Weekly update on expulsion of refugees to Haiti, Take Action

The Biden administration continues to expel Haitian refugees at an alarming rate. 15,920 Haitians have been expelled on 148 flights since the current wave of mass deportations began on September 19. Over 18,000 Haitians have been expelled since Biden took office.

There have been 32 flights thus far in January (through the 21st), with two or three flights every day. Most flights are departing from Laredo, a border town in Texas, and are mostly Title 42 expulsions. Consistent demographic data is hard to get – Immigration and Customs Enforcement provides nothing, and confirms nothing publicly. However, based on reporting from the International Organization on Migration in Haiti, which receives those expelled, 18% of those expelled through December 31 were children, indicating that a large percent of removals are families.

This week*

Tuesday: Two flights from Laredo, TX to Port au Prince, total numbers were not available. However, it was reported that 79 of the people who arrived on these flights tested positive for COVID-19.
Wednesday: One flight with 127 people, including 58 children, of whom 38 were reportedly infants (0-2 years old).
Thursday: Two flights with 238 people, including 48 children
 
Friday: One flight with 72 people, 28 children, 22 of whom were less than 2 years old.

Media: Rafael Bernal and Rebecca Beitsch,”Rift grows between Biden and immigration advocates,” The Hill, January 20, 2022, and Charlotte Weiner, “Why the Haitian Struggle Matters for Anti-Racism Activism,”  January 18, 2022

* Many thanks to Steve Forester of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who provides a daily report about these expulsions.

Take Action to Halt the Flights

Contact your members of Congress and push them to speak out against this policy. We have prepared a message you can send here. Time permitting, take the extra step of calling your members of Congress, House and Senate, and ask them to publicly oppose these removals.

There is organizational sign on letter demanding an end to these expulsions being coordinated by Haitian Bridge Alliance and others. You can read that here, and sign here (organizations only!).  Deadline for signing is January 25, 2022

 

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Seed delivery from Gros Morne to Camp Perrin

Seeds being offloaded in Camp Perrin

On August 14, 2021, a series of earthquakes struck Haiti’s southern peninsula, leaving 2,400 people dead and doing enormous damage to the area’s infrastructure. Like most of Haiti outside of Port au Prince, the peninsula is a predominantly agricultural area. Damage to roads and bridges, the death of farm animals, and mudslides from the tropical storm that struck the area a few days later, have all conspired to threaten food production. Farmers struggle to get supplies for the winter planting, and are cut-off from markets in Port au Prince due to armed groups controlling the roads into and out of the city.

In response to the earthquake, the Quixote Center is funding direct cash payments to individuals in the impacted area. We emphasize cash payments over other types of  aid in order to support local markets, especially local and regional farmers, who can see their livelihoods damaged further when markets are flooded with imported food aid. Where markets are open, and local supplies available, supporting the local economy is better for Haiti in the long run.

Even if supplies become difficult to source nearby, they can often still be sourced from other parts of Haiti. Though transport is difficult, it is worth the effort to build connections within Haiti for relief efforts.

Quixote Center partners with an agro-ecology program that includes a seed bank near Gros Morne, Haiti. With support from the Quixote Center, our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center purchased seeds from farmers in Gros Morne and delivered them to farmers near Camp Perrin, which is located near the epicenter of the August earthquake.

Guy Marie Garcon, who coordinates the program at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, wrote, 

The community of Gros Morne has often been a victim of hurricanes and earthquakes in recent memory, so we understand the pain of the farmers in the South. We have the possibility to help our compatriots in the South, which is why we propose to send seed support for planters in [Camp Perrin]. We would send them good quality bean seeds, so that they can replant their gardens. By purchasing these seeds from farmers in Gros Morne, we would provide good quality local seeds for the farmers in the South, rather than importing them from abroad. We know that our seeds will grow well in the South.

Of course, we faced a struggle getting the seeds delivered, as there is no safe way to drive them directly to Camp Perrin. The driver from Gros Morne delivered the seeds to a program partner’s office in Port-au-Prince safely, but he did have to navigate roadblocks in St. Marc to do so.  

Once in Port-au-Prince, the seeds waited for a couple of days for safe passage south.

The seeds were delivered to the Sacred Heart Parish in Camp Perrin on Saturday, January 15th, and from there will be delivered to 100 small farmers, ultimately providing assistance to 450 people in Toirac and surrounding areas like Mailloux, Sous De Vie and Barat. 

It is a small project, but is an example we hope will grow. Rather than bring in outside supplies that displace Haitian growers, we are supporting local growers. For those of you who donated through our emergency response fund, we thank you for your generosity.

 

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Biden marks anniversary of earthquake by expelling more Haitian refugees

Flight Eastern 3503, taking Haitian refugees from El Paso to Port au Prince, Jan. 12, 2022

Twelve years ago today, a massive earthquake brought down buildings throughout the Port au Prince area, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing many more. As a result, January 12 is a national day of mourning in Haiti.

For the United States it is just another day to expel Haitian refugees – 443 Haitians were expelled today on three flights. 

In September of this year, the Biden administration launched a massive removal campaign against Haitians. It is still going on. Many of those expelled in this time began their journey to seek a liveable life outside of Haiti in the months after that earthquake. 

Between September 19, 2021 and January 12, 2022, the Biden administration has expelled 14,800 Haitian refugees on 137 flights. Most have been removed under Title 42

For context, it is important to be very clear about the following: People who are seeking asylum are not “illegal” immigrants, and under US law, we are obligated to screen their asylum claims, no matter how they enter the country

That said, the right to seek asylum has been illegally limited under Trump-era “Title 42” enforcement measures enacted by an ill-conceived pronouncement from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection in March 2020. Under “Title 42” the CDC claims that migrants can be removed as quickly as possible, with no access to asylum processing outside of a narrow provision under the Convention Against Torture. In reality, CAT screening is widely denied as well. 

For the most part, Haitians cannot simply be expelled at the border under Title 42. They must be flown out. This means detention in congregant settings, ground transportation and flights – all of which make a complete mockery of the “public health” justification for upending asylum processing.

Title 42 is thus an abrogation of international obligations concerning the treatment of refugees, and is, prima facie, a violation of US law. And yet, Biden persists, and regarding Haitians, does so in a way that greatly increases the risks to their health.

Based on numerous reports we know people are put on planes by Immigration and Customs Enforcement without being told they are being sent to Haiti. Adults are often shackled during flights.

On the ground in the United States, immigration authorities treat Haitians horrendously. Haitians are detained, denied attorneys, and mostly denied the chance to make a formal request for asylum. Though the Biden administration has made some exceptions for families, it is not a uniform policy. Nearly 20% of those removed since September are children. 

The International Organization for Migration is supposed to provide $120 to Haitians on arrival for relocation assistance – but this assistance is not consistently granted. Returnees are then processed and shown the door at the airport. People who left Haiti a month, a year, or even a decade ago, find themselves pushed onto the streets of Port au Prince at a time when insecurity is about as bad as anybody can remember. 

We think this is wrong. If you agree, please join us in sending a message to members of Congress, asking them to speak out against removals to Haiti, and to Biden, demanding an end to all Title 42 removals.  

 

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Soup Joumou: Celebrating Haitian Independence

Today marks not just the start of 2022, but Haiti’s Independence Day. For the occasional, our board member Serge Hyacinthe explains the importance of January 1st in Haiti and the special meaning behind soup joumou, as well as how to make it at home. 

As Haitians, we are no strangers to natural disasters and political challenges that have excruciating impacts on our nation and families, but 2021 has been an especially heart-wrenching year for most Haitians.  Yet, even these endowed afflictions could not shield our inner souls against the pain and sheer humiliation of our treatment at the hands of U.S. Customs Agents, the brazen assassination of our sitting president, and the complete disregard of our sovereignty. The challenges of the year forced many of us to become superhuman with a suffocating sense of resilience.

For this reason, we will welcome January 1st, 2022 with moments of reflection and remembrance. It will be a day when many will bend a knee, say a prayer, call out to the ancestors and befallen loved ones, or attend a service. And some may ponder with sincerity: Has the Creator who has given us 1804, freedom from our enslavers, independence in a very hostile world, the Creator of all humanity, the all-merciful and beneficent forsaken us? But history would remind us, it is not the Creator who has forsaken us, but nations and men. Our history would also remind us that liberty comes with a high price. So with all our challenges and pain we will celebrate and honor the sacrifices of our ancestors.

January 1st is one of our most important holidays. On that day, we give thanks for the hard-fought victory of our ancestors against the institution of slavery and colonialism. We rejoice in the divine spirits that have maintained and accompanied us through personal and collective adversities and helped us retain our identity, humanity, and souls as proud and unabashed Haitians. We celebrate the support of friends of all nationalities and hues who have supported us in our treacherous and continuous struggles.  We honor the work of organizations like the Quixote Center and others whose compassion and kindness have seen no bounds. For those reasons, our faith is unwavering. Despite overwhelming odds, over the centuries, we prevailed against social, economic, and racial injustice. We must prevail because Haiti’s fight for liberation across the globe is the symbol of freedom and liberty for humanity.

 Haiti’s fight for independence lasted 13 years. It is the first and only successful slave revolt for independence in the world. It is the first revolution in modern history that modeled freedom for all regardless of gender, race, and religion. The Haitian liberators included men and women who extended their knowledge and resources to help others gain their own freedom. Our ancestors including, our second leader, Henry Christophe, assisted in the American Revolution and fought in the battle of Savannah. The Haitian President Alexandre Petion supported Simon Bolivar, the great liberator of South America in 1815 with soldiers and resources. With Haiti’s help, Bolivar obtained the independence of northwest Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, and northern Peru. Bolivar kept his promise to Petition by abolishing slavery in all those territories upon victory. Haiti also supported Greece as she was fighting for her own independence from the Ottoman Empire and was the first to recognize the nation in 1822.

It is with the fervor of our ancestors for freedom, this year and beyond, Haitians will celebrate January 1st, Haitian Independence Day, by connecting with family, friends, and our communities. To honor our rich cultural heritage we will share our history, dance, music, and cuisine with our family on January 1st.  We invite others to celebrate with their families too by eating our Soup Joumou, also known as freedom soup.  The quest for freedom and liberty is a gift that we all honor. We pray that the soup connects us, energizes us, and inspires us to create brighter tomorrows. 

Below is a recipe for the Haitian freedom soup, also known as Soup Joumou:        

Ingredients:

1 pound of beef, chicken, or turkey 

½ cup fresh lime juice 

5 tablespoons of Goya Adobo seasoning

2 pounds calabaza squash, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons tomato paste

5 medium Idaho or russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

½ small head green cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)

4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

1 large white onion, finely chopped

2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 scallions, trimmed and sliced

3 fresh parsley sprigs

1 Scotch Bonnet pepper

¼ teaspoon fresh or dried thyme leaves

2 pints of vegetable or meat broths 

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup pasta

Instructions:

1. Pour oil in a large pot over medium heat for about 5 to seven minutes

2. Add tomato paste, onions, scallions, scotch bonnet pepper, and stir  

3. Add choice of meat (beef, chicken, or turkey) and sauté till it browns 

4. Add potatoes, carrots, onions, scallions, cabbage blended squash, and choice of broth.

5. Cook and simmer periodically for about 30 minutes.  

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Despite ongoing crises in Haiti, Biden keeps expelling Haitians from the US

On Monday, December 20, the Biden administration sent three removal flights back to Haiti, with over 340 people on them including 32 children. As we move into Christmas week the administration plans to send planes every day back to Haiti, except for Christmas eve. Since taking office, the Biden administration has removed over 14,000 people to Haiti; at least 11,100 since mid-September. 

How can the Biden administration justify bringing together people to discuss the multifaceted problems in Haiti, acknowledging in the process the deteriorating security situation, and still deport thousands of Haitians back to Haiti – many of whom were never even given a chance to apply for asylum under the Biden administration’s ongoing enforcement of Title 42. The Miami Herald’s editorial board lifted up this contradiction (in an otherwise problematic call for UN intervention):

“When the Haitian gang, named 400 Mawozo, kidnapped 17 Christian missionaries in October, the United States warned Americans on the island to get out— now. All the while, the Biden administration was sending planeloads of Haitian migrants in the United States back to their violent homeland. The message? Haiti’s too dangerous for Americans, but it’s good enough for Haitians.”

Since Biden took office we have demanded that deportations be halted. We’ve been joined in doing so by hundreds of human rights and immigrant organizations, members of Congress, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the editorial boards of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe and others. Members of Biden’s State Department team have quit over this policy. And yet Biden persists under the delusion that somehow if the United States keeps being cruel to Haitians and others this will deter people from trying to come to the United States. 

While it seems that just about everything has been tried already, we can’t stop demanding. If you would like to join in these efforts, and you can send a message to your member of Congress, encouraging them to speak out. And join in this petition to end Title 42 and the Biden administration’s renewal of the Migrant Protection Protocols. Share with friends.

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Biden must halt removals to Haiti. NOW!

On Tuesday, December 14 the Biden Administration sent two full removal flights to Haiti. These were the 94th and 95th such flights since Biden launched mass deportations to Haiti in mid-September. The deportations are ostensibly a response to an increase in the number of Haitians attempting to cross into the United States in September. 

The September “crisis” was splashed across major media outlets with photos of 15,000 Haitians and others under a bridge between the Rio Grande and the Del Rio port of entry in Texas. At the time, Biden’s Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, claimed that 8,000 Haitians were immediately returned to Mexico. Since then, thousands more have been expelled: Beginning September 19 of this year, the Biden Administration removed over 10,000 Haitians from the United States in expulsion and deportation flights to Haiti. (IOM data as of Dec 12 here -there have been three flights since.)

Between January and March of 2021, the Biden administration expelled over 2,000 Haitians. 

Human rights organizations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and several Members of Congress have denounced the removals, without demonstrable impact on the White House. Indeed, A DHS spokesperson said that, according to the US embassy in Port au Prince, the situation in Haiti has improved, and thus people could be safely returned. 

This is untrue.

The security situation in Haiti has deteriorated significantly since July – with the assassination of Haiti’s president that month, and an explosion of gang activity since, especially kidnappings. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s most recent human rights report begins, “the government has continued to dismantle the country’s accountability systems, which has fueled unprecedented violence by gangs,2 many with government connections, as well as a continued deterioration of the social and economic conditions in the country.”

Added to this, a massive earthquake in the southern peninsula in August left close to 500,000 people without secure shelter. The violence has hampered recovery efforts. Food insecurity is on the rise, as are prices for nearly everything due to fuel shortages. Yet, Biden has seen fit to expel 10,000 refugees back to Haiti – even as the Civil Rights division of the Department of Homeland Security warned that doing so constitutes a violation of the US commitment of non-refoulement under international law. 

To add insult to injury, The Biden Administration has utterly failed to deliver on its promise to assist the Government of Haiti and the International Organization on Migration’s efforts to receive people. The US delayed promised aid, leading the IOM to provide far less relocation assistance than earlier agreed upon. Most people received little more than the price of a bus ticket from the airport in Port au Prince or Cap Haitian to their home. Meanwhile, a massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement corporate partner, the GEO Group, cashed in with a $15.76 million contract to organize removal flights to Haiti in September and October.

Although Biden maintained a progressive immigration stance during the election, he has failed to assemble a progressive coalition on immigration during his presidency. Historically, the treatment of Haitians has been an indicator of the direction of future US immigration policy. This is true now as well.

The Biden Administration has also expanded removals to southern Mexico, alongside new direct expulsion flights to Honduras and Guatemala over the last two months. To be clear, these new flights are not regular deportation flights, but summary expulsions under Title 42. The United States has been expelling people from Central America and Mexico back into Mexico with minimal processing, and no opportunity to request asylum since March of 2020. 

However, because many people try to re-enter the United States once expelled, the Biden Administration expels people by plane to get them as far from the border as possible. As with Haitian removals, expulsion flights to southern Mexico and Central America make a complete mockery of the public health dimension of Title 42 – under which the Centers for Disease Control and Protection directed the Department of Homeland Security to expel people immediately to avoid detention and processing in congregant settings. You can’t fly people out of the United States without first holding them in a staging area, e.g. “congregant setting” – exactly what Title 42 was supposed to avoid. 

We invite you to join us in condemning ongoing removals to Haiti. You can send a message to your member of Congress asking them to raise their voice in opposition to Biden’s Haiti expulsion policy by using our Legislative platform here.

We also invite you to join us in demanding an end to Title 42 by signing (and sharing) this petition to the Biden administration.

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The United States’ dismal human rights record: Title 42 and Haiti

Photo Courtesy of John Lazarre & Guerline Jozef

December 10, 2021 marks the 73rd anniversary of the formal approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. The United States voted to approve the declaration in 1948 along with 47 of the then 58 members of the United Nations (there were eight abstentions, and two not-voting). The Universal Declaration was a bold claim that everyone on the planet was entitled to a core set of rights, regardless of where they lived. It was and remains a powerful vision. Yet it is one that is wholly unrealized in the lives of the vast majority of people on the planet.

One has to look no further than the United States treatment of Haitians and others at the US border with Mexico to get a glimpse of how far we are from realizing the vision of universal human rights.

Title 42

Since January, the Biden administration has summarily expelled close to one million people. That is, one million people denied the right to make a claim of asylum under the provisions of a “public health” order issued by the Trump administration. The order is referred to as “Title 42” in reference to the section of the federal code under which the Center for Disease Control and Protection claimed authority to suspend asylum in March of 2020. It has been widely criticized by immigrant and human rights organizations, as well as public health professionals, including some in the CDC itself. Nevertheless Biden has maintained, and indeed expanded, the use of Title 42. 

Under Title 42 people are immediately removed to the last country of transit. In theory, this applies to both Mexico or Canada, but there have been comparatively few Title 42 expulsions back into Canada (in FY 2021 there were 7,500 Title 42 expulsions on the northern border, compared to 1.1 million on the southern border). The public health rationale for this abrogation of international responsibilities rests on two things: The threat that COVID-19 holds for Border Patrol personnel if forced to monitor and process people in congregant settings, e.g. held in Border Patrol stations. And the related claim of a lack of capacity to safely quarantine and test people in custody (though testing is readily available now).  (See page 11-16 in linked report)

As a result, migrants encountered by Border Patrol are summarily expelled – most within 2 hours of being encountered. The catch is that Mexico and Canada have to agree to take people back. Mexico agreed to accept Mexican nationals, and people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras when Title 42 was first announced. These four countries make up over 90% of the people encountered at the United States/Mexico border – but it leaves others, like folk from Haiti, in a legal limbo. Though some have been removed to Mexico anyway, most are detained in congregate settings within the United States, in a complete contradiction of the stated rationale for the policy, until they can be expelled by plane. 

The public health argument has never really been the point, of course, and so the fact that the Department of Homeland Security fails to implement its own operating procedures when it comes to enforcing Title 42 is hardly surprising. Indeed, the Biden administration has also argued that Title 42 provides a needed deterrent to migration. The logic is that if people know they will be summarily expelled from the United States – they won’t attempt to come in. Deterring people from seeking refuge in one’s country by meting out harsh treatment to those who try is, of course, a violation of human rights. 

The “shipwreck of civilization” at Del Rio and beyond

This week Pope Francis visited migrant camps in Greece. Against the backdrop of the official misery created by European xenophobia, he lambasted the region’s leaders for their poor treatment of migrants, and the political impulse used by nationalists throughout the continent to sow hatred and fear against refugees for political gain. He referred to this situation as the “shipwreck of civilization” and could have just as easily been talking about the United States. Though there are many parallels one could point to between Europe and the United States in their shared determination to offload responsibilities for migrants and deny refugees entrance, the Biden administration’s deployment of Title 42 against Haitians stands out as particularly relevant.

It was just in September that the Biden administration decided to use Haitians as a prime example of its deterrent strategy, basically tossing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a trash can in the process. When an unexpected (officially at least) increase in the number of Haitians seeking entrance into the United States occurred at the Del Rio border crossing in Texas in mid-September, the Biden administration launched a mass removal process that has led to the expulsion of over 9,000 Haitians back to Haiti (official IOM data as of November 26, 2021. There have been 6 flights since), and reportedly (at the time) another 8,000 back into Mexico – despite Mexico’s heretofore reluctance to accept Haitians under Title 42. 

At the time, the administration claimed that there were a total of 30,000 migrants encountered in the Del Rio sector and that an “estimated” 12,000 were able to avail themselves of asylum protection. This is misleading. According to Border Patrol figures, just under 18,000 Haitians were encountered in September. Given the larger numbers discussed, I am assuming the 8,000 Haitians Mayorkas said were basically pushed back into Mexico in September are not counted in CBP’s official tally of “encounters” for that month. Either that, or Maryokas was simply guessing. 

Over half of the 18,000 people officially encountered have been removed since mid-September – including thousands supposedly placed in Title 8, or regular immigration processing. Some Haitian families were able to avail themselves of asylum processing. However, it is clear that this was a delay tactic, as many have been expelled anyway. Indeed, nearly 20% of those removed to Haiti via plane have been children indicating a high number of family expulsions.

It is not safe to return people to Haiti. As the situation in Haiti continued to deteriorate over the summer, in August, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties warned the administration that returning Haitians to Haiti risked, “violating US civil and human rights obligations,” according to an internal document obtained by BuzzFeed News

When the increase in Haitians arriving in Del Rio occurred a month later, however, all of these concerns were set aside.

Really, more of a plane wreck…

From mid-September to Monday, December 6, 2021, the Biden administration expelled nearly 10,000 Haitians back to Haiti on 90 removal flights (September 19 to December 7). In other words, in less than three months the administration has flown more flights to Haiti than any other country except Mexico and Guatemala. Meanwhile, Haitians made up less than 3% of all encounters with Border Patrol in FY 2021. 

Hameed Aleaziz wrote in Buzzfeed News this week, “A DHS spokesperson said that following the earthquake in August, deportations of Haitians were suspended, but that after the embassy in Haiti determined that conditions had improved, they were restarted.”

It is hard to imagine anyone reviewing the situation in Haiti between July and August this year, and deciding conditions had improved. While I reject the way major media outlets continue to employ cartoonish language to describe Haiti in sensationalized terms (failed state, hell on earth, and so on), the security situation has clearly continued to deteriorate. Kidnappings have increased dramatically. The violence in Port au Prince neighborhoods like Martissant, sections of Delmas, and Croix de Bouquet, have led to the displacement of thousands of Haitians. As a result, outside of the capital the situation has worsened, leaving communities isolated and often unable to get needed supplies from Port-au-Prince.

The provision of resources “for the humane receipt” of individuals, amounted to a pledge of funds that was to provide $100 per person for relocation. However, the funds from the United States were late in arriving, and the International Organization on Migration, which was actually doing the work, was left scrambling for resources. People typically received far less than the pledged amount, often no more than the cost of a bus ticket home. For many of the people expelled in this way, it was the first time they had been in Haiti in years. Almost all of those expelled from Del Rio had arrived at the U.S. border via South America, where many Haitians resettled in the years since the massive earthquake in 2010.

Under such circumstances, it is not a surprise that many of those returned have reportedly already left again. The increase in the number of people leaving Haiti by boat in recent weeks seems an indication of this desperation.

Human rights debacle

The obscenity of the removal policy to Haiti – and its illegality – has been pointed out by many. Recently it directly led to the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, who wrote in his resignation letter:

I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal [sic] immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life. 

Removals to Haiti were also a contributing factor to the resignation of State Department legal counsel Harold Koh – who introduced his detailed resignation letter:

I write first, because I believe this Administration’s current implementation of the Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return (“refouler”) individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially migrants fleeing from Haiti.

Finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a statement calling on the US to end Title 42 enforcement, saying, 

The summary, mass expulsions of individuals currently underway under the Title 42 authority, without screening for protection needs, is inconsistent with international norms and may constitute refoulement. 

The realization of universal human rights remains a principle worth fighting for. But in the United States over the last year, we can see why that realization still feels distant. Biden has doubled down on the Trump campaign against asylum – indeed for Haitians in particular, Biden has proven to be much worse. So, as the speeches are made this week, marking the anniversary, remember that we have a long way to go. Even the most basic right to seek refuge – a right of crucial importance to the framers of the Declaration writing in the wake of World War II – is widely being denied across the globe.

And the United States under president Biden still remains among the worst violators.

Join us in calling on the Biden administration to end MPP and Title 42, and restore asylum with respect to the human rights and dignity of all migrants by signing our petition HERE

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Kim Lamberty: Racism, Colonialism and Haiti

Below is the text version of a presentation by Quixote Center Executive Director Kim Lamberty, DMin upon receiving Pax Christi’s 14th Annual Peacemaker Award, November 7, 2021. A video of the presentation is below.

Thank you. I have worked with many of you for a long time and it is special to be recognized by one’s peers and communities.  Thanks also to each of you present this evening –I am feeling the love. 

Tonight I will look briefly at a history of racism and colonialism through the lens of Haiti and Haiti’s history.  The idea is in part to refocus on Haiti, given the current situation of extreme violence, food insecurity, vulnerability. In talking about Haiti I am also going to talk about the ways in which a racist, colonial economic system is still at play, and offer some thoughts about what we can be doing differently.

Brief narrative of Haiti’s history 

In 1492, Columbus landed on the island known as Haiti by the indigenous Taino population, and promptly renamed it Hispaniola.  He established the first Spanish settlement there, and after successive Spanish settlements, within 100 years the indigenous population had been destroyed. By the late 1600s, the half of the island that is known as Haiti had been ceded to the French, who turned it into a giant coffee and sugar plantation. At its peak, half of the Atlantic slave trade went to Haiti. This plantation economy depended on the deforestation of high-value trees, extreme violence toward the people who they had enslaved, and forced conversion to Catholicism. By the time of the Haitian revolution, the French side of the island was the world’s top producer of coffee and sugar and France’s most profitable colony. One out of every 8 people in France derived their living from this trade, which was entirely dependent on the enslavement of Africans.

Analogous stories happened in other European colonies. Haiti was one of the most profitable, but the other European countries also earned extraordinary profits through colonizing, pilfering, and enslaving Africans and indigenous. This is where European wealth came from, the same wealth that, for example, provided funding for religious orders and missionary work. 

The Haitian revolution began as a slave rebellion that ultimately defeated Napoleon’s army to form the first Black republic in the Western Hemisphere in 1804.  Thomas Jefferson responded by imposing a trade embargo, and the United States refused to recognize Haiti until 1862. France cut off all trade until the Haitian government agreed to pay them reparations for lost  “human and territorial” property. Haitian went from one of the most profitable territories in the world to a situation of destitution from which it has not recovered. There is much more to the story, such as US occupation, US support for dictators, US interference in democratic elections, US treatment of migrants fleeing an untenable situation, that continued to oppress the people of Haiti over the ensuing decades and centuries.  This is not unlike our history in other Latin American countries, many of whom also have not recovered from what was done to them during the colonial period.

The Poverty-Industrial Complex

European colonialism was based in an ideology of white supremacy and an economic system that enriched some people at the expense of vast forced labor—because if they had to pay people, they would not have gotten nearly so rich. One can draw parallels to today…because paying substandard wages, or paying low prices for natural resources from vulnerable countries, still makes some people very rich and others very poor. So now let’s jump ahead to today, a situation where Haitians frequently refer to their own country as the Republic of NGOs. I call it the poverty-industrial complex.

Economically vulnerable countries, such as Haiti, are also home to many of the natural resources required to sustain the lifestyles of wealthier countries. Coffee is one of them, and hopefully by the end of this conversation, you will see why I got into the coffee business. Obviously there are many other commodities that one could focus on. 

The economic system that we are all functioning in is focused on maximizing shareholder wealth. Companies buy natural resources, or the labor it takes to produce their product, at the lowest possible amount they possibly can, and sell the finished product for the highest possible amount they can, keeping the profits from those sales for themselves, and their shareholders, which are often one and the same. They get cheap labor and resources from vulnerable communities and countries who are kept in a permanent state of need because they are never paid enough to live on. Consumers—that is you and me—are complicit in this system because we are conditioned to pay the lowest amount we possibly can for the goods that we consume, often without doing the work to understand the impact on labor, as well as on producers, in vulnerable countries. It also takes an environmental toll because resources are extracted in the cheapest manner possible without regard to impact on the planet.

Obviously there are exceptions, both on the industry side and on the consumption side. But by and large this is what we are dealing with in terms of how wealth is generated. From profits.

The NGOs come in to mop up the mess in poor countries and communities, trying to bridge the gap between what people are getting paid for goods and services, and what they actually need to live on. NGOs raise money from the exact same people—the wealthy—in other words, from many of the same people who are profiting off of poverty. There is a lot of money to be made off of poverty, which is why we still have it.

Let’s take the coffee industry. Coffee is a top export from economically vulnerable countries, so it is worth looking at. It impacts 25 million small scale growers, or around 100 million people total, although most coffee is grown on large plantations owned by wealthy landholders. The current international price for coffee is between 2 and 3 bucks per pound, which is actually quite high by historical standards. In most cases, that money goes to a plantation owner, who pays very low wages (or none at all) to hired labor for what is very difficult work. We also know that there is slave labor in the coffee supply chain, in particular in Brazil, which is the top global exporter of coffee. In some cases, when small farmers have formed cooperatives, they get a larger portion of that money, but a chunk of it still goes to the coop to pay for its own expenses and salaries. And how much do you pay for a pound of coffee? Studies have shown that the bulk of the income from coffee sales goes to large roasters, who are the ones making the profits.

The people making the profits give from their excess to NGOs, who then use a substantial amount of that money to pay their own salaries, and to create the infrastructure needed to deliver aid. This means paying for offices, trucks, warehouses, computers—etc., in addition to their own salaries, which are often very substantial.  It is really hard to find information about how much actual cash gets into the hands of people in need, because organizations include their own salaries and infrastructure in their reported “program costs.” What would happen if we just took all that money and gave it to people in need? People know what to do with it. Instead, we have developed a jobs-creation program for people such as myself. It is an industry that depends on poverty to survive, and a whole lot of jobs are at stake. Many of them are connected to churches.

I have heard numerous Haitians point this out: Money that gets raised for Haiti does not go to Haiti—it goes to aid workers. My question is, how is the poverty industrial complex that I am describing not still colonialism? 

The Cost of Colonialism

People kept in a permanent state of need will take action to support and protect themselves and their families. If they have the opportunity, they will migrate to a place where they think they have a better chance of making a living—and so we are seeing the huge cost of the poverty-industrial complex at our borders, and at borders around the globe. What’s happening at the US-Mexico border is minuscule compared to what is happening in Africa, home to the largest refugee camps in the world. 

Economically vulnerable people also join armed groups as a way to resolve their lives. In Colombia, I had conversations with people who simply said that young people are joining armed groups because they have no other economic opportunity. Studies have been done that confirm that this dynamic exists elsewhere: young people in particular will join armed groups if they think they do not have other options for making a living. This is just as true in the US as it is in Haiti, Colombia, Palestine, and Guatemala.

Many of our interventions into this dynamic take place in order to alleviate the damage done without addressing the root cause of the damage. We have the best of intentions when we work to change US immigration policy, or when we provide support for migrant camps, or we oppose the sale of weapons, or we do gang intervention work. And obviously, we have to do those things, and it’s not likely that these symptoms of a much larger problem are going away any time soon. 

According to the Gospel, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11) The poor we will always have with us because there will always be natural disasters, or pandemics, or other catastrophes that befall us—it is the human condition. We live in a state of insecurity, and there will always be a need for a selfless response to those in need. So I’m not saying that all aid is bad, and during my time at CRS I saw some great examples of aid at work. But the conditions we see right now—extreme endemic poverty in places like Haiti, widespread food insecurity, violence, and a global migration crisis—these things do not always have to be with us. 

In order for those things to not always be with us, we need to get beyond addressing the symptoms, and get to the actual causes. If you want peace, work for justice! Paul VI was right—he just didn’t come up with the right or complete remedy. At the end of Populorum Progressio he advised everyone to contribute to the aid organizations!

Frequently, when we say we are addressing the root cause what we are actually doing is shoring up the poverty-industrial complex, rather than focusing on dismantling the systems and structures that will lead to significantly increased income generation for vulnerable families and communities. In other words, it’s not good enough to develop an industrial campus in northern Haiti—what the Clintons did—if the jobs don’t pay well enough to live on and local farmers are displaced. It’s not enough to develop a coffee program in a vulnerable community if all the growers get is a dollar or two dollars a pound—because that helps the roasters in the US but does not bring producers out of poverty. I don’t even like using the term “root cause” anymore, because it has been co-opted.

People are poor because they don’t have enough money, or assets to generate money. This is not rocket science. If society wanted to fix this, it would. The problem is that really fixing it would require economic sacrifice on the part of the wealthy. 

What Justice Looks Like

We started Just Haiti to address these economic justice issues. The organization is run by an all-volunteer team of 9 people. Each of us has another job, and each of us plays a significant role in Just Haiti operations.  We pay the highest price for green coffee in the industry, and all profits from sales go to the growers—because as we noted earlier, wealth is generated from profits. Our producers tell us that they use the profits to pay school fees for their kids, to cover unexpected medical expenses, to plant food crops, or to grow their coffee business. Our work is another level of ethics than what is practiced by most NGOs, even the most progressive ones.

People tell me it is unsustainable, and I say really? What is it actually and concretely going to take for us to reverse and dismantle a racist, colonial economic system? What we are doing at Just Haiti is at least part of what it is going to take, because what we are doing is actually dismantling it. What would happen if everyone did it? And a shout out to the Just Haiti board, a wonderful community of volunteers that it is my privilege to work with. They are making many personal sacrifices –it is a lot of work to run the organization and we do it together. Community is what makes this work fun as well as sustainable, and we have developed a fabulous community over the years. And by the way, you can buy our coffee at justhaiti.org.

The Quixote Center, where I just took over as executive director, is engaging in some similar cutting edge work in another part of Haiti which does not involve coffee or exports but does involve agricultural development. I just started as part of the Quixote Center community, but my expectation is that it will be just as much fun and sustaining.

I’m sure that many of you already buy fair trade products. Unfortunately, not all fair trade is alike. If your favorite fair trade company advertises that it is using its profits to install a water system in its producer communities, then they are also part of the poverty-industrial complex. Why aren’t they paying their growers enough so that the community can purchase and maintain its own water system? So buy fair trade—it is a huge step in the right direction—but buy it with a discerning eye and ask questions about how the proceeds are used. 

There are other things we can do that most of you already know about: support local farmers, purchase from black and brown-owned businesses, do business with registered B Corps. I invite each one of us has to be very intentional about this as an act of anti-racism, as violence prevention, and as a means to dismantle an unjust economic system. 

It’s not enough, unfortunately. The vast majority of CEOs are never going to give up their lucrative salaries for the sake of a better standard of living for workers and producers, whether in the US or elsewhere. It can, however, be addressed through the tax code. Right now, we have a tax system that favors the wealthy because of the low rates levied against high income and against capital gains, which come from stock sales. The incentive is to collect greater and greater income, especially through stock, because it isn’t taxed all that much. De-incentivize it through the tax code by increasing tax rates on the wealthy. Getting involved in advocacy on tax as well as wage issues is also a part of the solution. 

 There are lots of other ideas and suggestions that I am sure many of you could add. The point I want to leave you with is that I think the cutting-edge work right now is the economic system. While many folks in wealthy countries are doing well, the gap between rich and poor has gotten astronomical in the last few decades. And the point of talking about Just Haiti is to say that there are concrete things we can do to dismantle this system. 

Luann Mostello told me she hoped my presentation would spark interest in engagement with Haiti, and I hope that, too. And at the same time, as already noted, Haiti has way too many NGO actors from the United States already. My perspective on this is that instead of establishing more siloed projects, we do a better job in Haiti working in partnership, pooling our resources, to support cutting-edge work that dismantles an unjust, oppressive economic system. Through partnerships, Just Haiti has worked to replicate our model, with some great successes and some failures as well. We learn from our failures and do better the next time. I would really like to replicate the Quixote Center’s work in other communities as well. I have been the long-term consultant for a sisters of Notre Dame deNamur project in Les Cayes that established a local bakery—I would like to see that project replicated. Given the violence, insecurity, and vulnerability to natural disasters, Haiti remains a challenging place to work. And at the same time, given the history of racism, colonialism, and exploitation on the part of the US, it seems to me that Haiti is exactly where we belong.

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Haiti: Celebrating the Jean Marie Vincent Center in Gros Morne

We have been writing a great deal about the multiple crises in Haiti as well as the treatment of migrants from Haiti in Mexico and at the United States border. Sometimes it feels as though keeping up with these very important issues takes time away from celebrating the wonderful work that is also happening in Haiti, in particular with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne. So, today we want to update on the activity of the JMV Center and also discuss a little bit how the program is fairing in light of the political and economic challenges the country is facing.

As a quick overview, our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center began in 1999. At the time, we were called upon to support a community initiative to reforest a mountain slope on the edge of town. Erosion from the mountain was causing the river to silt up and led to mudslides during the rainy season. That mountain, Tet Mon, is now home to 200,000+ trees. It was an effort that launched the Center onto its current multifaceted programs to assist smallholder farmers and other families in the area. The programs all emerge in response to locally identified needs and strategies, though expertise on things like planting techniques to isolate pests infesting sweet potato harvests, or determining the optimal percentage of soy to put in chicken feed, is welcome from anywhere.

There are three broad areas of work, and multiple projects within each: Reforestation, material support and formations to small farmers throughout the communal sections of Gros Morne, and the gardens and facilities at the JMV Center itself. Despite the crisis impacting the country, which has been felt by everyone in Gros Morne in different ways, the program keeps going.

Reforestation

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Every year, the tree nursery at the JMV Center and related satellite nurseries distribute 50,000 to 60,000 trees. The number of seedlings that make it from the Center and into the ground varies due to weather conditions. Having young trees prepped and ready to get into the ground when the rains come is always the goal. Drought or flooding, however, can ruin the best-laid plans.

Yet, over the last 5 years, the team has given out nearly 260,000 trees. The trees are distributed through community organizations and schools, and the delivery of trees is always accompanied with training about how to take care of the trees. In addition to reforestation trees, there is an emphasis on the delivery of fruit-bearing trees that provide both food for families and a potential source of income.

A particularly innovative project the agronomy team from the JMV Center is engaged in is Project Lorax. This project provides trees to families for the purpose of sustainable charcoal harvesting. Cutting trees for charcoal is often listed as one of the chief causes of deforestation in Haiti. Yet, the practice is necessary for many families to earn an income. Project Lorax is an effort to engage that reality but in a sustainable way. Trees are planted in three year cycles.  Families that participate are offered incentives to care for the trees. At the end of the third year, the trees are ready for harvest. 40,000 sapling trees have been delivered over the past 3 years in Perou as a testing site.

Formations

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The team from the JMV Center engages in training on a variety of themes. In recent years, the topics that have led to the greatest number of workshops are planting techniques to minimize weevil infestation in local harvests, planting yard and patio gardens (alongside participation with JMV Center’s seed bank), and water preservation (workshops on drip irrigation as well as maintenance and use of water cisterns).

Several years ago, a weevil infestation was destroying sweet potato crops throughout the communal sections of Gros Morne. Sweet potatoes are a staple crop for families in the area, and losing 40-50% of the plants was devastating to small farmers. The agronomy team at the JMV Center immediately went into action, using the JMV garden as a test site to develop planting techniques using special “weevil traps.” Over the last several years 2,000 families have benefited from agronomy team workshops on these planting techniques. Not only has the weevil infestation been contained, but bringing farmers into the program, the team has been able to also share additional knowledge about soil and water preservation, crop rotation, double digging garden plots, and so on. The result is that yields have increased.

The agronomy team has also worked with 2,200 families participating in the seed bank program. The seed bank purchases vegetable seeds at bulk prices, often in the “off-season” when prices are lower. It is also used for bean and corn deposits, cuttings for sweet potatoes and yams, and other tubers. In preparation for the planting seasons, the agronomy team organizes workshops to help families prepare yard and patio gardens, as well as prepare fields for planting. The seed bank provides the service of storage, and encourages, through the resulting lower cost for seed purchases, participation in formations through which sustainable techniques are given to farmers.

Sustainable water use is probably the biggest challenge facing small farmers. Rainfall is unpredictable, and extended periods of drought conditions are not uncommon. Over the last year, the agronomy team from the JMV Center has been doing trainings on drip irrigation that are accompanied by the installation of water cisterns (the water cisterns were the result of a donation from the Sisters of Mercy Haiti program).

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The Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

Father Jean Marie Vincent. Image: Haiti Information Project

The bulk of Quixote Center resources that go to support the work of the JMV Center is actually expended keeping the infrastructure in place. This means purchasing fuel, purchasing project inputs like seed bags and root trainers, and covering the salaries of agronomy team members. At the heart of this work is the Center itself. The JMV Center is hosted on land donated by the Monfortan Brothers in honor of the last Father Jean Marie Vincent, a staunch advocate for peasant farmers who was gunned down in Port au Prince in 1994 during the last months of the Cedras’ coup regime.

Father Vincent’s vision for Haiti’s smallholder farmers was tied to education and liberation. Father Vincent eschewed a charity model of church engagement. He wanted to see Haiti’s farmers have access to the tools they needed to sustain their livelihoods, and he was willing to challenge the country’s elite to create the space for this to happen.

This is a vision that still animates the work of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, and that of the Quixote Center.

If you like the work we are doing in Haiti, you can donate to support it here.

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Removal flights continue, Title 42 is the reason

This week the number of deportation flights to Haiti fell to a total of 4 flights. That brings the total number of flights to 74, and the total number of people expelled to Haiti by the Biden administration to 7,800 since September 19, 2021. According to the International Organization on Migration, another 2,200 + Haitians have been deported back to Haiti from other countries during this same time period – over half of them from Cuba. The other countries that have expelled Haitians are the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Mexico. This brings the total number of people sent back to Haiti to just over 10,000 in less than one month.  The graphic above includes removals from the United States as of Monday, October 9 (there have been three flights since).

It is just over a year since we wrote about expulsions flights to Haiti in October of 2020. At that point we were talking about 12 flights over the course of the month, totalling about 1,100 people. Then, again in February and March of this year, there was another round of expulsion flights, leading to 2,000 people expelled over a 5 week period. This latest episode is thus the latest in a cycle of crossings, detention and removal that has focused on Haiti. For each of previous peaks in this cycle, outrage was mobilized, members of Congress spoke out, and editorial boards condemned. The practice of mass removal, however, continues. And if the response to the crossings in Del Rio is any indication, it is getting worse. And it is not just Haiti.

Prior to the debacle at Del Rio, we were writing about expulsion flights filled with people from Central America who were being removed to southern Mexico. Those flights have continued throughout the last four weeks as well. A flight every weekday to Villahermosa and Tapachula from McAllen air force base. During August there were 36 flights, and 42 in September. Witness at the Border tracks these flights with monthly reports. The latest numbers are here.

 In addition, the Biden administration has added direct Title 42 expulsion flights to Guatemala over the last month – on top of the regular deportation flights that have been ongoing throughout the pandemic. The direct Title 42 expulsions flights to Guatemala began on September 2. The total number of flights to Guatemala jumped from 10 in August to 34 in September. 

The explosion of flights over the past month are almost all removals under Title 42. As a reminder, Title 42 references an order issued by the CDC that claims authority under Title 42 of the US Code to deny access to regular asylum processing and expel people immediately. The use of removal flights to expel people under Title 42 began with Haitians early on during the pandemic. At the time we argued, and others have raised, that such flights undermine whatever public health justification there is for Title 42. The CDC order (and its updates since) is premised on the supposed need to avoid holding migrants in a congregant setting during the time fo COVID-19, as this poses a risk to Border Patrol agents, and presumably the migrants as well (though their health is not a high priority). For the sake of “public health,” people are denied the right to asylum and expelled immediately. 

However, flights are a whole different thing. To fly people out means detaining them for some amount of time – in  a congregate setting, while they await flights. This will be days or weeks. The Biden administration is thus maintaining the absurdist position that it is obligated to deny people access to asylum because of the dangers to Border Patrol and others of holding them in congregate settings during a pandemic, all while holding them in congregate settings! 

This absurd position had been applied to Haitians ever since the order was first implemented in march of 2020 as Mexico refused to take them back. Now it is being applied to Central Americans and Mexicans as well, who are being detained under Title 42 while awaiting flights designed to get them as far away from the border as possible. It makes absolutely no sense at all. The UNited States government is simply denying people access to asylum because they fear the political fallout from Trumpistas if they return to a semblance of humanity at the border.

There will be more people coming – from Haiti, from Cuba, from Venezuela, and from throughout Central America. These people will not come in steady numbers, but in cycles of larger groups as travel restrictions and the long arm of US border enforcement (which reaches all the way to Panama) means people are held up for periods throughout the Mesoamerican region. They are detained, released, detained and released. It is an absurd system that will continue to generate periodic crises. 

It is time to end this monstrosity. It is a system that has failed, even on its own terms, through a reliance on deterrent strategies that demonstrably do not work – as they do not address the underlying reasons people are on the move to begin with. People will keep coming. We desperately need a new system that is first prefaced on respecting the right of human mobility, and that actually seeks to address public health concerns through screening. 

Title 42 is not that policy. It is a dehumanizing mess, and illegal under international law. Time to end it.

Here is what you can do now to demand an end to Title 42:

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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)