Haiti Update

Political stalemate continues, migration news and celebrating 20 years in Gros Morne

Photo: Estailove St. Val/EPA-EFE

The political crisis in Haiti continues to unfold. President Moïse remains in office despite a year of demonstrations demanding his resignation. Haiti has had four prime ministers during that time. Jack Guy Lafontant was forced to resign following massive protests last July that launched the country into the current period of instability. His replacement, Jean Henry Céant, was forced out after a no-confidence vote in Parliament following another round of national protests in February of this year. Céant’s replacement as acting prime minister, Jean Michel Lapin, was put forward in April. However, Moïse nominated another official, Fritz William Michel, as prime minister on July 22, because Lapin was unconfirmable. Michel must still present his government and policy platform to Parliament before he can govern. As a result

In reality, Haiti has two prime ministers. There is Michel, who is technically prime minister under the country’s amended 1987 constitution. And there is Jean-Michel Lapin, who officially announced his resignation after Moïse chose Michel on July 22, but remains in charge. Neither one, however, can enter into any legal accords.

The opposition, united in calling for Moïse’s resignation, is otherwise divided over tactics and what comes next should Moïse step down. Those who have mobilized to create a new society confront not just the current government, but those who simply want to replace the current cohort in controlling the existing apparatus of the state. At the official level, the House of Deputies has gathered three times in the last week to vote on an opposition motion to hold impeachment proceedings against Moïse. As of Wednesday this week, the vote has not yet happened – postponed indefinitely over security concerns. While President Moïse remains unpopular in the streets, he has sufficient support in the House of Deputies to most likely avoid the supermajority required for an impeachment vote – if the proceedings ever get that far.

The international community…

Meanwhile, the “international community” seems content to hold out for new elections, currently scheduled for October for parliament and local offices. As always, the hope for international actors is to both control the outcome and provide a veil of legitimacy over institutions under strain. The contradiction embedded in that model continues to escape the would-be doyens of international order, chief among them the United States foreign policy team, the same crew that facilitated Moïse’s tenure in office to begin with. It is the Catch-22 of the moment. Elections are probably necessary and will solve nothing unless deeper structural reforms are instituted; so there is an actual choice when people go to the polls in October. The U.S. government, not big on actual choices (especially when they lead to reform), will direct the process as best it can through funding conditions, and hope for the best. What could go wrong? 

Of course, until there is a government to form the electoral commission and pass the electoral laws needed to proceed, there will be no election. 

The standard of living in Haiti continues to fall as prices go up, investment stalls, and everyone seems to be in a holding pattern to see what happens next. Among the chief concerns is food insecurity.  In announcing a nine million euro emergency aid package, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations noted, 

In recent months, the humanitarian situation in Haiti has deteriorated dramatically and the country is facing serious food shortages. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people in crisis situations or facing food emergencies doubled to 2.6 million, i.e. 25% of the population. Furthermore, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five remains high, and above World Health Organization (WHO) emergency levels in several locations, including the Nord-Ouest department. (emphasis added)

The nine million euro package will provide food security for 130,000 people.

The International Monetary Fund staff came to an agreement with officials in Haiti this past March for a $229 million loan, at a concessional rate (0% interest, repaid over a three year period). While this represents an infusion of money that might otherwise be welcome, this is the IMF and so, yeah, strings. Among the strings are budget reductions mandated in order to ensure “debt sustainability.” The IMF does not just hand out money in a lump sum, instead issuing “tranches” periodically, and only after staff review conditionalities put in place in the policy realm to ensure “progress” is being made. Currently the lack of an actual government is complicating final negotiations for the aid bill – which will be, at best, a mixed blessing. Remember that it was IMF pressure to end fuel subsidies last year that sent an already angry community out into the streets and brought down Lafontant’s government.

Migration policy

Press conference on Haitian Family Reunification Program. Photo: Miami Herald

The combination of political instability and a collapsing economy has led many Haitians to look elsewhere for places to settle. Over the last year, there has been an increase in people seized at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and naval patrols from other Caribbean states. There has also been an uptick in people from Haiti at the U.S./Mexico border. For some, arrival is complicated by the fact that they are arriving via Brazil or Chile where many Haitians resettled in the ten years since the earthquake and in some cases started families. The governments of Brazil and Chile have become increasingly anti-immigration amidst their own economic woes. Haitians have been a particular target of new laws to limit resettlement, especially in Chile.

In the United States, the list of efforts to limit migration for Haitians and to make it more difficult for them to stay in the United States continues to grow. 

As a result of the Trump administration’s not renewing Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in 2018, 40,000+ Haitians were facing removal proceedings this summer, starting in July (as well as the question for many about what to do with their U.S. born children). However, the effort to cancel TPS for Haiti (and other countries) has been tied up in court, and federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration in two separate cases involving Haiti. Both cases are still under appeal, but the result is that TPS remains available for Haitians for the time being – through at least December of this year and likely well into next year. It is not, however, secure long-term.

Last year the Trump administration decided to end Haiti’s participation in the federal H-2A and H-2B guest worker program. The program had benefited some Haitian farmers and laborers seeking to come to the United States as temporary, seasonal workers.

In the past few weeks, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service agency announced formal suspension of the Haitian Family Reunification Program, a special program that allowed Haiti family members awaiting visas – and otherwise fully qualified – to be allowed into the United States on a parole basis to wait out final determination here. The program had resettled just over 8,300 Haitians since 2014 – though USCIS had not issued any new invitations to Haitians to participate in the program since Trump took office.

20 years of partnership in Gros Morne

Here at the Quixote Center, we continue to work with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center near Gros Morne, Haiti on reforestation and sustainable agriculture. The forest celebrates its 20th Anniversary on August 28 this year. 

August 28 is the day in 1994 that Jean Marie Vincent, Montfortain priest, and strong advocate for Haiti’s peasantry, was murdered. Father Vincent argued against a charity model of working with the poor. His vision was an empowered community, in control of its own destiny. 

At the Formation Center, this vision still guides the work. The program is run by our partners in Gros Morne, in relation with the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and other local organizations. In this way, the program is responsive to the immediate needs of the community, as determined by the community itself. 

Over 20 years we have planted 2 million trees. But the real story is in the hundreds of workshops, thousands of family gardens, and the mobilization of 34 parish communities that form the Caritas network in the parish.  

In the context of the current political crisis, the importance of this work becomes ever more clear. Food security and independence is a necessary component of any sustainable future for Haiti. As Geri Lanham recently wrote, the project in Gros Morne has demonstrated its value to the community over the last year. 

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Daily Dispatch 8/16/2019: Immigrant families sue over treatment of children in foster care

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August 16, 2019


Photo AP/ David J Phillip

A joint investigation by the Associated Press and the PBS program Frontline documents patterns of abuse of children placed in foster care after being separated from family members at the border. AP published a story about the investigation today, including details from lawsuits that could total close to $200 million – with many more potentially coming.

Children who cross the border alone, or who become “unaccompanied” as the result of family separation, are generally placed through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The children end up in community shelters,with foster families, or detained in larger camps until they can be placed with a family member or a community sponsor. 

Patterns of abuse against immigrant children have been well documented. From being given psychotropic drugs, or denied adequate medical care, to being sexually assaulted, often at the hands of other children in custody, children suffer enormously in this system. These conditions have existed for years. Indeed, the potentially precedent setting case for some of the lawsuits pending was a $125,000 settlement concerning treatment of a child and mother from Honduras threatened with separation during Obama’s presidency. However, under the current administration, the scale of abuse, given the increase in incarceration generally, and the policy of separating children from family members in large numbers, leaves the government open to potentially billions in lawsuits.

Public charge rule would impact millions of working class families

In an interesting blog post yesterday, the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Shawn Fremstad looks at the “arcane ‘public charge’ immigration rule which is currently in the headlines because of a complicated and frightening expansion of the rule by the Trump administration.”  He notes:

Under the longstanding law and policy that existed before the new regulations, US citizens who marry foreign nationals had to show that their spouse was not likely to be institutionalized or end up wholly dependent on income-tested cash assistance (like SSI or TANF) in the future. Under the new rule, they will not be able to obtain visas, known as green cards, for their spouses if a front-line immigration official decides that their spouse is “likely at any time in the future” to receive even small amounts of Medicaid, SNAP, and certain other benefits. 

Fremstad pulls out data on Medicaid access as an example of how many people could potentially fall under a public charge designation under the new rule (nearly 1 in 6) – and makes clear that they do not meet the profile of a “public charge” by any measure. As access to such programs is widespread, the impact on immigrant spouses and partners is enormous, if they fall under a public charge designation and are denied permanent residency.

Related: Protecting Immigrant Families has an excellent fact sheet available on the changing public charge rule. You can view here, and share it.

Activists attacked at Rhode Island Protest

From the Washington Post:

The protesters were sitting on the pavement to block staff from parking at a Rhode Island prison that works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a black pickup truck swerved toward them. The protesters shouted as the driver laid on the horn, and the truck briefly stopped.

And then, the driver hit the gas.

In a viral video captured by bystanders, the protesters screamed and jumped out of the way. Several were struck, according to organizers of the Wednesday night demonstration at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I. Some were treated at a hospital, though none were severely injured.

“It was terrifying because we didn’t know what exactly his intention was,” Amy Anthony, a spokesperson for Never Again Action, a Jewish activist group that planned the protest, told The Washington Post. “It certainly appeared he was trying to hit us.”

The driver of the truck worked at the ICE facility. Rhode Island’s attorney general will be investigating events. 

 

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Daily Dispatch 8/15/2019: “America”

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August 15, 2019


Art by Recycled Propaganda, story in Guardian here.

In the world of politics, “America” is a brand not a place. As a really existing place, America refers to two continents and about 40 countries. But when we invoke “America” in this country in the context of a political debate, we mean something else. “America” is a set of ideals. It is a marketing device for democracy. A “City on the Hill.” Some kind of “beacon,” or other light in the darkness, and so on. It is a brand, and we are forever talking about what this brand means. Is Trump “un-American?” Yes, because “that is not the America I know!” Or we declare, “America is a nation of immigrants,” while others shout, “America is a nation of laws.” The Center for American Progress (and Joe Biden), now declare both to be true by way of announcing some new third way on immigration policy. But we can never simply say this or that idea is good or bad. Nope. Rather we have to put it on a scale called “America.”

This week we got the latest episode in this stomach-turning debate over what meme best stands for the United States of America’s really existing tortured history with immigration. It went something like this (from John Nichols at the Nation):

NPR’s Rachel Martin asked Cuccinelli a good question: “Would you also agree that Emma Lazarus’s words etched on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, give me your poor,’ are also a part of the American ethos?”

It was Cuccinelli’s reply that raised the eyebrows of those who know the story of Lazarus and her poem. “They certainly are: ‘Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,’” he answered, reworking not just the words but also the intent of the poem. Cuccinelli then added, “That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed—very interesting timing.” Very interesting, indeed.

Aghast, we all were for a moment. 

And then, well, we thought about it. Casting the Statue of Liberty as a metaphorical “Mother of Exiles” made for good poetics, but it never bore much relationship to reality. The United States then, and certainly now, bore much more resemblance to the old colossus of empire, “with conquering limbs astride from land to land,” than the new colossus Emma Lazarus was pleading us to be – one that garners its strength not from conquest, but from openness. I like that idea. Many people do. But the “idea” only enters the “American ethos” as an aspiration. 

By the time the plaque with Lazarus’ poem was put on the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, the United States had institutionalized racialized immigration quotas and blocked many non-white people from becoming naturalized citizens. Standards that would hold until 1965! The United States government has to this day, sought to block entry of the poor except when their labor is needed, and then only allowed to enter temporarily. 

The sad truth is, that Cucinelli’s take on the “ethos” of the poem is probably more accurate than what is implied by Martin’s question. Perhaps, not what Emma Lazarus meant (as Nichols goes to great lengths to show – while ignoring some of her more problematic political stances), but certainly what U.S. policy actually was at the time the poem was posted to the Statue of Liberty’s wall. 

What liberty exists in this country derives not from an idea, or set of ideas, written on scrolls or inscribed on walls, but from the struggle of people who demanded freedom as a human right – not some uniquely American perk.

Surely, we all know the United States did not simply become a brutal unwelcoming place for immigrants in January 2017. Right? It has always been that – our denial of that fact is one reason we have the president we now have. So, we have to find a way that talks about this country’s history of abuse of immigrants with the brute force it deserves – so we can change course, not just a president. 

Perhaps Emma Lazarus’ poem can provide a guide for who we, as a country, can aspire to be in the future. But it bears little resemblance to what we have been in the past. Pretending otherwise does a disservice to the people who have struggled with the much harsher reality that has been, and continues to be, “America.”

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Daily Dispatch 8/14/2019: A nation of laws…

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Daily Dispatch

August 14, 2019


Demand release of Yoel Alonso Leal

Over the weekend, Congress of Day Laborers/Congreso de Jornaleros put out a petition in support of Yoel Alonso Leal, a loving Cuban father and husband, who has been detained for over 10 months in detention centers across Louisiana. As a result of the neglect he has suffered in ICE detention, Yoel suffers severe gout and has developed tumors in his lung. Like so many others, ICE is both refusing to release Yoel on parole or treat him, (including denying access to a biopsy.)

By keeping Yoel imprisoned, ICE is violating its own directive but this is no accident. Since the beginning of 2019, the New Orleans Regional ICE Field Office has expanded the number of detention facilities in Louisiana alone from 2 to 14 while at the same time also essentially eliminating parole.

Every day that Yoel continues in detention is a threat to his health and well-being. Please sign and distribute this petition TODAY demanding Yoel be released.

Due process….hmmmm

We are beginning to hear – and will hear over and over between now and next November – a new trope being rolled out by Democrats (Biden in particular) and seized on by Republicans, if only to emphasize the second part: We are a nation of immigrants AND a nation of laws. Somehow this is supposed to honor our tradition of being a welcoming country (I’m not sure when this was to be honest, but it is part of the mythos) while also demanding that people do things the right way. 

A nation of laws suggests, at least, a place where there is some sense of due process – or really any clear process – so that people are actually able to understand what the law is and how to abide by it. A nation of ad hoc law seems counter-intuitive. Right?

Enter the border patrol (at least today’s example) and the forms I-213 and I-867 (You can’t have rule of law without forms). What is this?

When an immigrant seeking to make an asylum claim has a run-in with federal authorities — either at the border or once inside the U.S. — the information recorded by those officials on various government forms can have a tremendous impact on their cases. One such form is the I-213, which Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents fill out when they take a migrant into custody. Another is the I-867, a record of sworn statement and a standard part of the intake process. The statements written on these forms — whether or not they bear any resemblance to the truth — are incredibly difficult to disprove or override.

The above is from an article published by the Intercept that demonstrates how Border Patrol and ICE agents improperly fill out these forms, creating a huge problem for people when they get in front of an immigration judge. Are the agents overworked, leading to mistakes? Often, yes. Do they do this intentionally, knowing that discrepancies between the form and later statements can lead to asylum claims being denied? In some cases, likely. Given all of this, do we want Border Patrol agents given the authority to make asylum determinations at the border? Of course not. Do Trump and Stephen Miller? Why, yes, of course they do. 

Are we a nation of laws? 

So, how does this work?

The Intercept spoke with over a dozen attorneys and immigration experts, all of whom said they regularly encountered incorrect, or sometimes plainly ridiculous, information on their clients’ I-213s. The problem is “super prevalent,” in the words of Andrew Free, an immigration attorney based in Nashville, Tennessee. Kirsten Zittlau, an immigration attorney in San Diego, said she has seen “a million lies” on I-213s. In reviewing dozens of I-213s and cross-checking them with migrants’ own accounts, written testimonies, or attorneys’ explanations, The Intercept confirmed regular instances of erroneous, fabricated, and downright bogus information recorded on these forms. Many of the forms were even internally discrepant — botching or switching names, as well as mangling dates, mistaking gender, and flubbing countries of origin, among other errors.

Border Patrol officers in particular are supposed to ask migrants if they fear returning to their home country, and the answer to that initial question can be key to establishing the basis for an asylum claim. However, research from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom concluded in 2016 that in “86.5 percent of the cases where a fear question was not asked, the record inaccurately indicated that it had been asked, and answered.”

Some of the errors that appear on immigration intake forms would be laughable, if the consequences weren’t so dire. The New Jersey attorney had an ICE agent declare that one of his clients had a sawed-off shotgun in his car, when there was no evidence of any such thing. In a 2015 brief, the American Immigration Lawyers Association highlighted an I-867 where a defendant, identified as Y.F., said that they came to the U.S. “to look for work.” At the time of the interview, Y.F. was only three years old. More than one attorney told The Intercept they’ve seen I-213s for infants as young as a few months old who, according to Border Patrol, claim that they came to the United States to work.

Government documents provided to Human Rights Watch via a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with The Intercept reveal further instances of Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers including erroneous information on intake forms, and they also shed light on abuse of asylum-seekers. The documents, internal complaints filed by asylum officers with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, show that front-line border officials often go to extraordinary lengths to deny the people in their custody the ability to make an asylum claim.

Human Rights Watch’s ongoing investigation has turned up numerous cases of Border Patrol pressuring asylum-seekers not to claim fear, or officers simply lying and saying that people did not fear being returned, when in fact they had stated otherwise.

“The evidence we have gathered raises serious concerns that Border Patrol officers consistently deny asylum-seekers the opportunity to make a claim for protection or falsify records in a way that undercut those claims,” said Clara Long, senior researcher in the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch.

The full Intercept report can be read here.

Partisan enforcement and situational ethics

Below is an excerpt from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse concerning the removal of immigrants through the Secure Communities Program. As it shows, Trump’s removal numbers are down – and interestingly, part of the reason may be that Trump encourages opposition on immigration in a way that Obama did not – even in the administration of the same program.

At one time California had the highest number of SC removals compared to any state in the country. At their peak there were more than 3,000 SC removals per month in that state. This record was achieved back in March of 2011. Since then California has shown a precipitous decline, hitting a low point of just 675 in February of 2015. Numbers slowly increased after the Obama Administration changed its focus and worked at rebuilding trust with local communities under the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). When President Trump assumed office, deportations in California climbed back up to around 1,000 per month. But since August of last year they started falling again. By April of 2019 they were down to just 744 – below the level at the end of the Obama Administration under PEP.

While Texas never reached the heights that California had in SC removals, it has experienced much less change under both presidential administrations. Indeed, there is no clear demarcation in SC removal numbers at the transition between the Obama and the Trump administrations. See earlier Figure 2. For the last year or more, SC removals have been fairly level at about 2,000 per month, slightly lower than the peak reached in the Obama years.

Full report from TRAC. 

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Daily Dispatch 8/13/2019: Public Charge Rule Change…

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Daily Dispatch

August 13, 2019


On Monday the Trump administration published its final rule revision defining “public charge” provisions of existing law. The public charge definition and new rules replace current administrative guidelines established in 1999 – guidelines initially issued to clarify that making use of public assistance did not automatically disqualify someone from legal permanent residency. The new rules do not disqualify automatically either, but are guaranteed to create enormous confusion about what constitutes a violation of public charge rules. 

Specifically, the new rules define as public charge as an: 

Immigrant who “is more likely than not“ to receive one of the restricted public benefits for an aggregate 12 months or longer during a 36-month period. The receipt of two separate benefits during a one-month period counts as two months, the measure states.

Anyone who meets this definition can be denied a visa or permanent residency (a green card). The list of restricted benefits is largely the same as the benefits restricted in the 1996 welfare reform law discussed below. 

The new rules comprise 876 pages, which I have not yet read in its entirety! Below, I explain what is going on and place it in context of existing law – which is the only way to make sense of it at all. 

Firstly, for over 120 years the executive branch has had the authority to deny entry into the United States to anyone suspected of likely becoming a “public charge,” or literally dependent on public assistance. The first casting of this provision in the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1882 made clear that “public charge” referred to someone likely to require institutionalization or be in need of lifelong support. The 1882 law gave the Treasury Department the authority to deny entry to any, “convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” Over time, the public charge provision has been read more broadly and used as a means to block the migration of the very poor. However, ultimately what constituted a “public charge” has never been defined clearly, even as public charge has entered the law more formally as a basis to block entry or deny permanent residence. 

Secondly, Clinton era rewriting of welfare, immigration and criminal justice laws, created more confusion. The welfare “reform” law of 1996 created a hierarchy of “qualified” and “non-qualified” immigrants and then defined which public assistance “qualified” immigrants could access. The short answer is almost none during their first five years in the U.S., but there are exceptions and certain classes of “qualified” immigrants, such as refugees, who do not have to wait the full five-year period for most assistance. 

Though these welfare reform measures stood apart from any “public charge” rule, there was widespread fear that accessing public assistance could lead to someone being denied legal permanent residency because they had become a “public charge.” The National Immigrant Law Center explains:

In deciding whether an immigrant is likely to become a public charge, immigration or consular officials review the “totality of the circumstances,” including an immigrant’s health, age, income, education and skills, employment, family circumstances, and, most importantly, the affidavits of support.

The misapplication of this public charge ground of inadmissibility immediately after the welfare law passed contributed significantly to the chilling effect on immigrants’ access to services. The law on public charge did not change in 1996, and people’s use of programs such as Medicaid or SNAP had never weighed heavily in determining whether they were inadmissible under the public charge ground.

Confusion and fear about these rules, however, became widespread. Immigrants’ rights advocates, health care providers, and state and local governments organized to persuade federal agencies to clarify the limits of the rules. In 1999, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, whose functions were later assumed by the Department of Homeland Security) issued helpful guidance and a proposed regulation on the public charge doctrine. The guidance clarifies that receipt of health care and other noncash benefits will not jeopardize the immigration status of recipients or their family members by putting them at risk of being considered a public charge. [emphasis added].

The highlighted section above is what has been changed – accessing benefits, or likely to access benefits, has become a basis for disqualification. However, the benefits disallowed are basically the same as the 1996 law for “qualified” immigrants.

In addition, “In 1996, Congress toughened the public-charge exclusion by significantly tightening the affidavit-of-support provisions to expressly make the affidavits legally enforceable in courts of law. The unmistakable intent was to make it more difficult for non-citizens of modest means to migrate to the United States.” As a result, sponsors of immigrants to the United States can be forced to pay the government back for any public assistance immigrants may use – if they are not qualified. The Trump administration recently announced that it would begin enforcing this provision more rigorously.

Finally, the Trump administration has already employed public charge concerns to deny visas – even before this new rule was published. According to a report from Politico:

[T]he State Department’s rejection of immigrant visas based on public-charge criteria has increased twelvefold under Trump, with a particularly steep increase for Mexicans, from seven in fiscal year 2016 to 5,343 during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year.

Put another way, the percentage of public charge denials for Mexican applicants rose from less than 1 percent of the total in fiscal 2016 to 44 percent of the total in fiscal 2019 through the end of July.

Which is to say, even without the new rule, the administration can, and has, narrowly read existing law to disqualify people as a “public charge” risk.

So, what the Trump administration has done is to more narrowly interpret public charge exclusions – and in doing so place even more barriers before people seeking to become legal permanent residents or even just visit the United States. The “public charge” rule, however, must be read alongside a host of other executive actions the president has taken to reinterpret immigration law and issue new rules that restrict access to the United States. All of which have been done against the backdrop of earlier legislation that criminalized or sought to reduce immigrant access to services. 

It is important to remember that Trump has not successfully passed a single piece of new legislation on immigration. He has simply reinterpreted existing rules or employed other executive powers (e.g. declaring a national emergency) to attack immigrants. Sadly, the executive has tremendous unilateral authority to write immigration rules, and the “court” system that adjudicates these rules is itself part of the executive itself. There are no checks unless new rules violate constitutional protections or clearly violate other provisions of federal law. 

Catholic Action for Immigrant Children!

Newark, NJ, Wed. Sept. 4th, 10am-12pm

Images of immigrant children detained in cages, separated from family members, and living in unsanitary, unhealthy conditions have outraged the nation in recent weeks. The faith community has decried this treatment of children not only as a violation of human dignity and rights, but also as contrary to religious teachings and the sacred call to care for people who are most at risk, especially children.  

Catholic organizations are organizing a nonviolent campaign to end the traumatizing abuse of immigrant children and their families by the U.S. government. Phase two is a national prayerful direct action in Newark, NJ between 10a-12p on Wednesday, September 4th. Anyone from around the country is invited to participate. The event will include prayer, ritual, and a call to action by Catholic leaders. Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, has agreed to accompany us. Because of the urgency and depth of the injustice, there will also be an opportunity for those who discern to engage in nonviolent action of civil disobedience.   

This event follows a powerful mobilization of Catholic faith leaders to launch the campaign in Washington DC, on July 18th and a series of weekly local actions throughout. With other coalition actions, this nonviolent action assisted in the release of over 2,500 children, emptying both Homestead, FL and Carizzo Springs, TX influx facilities. Everyone will gather on September 4th to renew and amplify our call for this administration to end the abuse, trauma, and detention of migrant children. 

Please seriously consider coming to Newark on September 4th to participate in showing the administration that the Catholic faith demands we treat our neighbor as we would want to be treated. RSVP: Complete this form to share your interest in this event with organizers.

If you can’t attend this event but would like regular updates on the campaign, please fill out this form. The campaign webpage with the strategic campaign goal, theory of change, and sources of power impacting is here.

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Daily Dispatch 8/12/2019: What difference can an immigration raid make?

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Daily Dispatch

August 12, 2019


Image: Clarion Ledger

Last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a series of raids at seven meat-packing houses in six small towns near Jackson, Mississippi. The raids led to ICE holding 680 people, 300 eventually released until future immigration court dates, the rest were sent to an ICE detention facility in Louisiana. We covered the arrests in the Dispatch here and here last week. As we move into this week, the ramifications of the raid are becoming clearer.

The first theme to hold up is that the community is mobilizing to provide support to people who were arrested and their family members. The Southeast Immigration Rights Network (SEIRN) has been providing support through its 29-member organization network. A few ways to help:

  • For needed volunteer capacity & resources, fill out this form to identify how you can help and SEIRN will follow-up with more info. 
  • Circulate the hotline for MS community members affected: (978) 993-3300.
  • Fundraising efforts, including a fund for families, are currently being coordinated – follow SEIRN for updates. 

Secondly, the people arrested are a part of these communities, some for a very long time. The disruptions caused by the raids, and the arrests go well beyond the factory gates. The day after the raid, nearly 25 percent of the kids in one school district did not attend school – the next day the entire district went on lockdown after threatening calls were made. Local businesses that serve the Latinx community were closed, creating fears of longer term economic impacts. CNN captures some of the anxiety in the video below.

Thirdly, the companies involved are all pleading innocence, but in reality knew they were employing people not authorized to work in the United States – and profited enormously from doing so. For example, Koch Industries has a history of doing this – and getting caught:

In August 2007, immigration agents arrested more than 160 employees of a Koch Foods chicken plant in Fairfield, Ohio, and was fined around a half a million dollars. At the time, ICE said Koch Foods was being investigated for federal crimes including encouraging, inducing or harboring immigrants in the United States illegally.

Koch has also recently settled a lawsuit concerning sexual misconduct against employees at the Mississippi plant. Threats to turn workers who complained over to immigration were a common feature of testimony given in depositions:

In the EEOC lawsuit, one Koch Foods employee without legal immigration status alleged that a manager sexually harassed his wife and made him pay to use the bathroom, once waiting until he had soiled himself to give him permission to leave his spot on the production line.

“If he found out that I had talked about anything that he was doing, charging money, the way he mistreated us, the dirty words he used; he told me that if I went to complain in the office that he had contacts in immigration,” the worker said in a 2012 deposition that was filed as part of the suit. “And that he knew where I lived.”

Maria Cazorla, a Cuban immigrant and lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the company that was wrapped into the EEOC case, said in an interview on Thursday that a manager inappropriately touched her and hit her then-husband, also a co-worker, in the ribs while he was working.

According to Cazorla’s interview and court documents, her husband at the time was targeted by management and fired over his immigration status after she filed her lawsuit against the company in 2010. Cazorla, now a U.S. citizen, left the company and Mississippi and now renovates houses in Florida.

She said immigrants are often fearful of reporting abuse. “People are afraid to come forward because they think, ‘What will happen if I say something? I’ll be separated from my family, I’ll lose my job,’” Cazorla said. “They prefer to say nothing and suffer.”

So, the companies hire people they probably know (must certainly suspect) are unauthorized to work, use that status to threaten them, and then ICE rolls up and actually arrests a bunch of people – adding to the fear. The companies may be fined – a pittance – and someone may lose their job, but mostly little will happen to the companies. Trump made clear who that targets ultimately are.

He said on Friday that actions like the one this week served “as a very good deterrent” to those in the country illegally. “When people see what they saw,” he said, “they know that they’re not staying here.”

This is the politics of fear – and the companies themselves have little to worry about

Although none of the people who may have been responsible for hiring the unauthorized workers have been charged, both ICE and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Mississippi have said employers are part of their ongoing investigation.

We’re not holding our breath. Meanwhile, the beat goes on…really, you can’t make this stuff up: Koch Food is hosting a job fair today to replace the people who were arrested. Please bring two forms of I.D. if interested in applying. 

Finally, if you don’t like all of this, Trump has a message for you: Shut up! Among those who have been some of Trump’s most vocal critics are immigration judges. Now he wants to decertify their union. From The Hill:

The Trump administration has reportedly taken a step to decertify an immigration judges’ union that has been repeatedly critical of President Trump and the White House’s policy proposals.

A Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesperson told The New York Times on Friday that the department filed a petition to the Federal Labor Relations Authority asking whether the National Association of Immigration Judges could have its certification revoked since its members are “management officials” and unable to collectively organize.

Members of the union have denounced the move as misguided and as an attempt to dismantle the group. 

“This is a misguided effort to minimize our impact,” Judge Amiena Khan, vice president of the judges’ union, told the Times. “We serve as a check and balance on management prerogatives and that’s why they are doing this to us.”

Judge Ashley Tabaddor, the union’s president, told The Washington Post that she thinks the petition is an attempt to “disband and destroy the union.”

Immigration judges are unique in that, unlike federal judges, they are appointed by the attorney general and considered employees of the DOJ, the Times noted. Representatives of the immigration judges’ union are permitted to publicly speak about DOJ policies that are deemed political. Sitting judges are prohibited from doing so. 

Khan and Tabaddor have continued to publicly criticize the Trump administration’s policies throughout the president’s two-plus years in the White House. For example, the union in 2018 condemned an administration quota system that required judges to complete 700 cases annually.

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Daily Dispatch 8/9/2019: After the raids…

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Daily Dispatch

August 9, 2019



[See update below for ways to support the community]

On Wednesday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division, raided seven meat processing facilities scattered across six small towns near Jackson, Mississippi. The raids led to the arrest of 680 people and the seizure of documents that may (may not) lead to criminal action against the employers. Five different companies were targeted in the raids, but there was little information about the investigation HSI had conducted, or who, beyond the workers, might face prosecution.

There are a few different facets to consider about this case, which I break down below. The first, is simply what might happen to the people arrested.

When the raids occurred, anyone who was not able to show proof they were authorized to work in the United States was transported to a National Guard base in Rankin County to be further processed. Of the 680 people detained in this manner, 303 were released by late Wednesday night. Some were parents, who may still face removal proceedings, but were released for the time being with ankle monitors. Others may have been able to demonstrate that they were authorized to work in the U.S. The individual situations will vary, of course, but of the 300 people released, most will face further proceedings before an immigration judge. They are not by any stretch “free.”

Those who were not released were placed in ICE detention at the LaSalle Processing Facility in Jena, Louisiana. This facility is owned by the GEO Group, and represents a part of the dramatic expansion of detention capacity in the state of Louisiana, which now has the third largest population of ICE detainees in the country, behind only Texas and California. Mississippi has also witnessed a significant expansion of detention capacity in recent months. Immigration courts in this part of the country are notorious for deciding against immigrants – for example, a recent profile of a judge in nearby Oakmont, LA showed that she had decided against every asylum case she had heard. Every. One (200 cases over a five year period).

All of which is to say, that the people detained here, even if they are lucky enough to find representation, face an uphill battle to get heard in a partial setting. For those who have already been issued removal orders, deportation is almost certain. When ICE raided a meat-packing plant in Morristown, Tennessee in April of 2018, 96 people were detained. By February of 2019, six were known to have been deported, another twelve had left “voluntarily” – meaning they agreed to be deported rather than face more time in detention. About half had been paroled out, awaiting further determination of their cases. It is impossible to say at this point if the numbers from the Mississippi raid will approximate these proportions. 

Dirty business

Meat packing plants rely heavily on immigrants and unauthorized workers. This reliance has grown over time as shifts in the structure of the business have pressed the bottom lines of companies. Once a good-paying union job, meat packing has become a low wage and very dangerous position. Back in 2005 the situation was so bad that Human Rights Watch issued a report that documented how working conditions in the meatpacking industry constituted violations of human rights. 

Constant fear and risk is another feature of meat and poultry labor. Meatpacking work has extraordinarily high rates of injury. Workers injured on the job may then face dismissal. Workers risk losing their jobs when they exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively in an attempt to improve working conditions. And immigrant workers-an increasing percentage of the workforce in the industry-are particularly at risk. Language difficulties often prevent them from being aware of their rights under the law and of specific hazards in their work. Immigrant workers who are undocumented, as many are, risk deportation if they seek to organize and to improve conditions…

Employers put workers at predictable risk of serious physical injury even though the means to avoid such injury are known and feasible. They frustrate workers’ efforts to obtain compensation for workplace injuries when they occur. They crush workers’ self-organizing efforts and rights of association. They exploit the perceived vulnerability of a predominantly immigrant labor force in many of their work sites. These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment.

Tom Philpott, writing in Mother Jones in 2011 asked, “What would make a company steadily increase pressure on its workers to the point of endangering them, even as wages flatline?” His answer:

The surface answer is, of course, because they can. After the unions evaporated, the meatpacking workforce became extremely vulnerable. By the ’90s, meatpacking had become such an awful job that native-born Americans abandoned the industry as quickly as they could. Undocumented workers from Mexico and points south, fleeing agrarian decline in those regions, filled the void. Unprotected by unions, one brush with authority away from deportation, undocumented workers are easy targets for the predatory practices of powerful employers…

But there are deeper forces than naked power on display. Corporate profit strategy shifted in the wake of the 1970s-era stagflation crisis—in a way that transformed not just meatpacking but also the broader business landscape. Companies could no longer assume they had the power to raise prices to burnish the bottom line. Wage inflation, and the fear of it, convinced them that holding prices down was the better idea. Profit would be eked out by selling ever greater volumes of stuff—and by holding costs, including labor costs, to a bare minimum.

Of course, unions didn’t simply “evaporate.” They were undercut by company relocation and steady attacks on collective bargaining. This is why the jobs became miserable. Some portion of the workforce is still unionized – and, at least one strategy for impacting wage and other abuse in the industry is reigniting unionization. That said, the current situation for workers is well put: They are expected to work at ever increasing speeds, doing very dangerous work, and are paid very low wages, with little recourse. 

As bad as the overall picture of the industry is, conditions get even more complicated. The work force is divided into two tiers. Among the workers who butcher and package, immigrants make up about 30% of the workforce nationally – a majority in some areas. This is very dangerous work and underpaid. However, the more dangerous jobs are in the “third shift” where people are brought in to clean the blades and belts, under pressure to finish quickly so the plants can be inspected to reopen for a new day of slaughter. In many meat-packing plants, the “third shift” is almost entirely immigrant workers, many unauthorized. Companies often outsource these cleaning crews from third party contractors – and then use this contractual relationship as a shield to avoid paying worker compensation when injuries, serious injuries, happen. How serious? One cleaning company, Packers, had a dismemberment rate of 9.4 amputations per 10,000 workers in 2015; five times the overall manufacturing average that year.

In December of 2017 Bloomberg did an extensive report on conditions in this third shift. Among the stories discussed, one really stood out to me:

In 2013, Hugo Avalos-Chanon, 41, was cleaning a hamburger blender at Interstate Meat Distributors Inc. in Clackamas, Ore., when, investigators believe, his hose got caught in the machine’s paddles and pulled him in. His widow in Mexico is suing Interstate for negligence and wrongful death, claiming the night shift was a veritable death trap. There were no safety guards on dangerous machines, and workers were required to clean the equipment while it was running, according to court filings. Based on pretrial testimony, a Clackamas County judge is letting the widow seek punitive damages at trial. 

Interstate did not respond to questions for this story. In legal filings, the company acknowledges safety problems but says Avalos-Chanon’s employer, and hence the company responsible for his safety, was the sanitation contractor DCS Sanitation Management Inc. Interstate claims it paid DCS, which has since been purchased by Packers, a flat fee to assume full responsibility for the night shift. Oregon OSHA fined DCS $6,300 after Avalos-Chanon’s death.

“DCS managers knew it was possible to clean the machines without turning them on,” Interstate argues in a court filing, in a rare burst of industry candor, “but they believed doing so would not make financial sense.”

Of those arrested on Wednesday, we don’t know which jobs they were each doing, of course. But we can safely say, whatever the job, it was dangerous and grossly underpaid. We can also say that the companies know this, and will defend their practices as necessary for maintaining the bottom line (whatever boiler plate they throw to the media about safety being a concern). We also know that there will be no repercussions for the companies themselves, even if a manager or two get fired. Tyson Foods was busted back in 2001 for actually smuggling unauthorized workers into the country from Mexico. It is still the largest meat packing company in the country.

The war on immigrants is a war on working people in this country. This is important. For all the talk of the sanctity of borders and the other nationalistic, bombastic B.S. that comes out of the mouth of our president and other leaders of the anti-immigrant crowd, what is happening is a gutting of the capacity of workers to reorganize and stand united against the austerity forced on them by capital. Immigrants are not the reason jobs like meatpacking in this country have been de-unionized and underpaid. The operations of capital are the reason – and the government that defends the capitalists. It has happened over and over again. The workers will be detained and many will be deported. The owners will, at most, pay a fine that is a fraction of what they earn exploiting vulnerable working people. The beat goes on. 

There is not a flag large enough to hide this exploitative system.

UPDATE: Action alert from Detention Watch Network

This week our community in Mississippi was attacked when 680 community members were kidnapped from their workplace and caged. As DWN members are reaching out, we’d like to share the ongoing response efforts that we can all plug in to. DWN member, Southeast Immigrant Rights Network (SEIRN), is on the ground and, alongside several southeast grassroots organizations and groups, working alongside the local community and families affected. Following their lead, here are current ways you can support: 

  • For needed volunteer capacity & resources, fill out this form to identify how you can help and SEIRN will follow-up with more info. 
  • Circulate the hotline for MS community members affected: (978) 993-3300
  • Fundraising efforts, including a fund for families, are currently being coordinated – follow SEIRN for updates or make a direct contribution to SEIRN here
  • Media inquiries can be submitted here.  DWN’s press statement can be found here

Additionally, there are several hunger strikes inside immigration jails happening at the moment, including several week-long strikes led by individuals detained in El Paso Processing Center (TX) and at Krome (FL). Since beginning their hunger strikes, strikers have been retaliated against in various ways. Watch this video for more information. 

Take action now to demand their release:

  • Call your Member of Congress at 202-224-3121 & 202-225-3121 
  • Sign the petition: bit.ly/2Y9evIQ

For updates, follow Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee and AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert (@avid_chihuahuan) on Twitter.

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Massive ICE raid in Mississippi

Daily Dispatch 8/8/2019

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Daily Dispatch

August 8, 2019

Handcuffed female workers begin to climb into a bus for transportation to a processing center following a raid by U.S. immigration officials at a Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. The early morning raids were part of a large-scale operation targeting owners as well as undocumented employees. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations department launched a series of raids at meat processing plants in Mississippi yesterday. The operation was apparently directed from the U.S. attorney’s office in Jackson, though what the warrants served were ultimately for is not clear. Business records were seized, as were 680 people on suspicion that they are unauthorized to work in the U.S. From NPR:

Federal immigration officials raided several food-processing plants in Mississippi on Wednesday and arrested approximately 680 people believed to be working in the U.S. without authorization.

The coordinated raids were conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations “at seven agricultural processing plants across Mississippi,” according to an ICE statement. In addition to the arrests, agents seized company business records.

The raids targeted five companies, operating seven facilities in six different towns. The plants raided include: Koch Foods Inc. in Morton; PH Food Inc., also in Morton; Peco Foods Inc. in Bay Springs, Canton and Sebastopol; MP Food Inc. in Pelahatchie, and Pearl River Foods Inc. in Carthage.

One of the immediate impacts of the raid, was, of course, families separated again. Local school districts were grappling with kids who had no parents to go home to. From the Clarion Ledger:

A Scott County child started kindergarten Tuesday. Wednesday, while the child was at school, their parent was arrested by federal agents, one of 680 people taken into custody after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted seven raids at food processing plants across Mississippi.

Superintendent Tony McGee said, as of Wednesday afternoon, he knew of at least six families within the district that had a parent caught up in the raids. The students range from kindergarten to high school.

McGee, who met with ICE officials after the raids, said he expected the number to increase. 

Timing? The raid came on the same day that President Trump visited El Paso in the wake of the weekend’s mass shooting/murder that killed 22 people and wounded 25 others. The shooter indicated that his goal was to shoot “as many Mexicans as possible.” At least six of those murdered were Mexican nationals; Mexico’s foreign ministered called the shooting an act of “barbarism.” With the connection being made between the murder and Trump’s rhetoric about immigration, one has to wonder why this massive enforcement operation was timed for the same day. 

Workplace raids increasing

[From the Daily Dispatch, Feb 28, 2019] The Trump administration has overseen a huge expansion of workplace immigration enforcement actions. From Maya Srikrishnan of Voice of San Diego:

In fiscal year 2018, Homeland Security Investigations opened 6,848 worksite investigations. That’s roughly a 305 percent increase from the year before, when 1,691 investigations were opened. I-9 audits – random checks the government does to ensure that employees have proper work authorization – have also increased. In 2018, the government conducted 5,981 audits, compared with 1,360 the year before. The agency made 779 criminal and 1,525 administrative worksite-related arrests nationwide in fiscal year 2018, compared with 139 and 172 the year before. Administrative arrests are for non-criminal immigration violations.

Last year ICE engaged in some of the largest workplace raids in its history. A few examples:

In April, 97 people were arrested in a large operation in Morristown, Tennessee. Seven of the people detained that day have filed a suit against ICE.

In June, 146 people were arrested at Fresh Mark, a meat supplier in Salem, Ohio

Earlier in June, 114 people were arrested at a landscaping company in Castalia, Ohio

In August, 159 people were arrested in a raid at trailer manufacturer in Sumner, Texas

The number of workplace raids is up, but the practice is hardly new.

In 2006 ICE arrested 1,300 people in one day in a massive 6 state raid against Swift and Company meat packing plants. As part of the day’s operations they blocked all the roads out of Cactus, Texas the day of the raid, detaining 300 workers from the Swift and Company plant in that town.

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Daily Dispatch 8/7/2019

Gun control and immigration are related

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Daily Dispatch

August 7, 2019


Photograph by Didier Ruef / Visum / Redux

Following the murder of 21 people in a WalMart in El Paso this past weekend, a crime inspired in part by the anti-immigration right wing in this country, Trump saw an opportunity to get something done, and we know he likes to get stuff done. The idea was to finally get universal background checks passed in Congress by “marrying” that to immigration reform measures. In Trump’s mind this is a bargain, right. Democrats want gun control, Republicans want immigration “reform.” Trump’s “let’s make a deal” approach, predictably, offended many people. But let’s be clear: There is a relationship between gun control (or the lack of it) and immigration. Not the link Trump was making, but a link nevertheless.

The connection is simple: U.S. made guns are fueling the drug wars in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and these are the places people are currently fleeing in large numbers. For example, consider this from The Economist:

A study of weapons found at crime scenes suggests that 70 percent of gun crimes in Mexico involve American-bought weapons. The share of homicides in Mexico involving a firearm grew from 16 percent in 1997 to 66 percent in 2017. That suggests around half of Mexico’s 33,000 murder victims last year were killed by a gun manufactured in the United States, which had 14,542 gun homicides in 2017. An American-made gun is more likely to be used in a murder in Mexico than at home.

And this from the New Yorker,

In the summer of 2009, a sixty-three-year-old professional bass fisherman from Florida named Hugh Crumpler III was arrested for selling guns illegally. For years, he’d been buying weapons, legally, at gun shows, and then reselling them to individuals from Latin America who wanted to smuggle the guns back to their home countries. Crumpler was what’s known as a “straw buyer.” “I developed a group of customers,” he said later, in an interview with Univision. “And it dawned on me one day that they were all Hondurans; and that they all seemed to want the same type of guns; and they all seemed to want more and more.” By the time he was caught, Crumpler had resold roughly a thousand guns, including Glocks and AR-15 assault rifles. He eventually agreed to coöperate with American authorities in exchange for a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, some of the guns Crumpler sold were used in crimes in Honduras, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, including in at least one homicide.

The Center for American Progress released a detailed study on the connection between lax gun laws in the United States and crime outside our borders:

From 2014 to 2016, across 15 countries in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, 50,133 guns that originated in the United States were recovered as part of criminal investigations. Put another way, during this span, U.S.-sourced guns were used to commit crimes in nearby countries approximately once every 31 minutes.

Certainly, many of these U.S.-sourced crime guns were legally exported and were not diverted for criminal use until they crossed the border. The United States is a major manufacturer and a leading exporter of firearms, legally exporting an average of 298,000 guns each year. However, many of the same gaps and weaknesses in U.S. gun laws that contribute to illegal gun trafficking domestically likewise contribute to the illegal trafficking of guns from the United States to nearby nations.

The Center for American Progress identified several policy recommendations as part of this study, they include:

  • Instituting universal background checks for gun purchases.
  • Making gun trafficking and straw purchasing federal crimes.
  • Requiring the reporting of multiple sales of long guns.
  • Increasing access to international gun trafficking data.
  • Rejecting efforts that weaken firearm export oversight.

In Haiti, the connection is even clearer. Almost 100 percent of guns collected at crime scenes are from the United States. This despite the fact that a small arms embargo was put in place nearly thirty years ago, following the first coup d’etat that deposed Aristide in 1991. It is probably the most meaningless embargo ever created – what is required is a special export license, and with the right connections, one can be had. Even without a license, weapons get shipped.

For example, earlier this year a gun shop owner based in Orlando was arrested for illegally shipping arms to Haiti. From the Miami Herald,

The owner of Global Dynasty Corps., LLC in Orlando, Junior Joseph is currently on trial in Fort Lauderdale, where government prosecutors say he and Jimy, whose own trial is scheduled to start next week, concealed 159 semi-automatic single-and double-barreled 12-gauge shotguns, five AR15-type rifles and two 9mm Glock 17 pistols inside the truck and illegally exported them to Haiti. Also hidden in the vehicle were tactical vests, police boots and 30,000 bullets including shells for the shotguns.

None of this is new. Following the second coup d’etat against Aristide in 2004, thousands of weapons were sent to Haiti – a transfer approved by then Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, John Bolton. At least 2,000 people died in fighting, mostly concentrated in neighborhoods in Port au Prince in 2004 and 2005. The weapons were from the United States. Maxine Waters called for an investigation into the arms transfers – or at least some answers from Bolton. She didn’t get either. Bolton is not in prison, of course, he is back in the White House trying to start a war with Iran.

More recently, violence is again on the rise in Haiti. The context for the recent arrests for gun running becoming clearer. The most gruesome example, a massacre that occurred in La Saline in November of 2018. As reported in the Miami Herald,

During that period, Nov. 13-17, men, women and even children as young as 4 were shot to death, their bodies then fed to dogs and pigs. Women were raped and set on fire, as was a police officer, Juwon Durosier. The culprits: bandits tied to gang conflicts over control of a sprawling outdoor market where protection rackets are the norm, but also guns-for-hire by powerful politicians and well-heeled businessmen seeking to control votes in the run-up to upcoming legislative and mayoral elections.

So yes, there is a connection between gun control and immigration. The United States’ unique obsession with guns, a country with more guns than people, ripples out to impact the lives of others in neighboring countries where these guns get trafficked. Of course, the gangs that are part of this network of trafficking are themselves from the United States, a point too often lost in the immigration discussion as well. MS-13 started in Los Angeles, not San Salvador. And, the government officials in Haiti, Guatemala and Honduras fueling violence, are there by the grace of U.S. policymakers as well (and occasionally drug dealers). Simply put, the U.S. is the leading exporter of the tools of violence in the world. 

And that has consequences.

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Daily Dispatch 8/6/2019

The reign of terror 100 years ago; stand with El Paso today

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Daily Dispatch

August 6, 2019


President Wilson deploys National Guardsmen to Border, El Paso 1916

Between 1910 and 1920, thousands of Mexican nationals and U.S. citizens living in Texas were killed by vigilantes, local law enforcement, and Texas Rangers. 

The dead included women and men, the aged and the young, long-time residents and recent arrivals. They were killed by strangers, by neighbors, by vigilantes and at the hands of local law enforcement officers and the Texas Rangers. Some were summarily executed after being taken captive, or shot under the flimsy pretext of trying to escape. Some were left in the open to rot, others desecrated by being burnt, decapitated, or tortured by means such as having beer bottles rammed into their mouths. Extralegal executions became so common that a San Antonio reporter observed that “finding of dead bodies of Mexicans, suspected for various reasons of being connected with the troubles, has reached a point where it creates little or no interest. It is only when a raid is reported or an American is killed that the ire of the people is aroused.”

The context for this violence is complicated, but clearly connected to instability at the border during the Mexican Revolution, as people migrated into the southwestern United States, and in some cases, engaged in border raids to get supplies. The response by Texas forces and the U.S. military was a predecessor to counterinsurgency campaigns seen in the mid-20th century and later, where the entire population was put under suspicion, becoming the targets of widespread violence. All of which was enabled by decades long conflict between Mexicans and Anglos in Texas border area.

Texas Rangers

The “Plan” de San Diego

People crossing the border during the years of the revolution had different affiliations to factions in Mexico. In one case, the arrest of a Mexican national in McAllen, Texas would set off a “river of blood” 

In early 1915, at the height of the Mexican Revolution, a Mexican national named Basilio Ramos was arrested in McAllen. A onetime beer distributor in the Duval County town of San Diego, Ramos was a follower of deposed Mexican president Victoriano Huerta. Officers found in his possession the Plan de San Diego; simply put, it was a revolutionary manifesto calling for no less than the liberation of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Colorado. The territory had been, in Ramos’ high-blown rhetoric of the times, taken over in a “most perfidious manner by North American imperialists.” 

Ramos also furnished the starting date of the invasion: February 20 at 2 a.m. There was a catch, though. Ramos’ Supreme Revolutionary Congress had yet to appoint a military commander or to raise an armed force. That aside, the plan also called for a race war; it stipulated the death of all Anglo males over sixteen as well as “traitors to the race,” meaning “disloyal” Texas Mexicans. But loyal Mexican Americans, blacks, Japanese, and Indians would be welcome to join the ranks. 

Nothing much came of the plan. There was no invasion or revolt. Ramos was charged with conspiracy to levy war, and his bond set at $5000; in short order bail was reduced to $100, and he skipped to Matamoros, never to affect the course of history again.

Though the “Plan de San Diego” itself never came to much, the rumors surrounding its content, and the ongoing conflict in the Rio Grande Valley, led to a spike in violence. 

The racial strife that followed in the lower Rio Grande Valley, however, was a far more serious and lasting matter. In the ensuing twelve months, three hundred “suspected Mexicans,” the majority of them American citizens, were “summarily executed by hanging or shooting on the Texas side of the river as a result of the feelings aroused by the Plan de San Diego,” according to a U.S. Army report. 

Soon, retaliatory raids were organized to strike back against the indiscriminate treatment of Mexicans. 

They were organized by two Mexican Americans, one a rancher, the other a grocer, who were seething at the way Rangers treated all Mexicans, American or not, with equal contempt. Following the first raid, the leaders anonymously issued the first rhetorical blast, demanding a halt to the “criminal acts and insults of the miserable Rangers who guard the banks of the Rio Bravo.” 

As people fled north to escape the violence, labor shortages in south Texas became a problem for ranchers and farmers. After a year of “Plan San Diego” violence, presidents Woodrow Wilson and Venustiano Carranza signed an agreement to bring in more workers from Mexico, while extending aid to the government in Mexico to stem other migration. 

Porvenir Massacre

The violence did not end here, however. In 1918 a massacre in the small village of Porvenir, when Texas Rangers and local law enforcement oversaw the murder of 15 men and boys, set off a chain of events that brought a national spotlight to the violence in Texas – and for a time – some respite from the violence. In Porvenir,

“Men were dragged from their beds, and, without having been given time to dress, were led away in their night clothes to the edge of the settlement, where they were shot to death by the posse,” reads an El Paso Morning Times article published on Feb. 8, 1918, almost two weeks after the massacre. “The bodies of the men were found the next day where they had fallen, riddled with bullets.” 

They were killed after a group of Texas Rangers, U.S. Army cavalry soldiers and local ranchers descended on their village, Porvenir, seeking revenge for a deadly attack at a nearby ranch a month earlier — although there was no evidence tying the villagers to it.

The massacre may have been simply swept under the rug were it not for the efforts of state representative José T. “J.T.” Canales from Brownsville. Canales was the only Latino in the state legislature at the time and used his position to launch an investigation into the actions of the Texas Rangers at Porvenir, as well as other abuses. Submitting documents to Governor Hobby, Canales wrote

The object of this appeal is to call your attention to this unprovoked and wholesale murder by Texas Rangers in conjunction with ranchmen – Rangers who instead of maintaining peace are committing murder by the wholesale and to request Your Excellency to have these rangers removed at once and others (who are peaceable and law abiding) placed over all this district. No matter what white-washed report may have been made to you or to the Adjutant General, the facts herein are true and can be proven. (emphasis in original)

None of the people involved in the massacre were ever charged. However, as a result of the investigation, which brought to light Texas Ranger involvement in widespread violence, the Ranger force was restructured and its forces cut in half. 

image: John Locher / Associated Press

Change and Continuity

By 1920, violence subsided – somewhat. Some of the people who had fled back across the border, however, had left behind land they had been working – eventually lost to them. This was a preview of what was to come. In 1929, the Hoover administration launched a massive campaign to “repatriate” Mexicans – most, however, were U.S. citizens. The project impacted hundreds of thousands – some estimates as high as 2 million –  people forced off their land and out of the country. 1929 is also the year the U.S. Government made crossing the border between ports of entry a federal crime (USC 1325), specifically targeting Mexican immigrants.  

In recounting this time, Refusing to Forget, a website/collective committed to documenting the history of violence in the 1910s, notes:

Far from being surreptitious, the violence was welcomed, celebrated, and even instigated at the highest levels of society and government. As thousands fled to Mexico and decapitated bodies floated down the Rio Grande, one Texas paper spoke of “a serious surplus population that needs eliminating.” Prominent politicians proposed putting all those of Mexican descent into “concentration camps” – and killing any who refused. For a decade, people would come across skeletons in the south Texas brush, marked with execution-style bullet holes in the backs of their skulls.

Against the backdrop of this history, which is mostly unknown outside of Texas, and little known even here, people are rightly concerned. Border deaths are already very high – over a twenty year period as high as 7,000. Today we let the desert do what Texas Rangers and ranchmen once did, but the result is still death. Our border is a militarized zone – much as it was 100 years ago. The president continues to demean and dehumanize migrants. 

I don’t believe we are going back to the level of violence witnessed here 100 years ago – but we are living in a time where violence is spoken of openly as some kind of solution, where vigilantes are active, and official discourse encourages it. It is a frightening time – especially when individual youth, raised in this milieu, pick up an assault weapon and go to a mall to “kill as many Mexicans as possible.” 

Stand with El Paso

There will be vigils organized around the country, to stand in solidarity with the people of El Paso against white supremacist violence. Check the website here to get the latest. 

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Contact Us

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

Direction to office:

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

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

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