children. This position seems to be one he has maintained consistently, with the same idea elaborated in his 2013 book On Heaven and Earth, in which he states, “Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.” Five years later, in 2018, Francis repeated this claim: “It is painful to say this today — people speak of varied families, of various kinds of family. The family (as) man and woman in the image of God is the only one.” Last month, it was reported that Francis told some parents of LGBT children, “The Pope loves your children as they are, because they are children of God,” but, again, this statement falls short of stating they would be fit parents. 

In addition to this pattern of reinforcing the two-parent, one male and one female, family as the only acceptable model, it is evident that if the Pope were really committed to change, it would be within his magisterial capacity to make declarations that can steer policy in new directions within the church, either by making an ex cathedra pronouncement (described as “infallible”) or, with a different degree of authority, through an encyclical or other document. The remarks revealed in Francesco were not issued in an encyclical, a pastoral letter, a papal bull, a motu proprio, or any other peculiarly ecclesiastical instrument of communication with a related level of authority. Surely his failure to do so on the question of embracing same-sex unions and a more inclusive understanding of family is no mistake. The Pope is quite shrewd, and it is likely he makes these statements in the ways he does in order to avoid rocking the boat. Pope Francis knows he is not breaking any new ground. He is retreading ground he has walked on before.

Regrettably, I conclude that we have no reason to think the Pope has staked out a novel position in this documentary. He has simply stated in new words what seems to be a static position over the last decade; namely, that the church should pragmatically support watered down civil unions for same-sex couples. The outcomes of such a policy position are contradictory, since its impact may vary significantly from one place to another. On the one hand, for those living in places where LGBTQ people are at risk due to legal structures that permit or facilitate physical violence and discrimination, civil unions might promote improved conditions. On the other hand, reverting to a condition in which marriage is an exclusive institution reserved for heterosexual couples concedes a rigid conception of gender upon which the church patriarchy has built a firm foundation of discrimination and exclusion. And this should not be celebrated.

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Daily Dispatch 7/19/2019

Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children

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Daily Dispatch

July 19, 2019

Yesterday, 70 Catholic leaders locked arms in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, in an effort to put pressure on Congress and the presidential administration to end the immoral and inhumane practice of detaining immigrant children. The action took place in the Russell Building Rotunda. Though open to everyone, the protest was the first in a series intended to mobilize Catholics in particular to stand up for the rights of immigrants. From the press release of organizers:

The Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children brought together more than 200 Catholic sisters, priests, brothers and lay Catholic advocates representing nearly 20 national organizations who sang, prayed, and chanted as they demanded an end to the immoral and inhumane practice of detaining immigrant children. This action is the beginning of a campaign in which Catholic leaders are increasing their willingness to take significant risks as an act of faithful resistance. Photos here. Video of civil disobedience here.

Earlier on the Capitol Lawn, Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Fr. Joe Nangle, former Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service, and Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS, were among the leaders who addressed the gathering before moving in to the Senate building. Excerpts from their remarks can be found here: 

Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious: 

“Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear, and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border. Over 1000 Catholic sisters have spent time ministering to those in need and have donated almost $1 million to help support the care of those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act.”

Fr. Joe Nangle, former Co-Director of Franciscan Mission Service:

“Our country was born in the darkness of what we now call original sin. And we now, some 200 plus years later, had thought that we had begun to overcome these sins. However, in these days, Donald Trump is dragging us back to those evil times, with a combination of irrational fears, hatred of people not like him, and sheer cruelty. What is almost as evil, is so-called Christians support and applaud and enable this descent into a new dark age in America. We are speaking about the evidence for this and these actions today. We are particularly citing the dishumanity taking place, even as we speak, at our southern borders. This is why we call on our millions of fellow Catholic sisters and brothers, particularly our bishops, to join in the struggle for the soul of America.”

Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS 

“I stand in solidarity with all who seek to better their lives. Psalm 1:27 tells us that children are always a blessing. They are filled with joy and laughter. They are fragile from the very beginning. We have to protect them. The Catholic community has decried the treatment of children on our southern border, not only as a violation of human dignity and rights, but also contrary to religious teachings and the sacred call to care for people who are most at risk, especially children.”

Other participants issued the following statements:

Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network:

“We are here today because of these 8 children who died either in custody or trying to seek asylum. They are children of God. They are your brothers and sisters, your neighbor.”

Eli McCarthy, PhD, Director of Justice and Peace at Conference of Major Superiors of Men: 

“Today’s action was focused on increasing the visibility of Catholics willing to take more risks to significantly improve treatment of children and end child detention. We see the urgent inhumanity and injustice. We are challenged by our faith to enter more deeply into solidarity, inspire others to take on more risks, to increasingly non-cooperate with injustice, and to live the Eucharist — being one body, ready to be broken for others. This is only the first phase of a 3-part campaign to end child detention and thus create more political space to challenge family detention and beyond.”

Lawrence E. Couch, director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and a coordinator of the Catholic Day of Action:

“While I dreaded the loss of liberty that I risked with my act of civil disobedience, it is nothing compared to the experiences of our sisters and brothers on the border who live in fear and cruel, inhumane conditions. I was particularly moved this morning by the photographs of the innocent children who died in custody or on their journey to safety. I raise them up in prayer and say ‘no more.'”

Several bishops have sent statements of support for this gathering and civil disobedience action. For full details, click here.

List of Endorsing Organizations

The protest was also covered by ABC News.

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From Palaces to Courtrooms

Yesterday, Pope Francis released a motu proprio called “Vos estis lux mundi” [You are the light of the world”] offering new guidelines for leaders within the Catholic church on how to respond to clerical sexual abuse. 

In Vatican parlance, a motu proprio is an official statement from the Pope that lays out a situation and on which he then makes a papal decree. The motu proprio is the most hierarchical of all documents, since it is issued only in the name of the Pope.

“Vos estis lux mundi” deals with crimes of sexual abuse and, for most of the brief document, there is little to surprise anyone who understands the monarchy that we call the Roman Catholic church. And problems within a hierarchy can only propose hierarchical solutions, unless they want to threaten the system. We should not therefore be surprised that Pope Francis proposes escalating problems to higher authorities within the church as a key part of the solution.

Some are celebrating the answer of bringing the concern higher up in the chain of command but there is reason for caution on this front. We all know that John Paul II had been informed about the case against Marcial Maciel, a serial sexual abuser, and that he continued to publicly praise him.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta responded to a question about the myopia of escalating the matter internally. As covered in the National Catholic Reporter:

Asked about why the apostolic letter does not mandate the involvement of lay experts in abuse investigations undertaken by metropolitan archbishops, Scicluna noted that metropolitans can ask lay people for help, but said: “We’re a Catholic Church, we’re not a congregational church.”

The message here seems to be that Catholic male clerics do not really need lay people to resolve problems, but they can call on them, on the rare occasions they deem it advisable. Asking why lay people are not involved is tantamount to saying that you do not understand how power is distributed in the Catholic church.  

But what if a critical element of the cause of the abuse is somehow the hierarchical structure itself, which elevates some people to a god-like status that tells them they bear the indelible mark of Christ-like priestliness on their very souls? 

The truly groundbreaking piece of the motu propio, I would argue, is the last provision: 

Art. 19 – Compliance with state laws

These norms apply without prejudice to the rights and obligations established in each place by state laws, particularly those concerning any reporting obligations to the competent civil authorities.

Some commentators have already noted that reporting is not mandatory in all cases, but rather only in cases where the local government requires such reporting. But if it is the case that a local state does not require such reporting, that is a matter that can be addressed locally, offering at least a possible path toward greater accountability, which is why this article seems to break new ground.

Even as the rest of the motu proprio reinforces the sense that more patriarchy is the solution to the problem, the final article shows openness to a secular judicial process that does not elevate the accused to the inaccessible exalted heights of a clerical Olympus – a place beyond human accountability. No more, we can hope, will members of the clerical class, even bishops and Vatican officials working abroad, be permitted to hide behind clerical privilege that would forgive their sins while shielding them from being held accountable for their crimes in secular courts. 

Francis knows this may not work, that he may not have gone far enough. The new norms take effect on June 1, 2019 and are enacted for an “ad experimentum” period of three years. Yet this experiment has, in sometimes awkward waysalready started and the initial results give some cause for optimism that secular authorities may be able to help survivors find justice they could not find within the church.

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Sex, Violence, and…Movies on Airplanes?

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has shared his perspective on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, offering an analysis of what he states to be the root causes. The full text of this piece is available in English translation here.

While there will no doubt be in-depth commentary on the theological and doctrinal content of this analysis, I wish to offer only a few preliminary comments on a passage in the opening section of the document, in which a connection is established between the sexual revolution and sexual violence:

Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.

The mental collapse was also linked to a propensity for violence. That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.

Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ‘68 was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.

The first statement here is partially true. 1968 was a year of revolutions and one of the demands of many groups was for greater sexual liberation. This of course was largely rooted in a call for gender equality and for an end to the weaponization of sex and sexuality in maintaining a strict separation of opportunity for people based on rigid gender norms. But going from challenging norms used to justify centuries of oppression to stating that this new regime “no longer conceded any norms” seems a statement that would demand some justification.

It would be reasonable to assume that the next paragraph would cite such evidence, but instead the argument proceeds to its next step. “The mental collapse was linked to a propensity for violence.” To buttress this claim, we are told that “sex films were no longer allowed on planes because violence would break out.”

Well, this is alarming. I remember a similar public health threat on planes being addressed in the United States some years ago. In my youth, smoking was allowed on flights on U.S. carriers. One can readily find news articles starting dating back to 1988, when the federal ban on smoking on most flights was implemented. Indeed, flight attendants still remind us on every flight that no smoking is allowed on the plane. 

So what about “sex movies” on planes? This surely would have captured some news coverage and stirred debate. Lacking German language skills and pressed for time, I limited myself to English sources as I sought out some documentary evidence. (Feel free to conduct your own search as well, but be advised that you may learn more than you bargained for about the “mile-high club,” a topic unrelated to the matter at hand.)

The first promising lead I found was the New York Times piece “In Flight Movies Update Content and Equipment,” published on April 27, 1982. What I learned is that the initially hesitant airlines gradually loosened their strictures on sex-related content, but that some level of censorship did occur. Yet there was no mention of any relationship, causal or otherwise, between exposure to sexual content and violent actions on flights. 

On January 18, 2017, The Economist published a piece looking at the question “Should films on planes be censored?” examining what kind of content is generally eschewed on in-flight entertainment offerings (e.g., plane crashes) and also pointed out that social norms vary significantly from one country to another. More relevant to the investigation at-hand is that this column made no mention of any historical evidence of violence on airplanes being related to in-flight entertainment. It seems curious that neither of these two journalistic pieces mentions any correlation between violence and in-flight movies. Absent any evidence, it seems advisable to doubt this claim.

The next sentence continues with the same lack of evidence. A controversial assertion – “the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression” – is presented as a brute fact. Given the way in which clothing is commonly cited to dismiss male responsibility in acts of sexual violence committed against women, there are disturbing implications in this sentence about school children: that the way these students dressed was inviting acts of sexual aggression against them, and that uniforms might be used to “facilitate a climate of learning”.

If there were any doubt about this implication, consider what comes before and after it. References to the “Revolution of ‘68” book-end this bizarre passage about in-flight movies and school uniforms. The closing sentence quoted above suggests that the values of that revolution “diagnosed pedophilia as allowed and appropriate” but, once again, no documentary evidence is cited, probably because it does not exist.

The rest of the letter does nothing to exonerate or clarify this irresponsible passage from the opening section. Indeed, when it feels we are about to get an answer to the really critical question of what went wrong to allow a crisis of sexual abuse of children, we get something else instead.

Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God. We Christians and priests also prefer not to talk about God, because this speech does not seem to be practical. After the upheaval of the Second World War, we in Germany had still expressly placed our Constitution under the responsibility to God as a guiding principle. Half a century later, it was no longer possible to include responsibility to God as a guiding principle in the European constitution. God is regarded as the party concern of a small group and can no longer stand as the guiding principle for the community as a whole. 

This letter really is not about sexual abuse at all. It is about Benedict’s disenchantment with a secular world independent of the Christendom of yesteryear. 

Yet only in a secular world, where the clerics responsible for abuse are not revered and elevated, will justice for survivors be possible. In such a world, where science and evidence inform good policy, and due process is managed by independent authorities, perhaps we can also articulate the relationship between sexual violence and power in a more intellectually honest way. And the work of unraveling power that does violence through flawed human institutions – including the visible church – is at the heart of our calling as people of faith. 

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Annual Report 2018

The Quixote Center’s Annual Report for 2018 is now available. If you like the work we are doing, please consider a tax-deductible contribution. You can designate funds to a specific program, or put it toward general funds that support all of our work. 


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The Disdain of a Formidable Neighbor: The U.S. in Guantanamo

Cuban intellectual José Martí lived in the United States for a number of years, giving him a broad perspective from which to consider U.S. relations with Cuba and, by extension, Latin America. In his frequently cited essay, “Nuestra America,” Martí – whose Cuban homeland was still part of the Spanish Empire – worried about a threat that was much closer than Europe.

Pero otro peligro corre, acaso, nuestra América, que no le viene de sí, sino de la diferencia de orígenes, métodos e intereses entre los dos factores continentales, y es la hora próxima en que se le acerque demandando relaciones íntimas, un pueblo emprendedor y pujante que la desconoce y la desdeña. […]

El deber urgente de nuestra América es enseñarse como es, una en alma e intento, vencedora veloz de un pasado sofocante, manchada sólo con sangre de abono que arranca a las manos la pelea con las ruinas, y la de las venas que nos dejaron picadas nuestros dueños. El desdén del vecino formidable, que no la conoce, es el peligro mayor de nuestra América.

[But our America may also face another danger, which does not come from within it, but from the differing origins, methods, and interests of the continent’s two factions. The hour is near when she will be approached by an enterprising and forceful nation that will demand intimate relations with her, though it does not know her and disdains her.[…]

Therefore the urgent duty of our America is to show herself as she is, united in soul and intent, fast overcoming the crushing weight of her past, and stained only with the fertilizing blood shed by hands that do battle against ruins, or by veins opened by our former masters. The disdain of the formidable neighbor who does not know her is the greatest danger that faces our America.]

Contrasting “our America” with the other America looming to the north, Martí feared U.S. influence would rival that of Spain. Martí himself died in an armed uprising against Spain in 1895 but his words would prove prophetic. While the United States publicly supported Cuban independence, the resulting Spanish-American War led to the imposition of a new imperial authority over the formerly “Spanish” Caribbean and the Philippines. Unlike Puerto Rico, Cuba was not subjected to outright colonialism but forced to agree to the Platt Amendment, allowing the United States to interfere directly in the affairs of the island. Soon after, the United States negotiated very favorable terms for the use of Guantanamo Bay as a continuing naval presence in the Caribbean. Cuba tolerated the U.S. presence on the island and, for several decades, little changed.

With the Cuban Revolution, came the demand for the U.S. to leave Guantanamo, but for 60 years now there has been no international legal forum with the force to vacate the lease and require the U.S. to leave. The United States continues to send lease payments to Cuba (since 1974 an absurd $4,000 a year) – though not a single payment has been deposited by Cuba’s government since 1959.

Incarceration in Guantanamo

Following a military coup in 1991, a large number of Haitian refugees took to the sea to escape the violence and seek asylum in the United States. Tens of thousands of Haitians were provided what was called “safe haven” in Guantanamo Bay while they were being screened for asylum. This practice, essentially detaining potential asylum seekers in large camps, was initiated in the administration of George H.W. Bush, paused briefly, then was resumed in the Clinton administration. Indeed, the limited capacity at Guantanamo Bay, where Clinton stated that 14,000 Haitians were interned, was a contributing factor to the decision to reinstate Aristide in the presidency of Haiti. At nearly the same time, the Clinton administration began to detain Cubans who wished to immigrate as well – also in Guantanamo –although this policy was relatively brief and impacted somewhat fewer persons. The detention practice was declared unconstitutional by a Federal District Court in 1993 (the ruling later vacated) – the last Haitian detainees left Guantanamo in 1995.

For a few years, Guantanamo was not known to be holding any detainees, but this door would not stay closed for long. On January 11, 2002, George W. Bush re-established the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, this time to house a population who were being described as “enemy combatants” in the “War on Terror.” The people in Guantanamo now are detained indefinitely, without trial, and many of the detainees have been tortured. Today these men – for they are all men – are 40 in number and a few have been charged and convicted but only in the Guantanamo Military Commission system, a tribunal of dubious legality. Indeed, the Supreme Court has sided with detainees in all four cases that arrived to the highest court. One of Obama’s first executive orders when he became president was a commitment to close the Guantanamo detention camp. He failed. One of Trump’s first executive orders was a commitment to keep Guantanamo open, indefinitely. 

January 11, 2019 marks 17 years since this detention center was established as part of the War on Terror but this is only the latest episode in the long story of U.S. imperial tactics in this place. In 2005, a group of concerned activists traveled to Cuba to attempt to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and this trip gave birth to Witness Against Torture (WAT). Since 2007, WAT has been organizing actions in Washington, D.C. and around the nation leading up to the January 11 anniversary. In solidarity with the hunger strikes that have been started and maintained by detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere to protest unjust treatment and living conditions, participants fast all week as a sign of their commitment to close down Guantanamo. This year, I have joined their number. Yet we know that our collective hunger pains are only a small reminder of the suffering of those held captive by our government in a foreign land. 

Taking our calls for justice one step further, once the closure of the detention center is finally complete, it is doubtless long past time to return full sovereignty of Cuba to its own people and vacate this base. Indeed, if we are serious about wanting to reduce the root causes of migration, we might revisit some aspects of U.S. foreign policy rather than build more spaces to hold humans captive.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a few lines from the Versos sencillos, also by Martí. These words have been immortalized in the classic Cuban song “Guantanamera,” a title referring to a woman from the Guantanamo region of Cuba, and they speak of a deep longing for an idyllic Guantanamo of the past, a land the poetic voice loves as his home. 

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar:
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar.

[With the poor of the earth,
I cast my lot:
The mountain stream pleases me
More than the sea.]



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Local Action on Immigration Policy

Immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government. However, in the deeply polarized times we live in, achieving comprehensive immigration reform at the national level has not been achieved. Indeed, the last comprehensive legislation passed was in 1996 – and it was not good legislation, paving the way for mandatory detention.

While there have been a number of bills introduced into congress with the aim of overhauling the immigration system, the good bills have languished in committee, and the more problematic compromise bills have failed to gain enough support on the House or Senate floors.

In the absence of a reform bill, and amidst the ongoing war against immigrants being waged by the Trump administration, local action is an important way to push back against the system, while building networks and relationships that can become the foundation for a political alliance to ultimately transform the system. This past weekend the Quixote Center presented some ideas about local action in a workshop at Call to Action in San Antonio. While not comprehensive, we did offer a few examples of ways people can get engaged in local action to support immigrant communities. We offer a summary of these ideas below:

Rapid Response Networks

If you have a flexible schedule and are able to mobilize at a moment’s notice, volunteering with a rapid response network is worth considering. Response networks take on a variety of roles, the most common being mobilizing to be a witness to (and/or at times to disrupt) ICE activity in your community.

How to get started!

Labor Notes has a brief guide to creating a rapid response network here: http://www.labornotes.org/2018/08/building-rapid-response-network-defend-immigrant-workers

Before launching the process to create a rapid response network, first see what might already exist in your community. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few places to check:

National: United We Dream, Here to Stay Network https://actionnetwork.org/forms/immigrants-are-heretostay/

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (list of hotlines): https://www.nnirr.org/drupal/sites/default/files/immigration_hotlines_pdf.pdf


Visitation Programs

Being held in detention is very isolating experience. People often have no idea how long they will be held, and can be moved at any moment. Visiting people in detention can make a huge difference for those being held.

Creating a visitation program requires meeting ICE guidelines and the specific rules of the facilities. They do not make it easy!

The best place to start is Freedom for Immigrants, which provides detailed information on how to create a program, and will help guide local groups in creating a visitation program.

To see a list of visitation programs around the country and learn more: https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/visitation-network/


Local Policy Actions

There are a variety of ways in which people have organized campaigns to resist immigration enforcement measures at the local level. Until there is a comprehensive reform at the federal level, such efforts create important means of support, and help to build a broader network of public officials working in support of more humane policies. We offer a few examples below.

SAFE Cities Network

The Vera Institute for Justice coordinates the SAFE Cities Network, which provides legal assistance to immigrants who are facing deportation. SAFE Cities Network is a year old, and includes 12 cities and 8 counties in the United States. Through the first year, 38% of the people who received legal assistance were able to stay in the U.S., compared to the national average of 3% of people who face these proceedings without assistance. For more information about the SAFE Cities Network: https://www.vera.org/spotlights/safe-expansion-and-success

Freedom Cities

Trump has made Sanctuary Cities a target, by threatening to suspend federal funding in some cases. In addition, some states like Texas have passed state laws that attempt to obligate cities to enforce immigration laws. In response, new strategies have evolved for localities to push back. In Austin, for example, the City Council passed a resolution that police must inform people that they have the right to refuse to answer questions related to immigration status.

Background: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/crackdown-sanctuary-cities-gives-birth-freedom-cities-n909606

287(g) Campaigns

287(g) refers to a section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that allows the federal government to enter into formal agreements with localities in order to, in essence, deputize local law enforcement to take on the roles normally reserved for ICE. Over the past several years, there have been numerous campaigns by local activists for their communities to withdraw from 287(g) agreements.

Background (map and explanation): https://www.ilrc.org/national-map-287g-agreements


Shutdown ICE

There are a variety of actions community groups can take to challenge ICE, raise awareness about conditions in detention facilities located in their area, or work to block the opening of new detention facilities. There is no specific model to follow here, but we provide a few examples of campaigns.

Using inspections to end abusive detention

This is an initiative coordinated by Detention Watch Network. They have a detailed guide on how to use ICE contracts and inspections to build campaigns to challenge detention policies. The guide includes creation of visitation programs and ways to use the media and other grassroots actions to build local campaigns. You can connect to the toolkit and other information here:  https://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/issues/detention-oversight

Occupy ICE

A grassroots movement which has adopted some of the strategies of the Occupy Wall Street movement to protest ICE activity in cities around the country. The first encampment was in Portland in June this year. In Philadelphia protests led to the city canceling its arrest database sharing agreement with ICE. There have been Occupy ICE actions in many cities, mostly during the peak of the family separation crisis. Follow at hashtag #OccupyICE. Website: https://occupyice.org/

Background article (Guardian): https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/06/occupy-ice-movement-new-york-louisville-portland

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Daily Dispatch 11/13/18

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Daily Dispatch

November 13, 2018

Top Stories:

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen likely out before the end of the week. This is looking all the more likely now, with the news that her WH defender, Chief of Staff Kelly, will also be on the chopping block.

Iowa gem, Steve King, calls immigrants “dirt” on tape. <sarcasm>Keepin’ it classy as always, Steve.</sarcasm>

ICE awards $200 million contract to MVM Inc., a private prison company that held separated children overnight in vacant office buildings.


An update on separated children from Jacob Soboroff, who has been covering this story for months:

Remember that caravan – the one that caused a “national emergency” until, for some reason, election day? Well, here’s an update from Newsweek: “LGBT members of a caravan of Central American migrants heading toward the U.S. border appear to have reached the California border after leaving the main group behind over alleged discrimination from other migrants” … read more.

And here’s a bonus video for making it this far – Colbert on Fox’s vanishing caravan coverage:

Other Worthy Reads:

From Sojourners: “An Open Letter to White Evangelicals” (dated December 2018, so it comes to us from the future).

From the New York Times: “The Very Busy Life of an Immigrants’ Rights Priest in 2018.”

From Politico: “Trump preps for border wall fight with Dems”


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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

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