The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is accepting public comments on how to prevent future administrations from separating families at the border until January 25th.
The Trump administration separated an estimated 5,500 children from their families during 2018 as the result of enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy at the border. While many have been reunited, the long-lasting psychological harm to young children has already been done. By the end of 2021, Biden’s Task Force on the Reunification had reunited 100 families, with an additional 345 children identified for reunification. However, at least a thousand children remain separated from their families.
In November 2021, President Biden dismissed a report to provide migrants impacted by family separation up to $1 million as “garbage.” He later walked back that statement and said that families of separated children should receive reparations. But in December, after ten months of negotiations, his administration withdrew from settlement talks with families affected by family separations. Whether these families will receive justice remains to be seen.
Click HERE for an auto-generated comment that you can edit. Remember: every comment must be unique in order to be effective.
Below is the comment that we’ve submitted to DHS as an example:
To prevent future human rights abuses, the Biden administration must adopt policy andlanguage that enshrine respect for the dignity and human rights of all migrants. To signal its commitment, the current administration must demonstrate such harm will never again be tolerated. Reparations are one such mechanism of transitional justice. Though no amount of money can undo the lifelong emotional and psychological harm caused by being forcibly separated from one’s family, reparations are vital to acknowledging the wrongdoing and addressing the harms suffered. The Biden administration must provide the families with pending cases with an equitable settlement.
Over a month ago, the Biden administration restarted Remain in Mexico, or MPP. Since then, DHS has returned 217 asylum seekers to Mexico under the program. The majority—62%—came from Nicaragua, with another 22% from Venezuela, 7% from Cuba, 6% from Ecuador, and 3% from Colombia.
At the end of last December, the Biden administration asked the Supreme Court to review its case to end MPP. Earlier that month, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the administration’s appeal, upholding a lower court’s ruling that DHS improperly terminated the policy.
There are a few surface-level changes in an attempt to make the program more humane: officials have stated that migrants will now have access to transportation at ports of entry to take them directly to Mexican shelters, offering some level of protection against targeted crime. There are also protections for individuals with physical and mental conditions and members of the LGBTQ community.
However, the Biden Administration has already broken many of its own rules, leading to the abuses that immigration advocates have been warning about since the beginning. Immigration attorneys have identified at least 24 immigrants, such as those with serious medical conditions, who should never have been placed into the “Remain in Mexico” program according to its own guidelines. At least 9 were taken out of MPP after being flagged to CBP, but 1 was mistakenly returned to Mexico.
As Refugee International’s Yael Schacher observed in El Paso, among the 82 MPP enrollees who had hearings last Monday and Tuesday, only five had legal counsel. Asylum seekers with legal counsel are three times more likely to have their cases approved. It is notable that, according to their nationalities, the migrants currently enrolled in MPP would typically have had the strongest cases for asylum had they been allowed to enter the U.S. By being returned to Mexico, they face a much greater chance of being deported.
At its core, MPP cuts asylum seekers off from accessing legal representation in the U.S. and leaves them stranded in a country with little to no resources or protection from danger. Under the previous administration’s iteration of MPP, there were over 1,544 reported cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, torture, and kidnapping—driving many to abandon their asylum claims. Biden’s MPP 2.0 only continues to place migrants back into the very dangers they are fleeing.
Unless the Biden administration takes real action to defend migrants, this cycle of violence—criminal and system—against migrants is only likely to continue. Join us in calling on the Biden administration to end MPP and Title 42 by signing our petition HERE.
This week, our partners in Mexico released a statement denouncing the inhumane conditions in which migrants, including pregnant women and children, have been overcrowded in a sports center in Puebla, Mexico. To read the original statement in Spanish, click HERE.
TO THE FEDERAL, STATE, AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES
MUNICIPALITIES OF THE STATE OF PUEBLA
TO THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MIGRATION
TO THE MEXICAN COMMISSION FOR REFUGEE AID
TO THE STATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
TO THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
TO ALL PERSONS IN GOOD FAITH
The Mexico Team of the Franciscan Network on Migration, the Jesuit Migration Network in Mexico, and the Ignacio Ellacuría Human Rights Institute, SJ strongly condemn the conditions reported by the Coordinator of the Borders, Migrations and Subjectivities Seminar at the Social Sciences and Humanities “Alfonso Vélez Pliego” Institute (ICSyH) on December 8, 2021. It is evident that, in accordance with the migration policies of the Mexican State, around 500 migrants, mostly Haitians, were transferred from Tapachula, Chiapas to the State of Puebla on December 4, with the promise of issuing them humanitarian visas. Today, they are crowded together in the Xonaca Sports Center in the city of Puebla.
During the Seminar coordinator’s visit to the facilities, she was able to verify that among the migrant population there are pregnant women, as well as about 80 children. Among them, some have experienced dehydration and respiratory discomfort as a result of the low temperatures, as well as the State government authorities’ failure to provide the minimum conditions necessary to guarantee the human right to protection of life, health, and dignity, mainly of the population of children, adolescents, and pregnant women.
On their part, news reports that have gathered testimonies about the shelter conditions mention that “they have faced a lack of attention…because the space lacks mattresses, water, and blankets to protect them from the cold.”
It should be noted that the case of the migrant population deprived of their liberty in the Xonaca Sports Center is a reflection of the violence experienced by migrants within Mexico. Likewise, the lack of policies that seek to safeguard the life and dignity of migrants claimed the lives of 53 Central American migrants on December 9th, on the Chiapa de Corzo highway. It is imperative that their human rights be fully respected and guaranteed by the authorities, in accordance with the provisions of Article 1 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States, as well as international standards and jurisprudence in the area of human rights.
We demand that the Mexican authorities at all three levels, especially the National Institute of Migration, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid, the State Human Rights Commission, the National Human Rights Commission, and the various agencies of the Puebla State Government and the City of Puebla:
Guarantee at all times immediate attention, special protection, and the best interests of migrant children in the Xonaca Sports Centre, Puebla.
Guarantee the human right to health of pregnant women.
Guarantee humanitarian assistance to all migrants in need of food, health, and safety, as well as other basic necessities.
Safeguard the integrity of migrants without resorting to the use of force, taking into account the principles of absolute necessity and proportionality.
Release the persons detained in the Polideportivo, Xonaca, Puebla in order to guarantee the human right to protection of life, dignity, and health.
Respect the human rights of all migrants regardless of their immigration status.
Create strategies with the authorities of the State of Puebla to ensure that migrant and asylum-seeking populations have access to social programs in order to guarantee respect for their human rights.
The immediate intervention of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid.
Guarantee, to all who require it, psychological care and legal guidance on the procedures for receiving refugee status and regularizing one’s migration status.
Finally, in order to build unity, we make a call to stand in solidarity with migrants and to accompany them on their journey through Mexico.
Mexico Team of the Franciscan Network on Migration
Greenbelt, MD–On Friday, the CDC announced it would extend migrant expulsions under Title 42; and today, the Biden administration will return its first group under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) 2.0, or “Remain in Mexico.” The Quixote Center condemns the continuation of both Trump-era policies. Though Biden promised to “end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies” on the campaign trail, he has continued to systematically deny migrants their right to asylum.
In August, a district court ordered the Biden administration to reinstate MPP in “good faith.” However, expanding the program to include the entire Western Hemisphere goes far beyond the court order’s limits. The Biden administration has not only broken its promise to dismantle the Trump administration’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies, but has instead doubled down on denying asylum seekers their right to seek safety in the United States.
MPP remains unsafe for asylum seekers, as well as their legal representatives. During MPP’s last iteration, there were over 1,544 cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, and kidnapping—reported against migrants in the program. Furthermore, non-native Spanish speakers from Haiti and other Caribbean nations face an even greater risk of racially-motivated violence and discrimination. There are some exceptions written into the law for groups deemed vulnerable; however, in practice these rules have been irregularly applied, even forcing individuals with serious mental and physical health conditions into the program.
The CDC’s decision to renew Title 42 is appalling, but not surprising. In total, over one million people were summarily expelled at the US/Mexico border under Title 42 during FY 2021. Former CDC officials have testified that the order was not based on public health concerns. Instead, it remains a discriminatory tool to summarily expel any migrant—including families and young children—back to the danger from which they are fleeing. There have been 7647 recorded attacks against migrants expelled under Title 42.
Since Biden’s inauguration, there have been around 123 ICE Air flights to Haiti, expelling an estimated 12,000 Haitian asylum seekers. A significant percentage of these flights were conducted under Title 42, but our concern is that MPP will become yet another anti-black mechanism to expel and mistreat Haitian migrants. We call on the Biden administration to follow through on the promise to reinstate asylum at the border, and respect international law in treating migrants with dignity.
To join us in calling on the Biden administration to end Title 42 & MPP, sign our petition HERE.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced in a memo that it would be ending the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy. Ironically named the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the program forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their cases to be heard.
“In reaching this conclusion, I recognize that MPP likely contributed to reduced migratory flows,” DHS Secretary Mayorkas declared in his memo. “But it did so by imposing substantial and unjustifiable human costs on the individuals who were exposed to harm while waiting in Mexico.”
This presents a new and powerful shift in the administration’s discourse around immigration: an admission that deterrence-based immigration policies are, by nature, unjustifiably cruel (although what they haven’t admitted yet is that deterrence doesn’t work).
As of now, the court’s injunction ordering the re-implementation of MPP still stands, meaning that the administration may still be moving forward with the program in mid-November until the injunction is lifted.
But, as legal experts have pointed out, the administration had two months to terminate the program in compliance with the court order, which simply prohibits the “en masse” release of all asylum seekers at the border into the U.S.
That the administration may be needlessly drawing out a cruel and unjust program is a choice. Already, Biden officials have signed over $14 million in contracts to reopen “tent courts” at border crossings in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas. Biden officials claimed to be undertaking efforts to make the program more humane, such as potentially moving to offer vaccines to asylum-seekers. But as Mayorkas himself admitted, the program is inherently inhumane.
More than 70,000 immigrants are estimated to have been placed into MPP before the administration ended the policy. During that time, there were over 1,544 cases of violent attacks—including murder, assault, torture, and kidnapping—reported against migrants in the program. That asylum seekers were subjected to the very dangers from which they were fleeing is not only unconscionable, but should be a violation of international law.
There were also significant abuses on the U.S.’s part. A leaked document from DHS revealed that border officials did not comply with their agency’s own guidelines on who could and couldn’t be placed into MPP. Despite the fact that migrants with medical conditions were supposed to be exempt from the program, that often wasn’t the case in the practice. There are reports of severely disabled children and adults in need of surgery or medical attention being forced to wait in Mexico.
Conditions under “Remain in Mexico” were not just dangerous for migrants in the program, but for their legal representatives as well, who were threatened with kidnapping and violence for aiding asylum-seekers.
Last week, over seventy legal service providers, such as Al Otro Lado and Human Rights First, issued a letter to the administration refusing to cooperate with the implementation of MPP.
“There is no way to make this program safe, humane, or lawful,” they wrote. “No measure of involvement from civil societies will mitigate the harms of this horrific, racist, and unlawful program.”
In his memo, Mayorkas echoed this sentiment: “I have concluded that there are inherent problems with the program that no amount of resources can sufficiently fix.”
Last Saturday, immigration advocates walked out of a virtual meeting with Biden officials in protest of the continuation of Trump-era policies. “There is no improved version of MPP. It is not possible to make the inhumane humane,” they read from a prepared statement. “We refuse to be complicit in deterrence-based border policies.”
“Remain in Mexico, like Title 42, causes needless suffering for those forced to flee who have come to our doorstep in need of protection. It is time to heal, to restore our commitment to asylum, and in the words of the Holy Father, move ‘towards an ever wider we.’”
In order to kickstart the program, Biden will need permission from the Mexican government. Whether they will grant it remains to be seen.
While it’s impossible to know why the administration chooses to do anything, it’s possible that this decision came after significant pressure from immigration advocates. Perhaps the silver lining to all of this is that pressure does work.
What we must demand now is for the administration to do everything in its power to make sure that the courts lift the order to re-implement MPP in “good faith”, to which Friday’s memo makes an excellent case is impossible.
It is also past time for Biden to revoke Title 42. If MPP had “unjustifiable human costs,” then what about the 7,647 kidnappings and other attacks on migrants who were expelled under Title 42 since Biden took office? The Biden administration must follow through on its promise for concrete immigration reform, and make an effort towards building a more humane asylum system.
Caravan of Mothers of Disappeared Migrants with Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-3)
On a brisk Tuesday morning, across from the white dome of the U.S. Capitol, a group of five women from Central America gathered to bring awareness to the hundreds of migrants who disappear each year while attempting to cross into the United States. Dressed in shawls and cute jackets, hair impeccably styled, any one of them could have been one of my tías, or my abuelita. Despite the October cold, the mothers stood tall—heads lifted high—as they recounted their stories.
“We are dying while alive. We have no peace, day and night we hold them in our hearts, and our only desire is to find them,” said Arecely de Mejía, a member of the Committee for Family members of Deceased and Disappeared Migrants (COFAMIDE) whose son Edwin has been missing for over nine years.
“I am the mother of Carlos Osorio Parada,” said Bertila Parada from El Salvador. “I did find him, but I did not find him the way I wanted to. I was not able to hold him. My son left with the hope of coming to this country, and he was kidnapped in Mexico. His body was found in a clandestine grave in Tamaulipas in 2011. He was finally repatriated in 2015 to El Salvador.”
“We want to open borders so that you can see the suffering of mothers of disappeared people in our countries,” said Ángela Lacayo from Honduras. “Our youth are forced to migrate because of crime, because of lack of opportunity, because of unemployment, because of organized crime, because of M-18. We want to be heard and for our voices may make it to the halls of Congress so that laws can change and the militarization of migratory routes ceases.”
Photographs of Disappeared Family Members
According to Border Patrol, 7,209 migrants have died while crossing the U.S.-Mexico over the last 20 years. However, according to Border Angels, the real death toll could be anywhere between 25% to 300% higher, based on reports of human remains uncovered by other groups such as local law enforcement, humanitarian groups, ranchers, ect. This would mean that, over the past 20 years, there have been anywhere between 9,100 to just under 29,000 deaths. This does not even take into account that, in the harsh conditions of the desert, human remains can rapidly decompose without ever being recorded.
Since 2014, according to the IOM, another 3,400 migrants have gone missing while attempting the U.S.-Mexico border crossing; again, this is likely a vast underestimate of the true number. Collecting data on disappeared migrants is extremely difficult given that there is no singular entity tracking these numbers; the Missing Migrants Project pieced together reports from Mexican immigration authorities and US border county medical examiners, coroners, and sheriffs offices.
What is it that makes this journey so deadly? Migrants who cross the border through the desert risk fatal heat exposure, hypothermia (exposure to cold), hyperthermia (exposure to heat), and drowning. Those who become unable to keep up with the group are often abandoned by the very coyotes they hired—meaning that even a minor injury could result in death. Vehicle accidents—mostly tied to freight trains used as transit—are the first most common recorded cause of death, with violence being the second. Throughout Mexico and Central America, migrants risk becoming victims of robbery, kidnapping, rape, or human trafficking carried out by gangs and cartels.
Migratory routes were not always this dangerous. In 1994, under the Clinton Administration, Border Patrol launched Operation Gatekeeper, designed to keep out migrants by building up the border apparatus—such as increasing detention bed space and building new walls and infrastructure where they previously had not existed—thus intentionally pushing migrants to take more dangerous and irregular routes for crossing. This policy of “prevention through deterrence” led to the militarization of the border as we see it today.
But as the past twenty years have demonstrated, deterrence does not work. Instead, it merely leads to pointless tragedy, as evidenced by the mothers.
For 16 years, hundreds of mothers and family members of disappeared migrants have joined together to form caravans through Mexico in order to search for their missing loved ones and demand justice. They succeeded in locating over 350 migrants and reuniting some, such as victims of human trafficking, with their families.
Karen Morales, the youngest member, had come from Honduras. She had been searching for her brother Aarón Eleazar Carrasco Turcios for nine years. Her mother participated in a 2019 caravan to Mexico, but unable to find any answers, organized her own committee for mothers of disappeared migrants. Tears crept into Karen’s voice as she spoke, displaying a photograph of her brother that hung around her neck.
“Why do our brothers, our family members, flee from Africa, from Haiti, from Central America? Why? The answer is easy. Because there is a lot of poverty and crime. The government makes us believe that they’re coming for a dream, but that’s not true…[gangs] are killing our youth.
“We also came here to be heard, so that the U.S. government can stop sending money to our governments; that only worsens the situation because they are reinforcing the borders, and we believe the money should go to something better, such as education, so that we will never be forced to migrate.”
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-5) was slated to appear, but could not attend due to a sudden conflict. As the mothers shared their stories, Congressman Raύl Grijalva (AZ-3) listened attentively. When they were done, he stepped forward to give his speech, once in Spanish, and once in English:
“The essential action that is needed on the part of Congress is to do something to assist these countries in a humanitarian manner, no longer in terms of military or security. Resources have to go to the most important interest, which is the people of these countries. And the people need education, food, nutrition, housing and opportunity in terms of employment.”
The caravan had two specific requests for Congress: to enact both the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act (HR 2716) and the Berta Cáceres Act (HR 1574), which both call for the suspension of U.S. assistance to Honduran security forces.
After the media was done taking pictures, I found myself standing next to Karen. When I thanked her for sharing her story, she smiled warmly.
“That’s what we’re here for,” she said. “To share their stories. And maybe, if someone somewhere hears it, they might know something that can help us find them.”
Karen poses for a picture with the photograph of her brother Aarón, who has been missing since 2012.
One of the goals you have been working on with us and a host of other organizations was finally achieved this weekend. The news was first announced on Buzzfeed News:
The Biden administration will grant more than 100,000 Haitians in the US the opportunity to gain temporary protected status, shielding them from deportation and allowing them to obtain work permits, according to a Department of Homeland Security document provided to BuzzFeed News.
The decision, which immigrant advocates have been pushing for several months, comes as Haiti suffers from a growing political crisis after the opposition party’s calls for the president to step down failed. Reports of increased gang violence and kidnappings have roiled parts of the country, which is already struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The official announcement came on Saturday – and underlined the date of re-designation – May 21, 2021. Only people already here on or before that date are able to apply for TPS (it is not automatic). From the official announcement from the Department of Homeland Security:
WASHINGTON – Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced a new 18-month designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This new TPS designation enables Haitian nationals (and individuals without nationality who last resided in Haiti) currently residing in the United States as of May 21, 2021 to file initial applications for TPS, so long as they meet eligibility requirements.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home….”
….It is important to note that TPS will apply only to those individuals who are already residing in the United States as of May 21, 2021 and meet all other requirements. Those who attempt to travel to the United States after this announcement will not be eligible for TPS and may be repatriated. Haiti’s 18-month designation will go into effect on the publication date of the Federal Register notice to come shortly. The Federal Register notice will provide instructions for applying for TPS and employment authorization documentation.
A lot of people have been working on this issue for a long time. Thank you for taking part in the effort. We do not get a lot of victories in this work, so we celebrate the ones we do achieve.
That said, the work never stops. Guerline Jozef, Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, who has been everywhere one can be talking about TPS and removals to Haiti, was on MSNBC this morning explaining the decision – and the people not included.
Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of Family Action Network Movement (FANM), stated, “We applaud and commend the Biden Administration’s decision to redesignate TPS for Haiti. During a recent march in Washington on May 18th and a meeting with White House and DHS officials Thursday evening, I sent a strong message to President Biden that given the deteriorating political situation in Haïti including state sponsored massacres, kidnapping/killing of political opponents , widespread raping of women and girls , it was time to redesignate Haiti for TPS and that “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.””
Steve Forester, Immigration Policy Coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), said, “Haiti’s redesignation for TPS recognizes that extraordinary conditions of political and social crisis and insecurity make deportations to Haiti unsafe and redesignation appropriate. We applaud the administration, which since February 1 has expelled about 2,000 Haitians on 34 flights, for this long overdue and entirely appropriate action.”
Legal Defense Fund: Raymond Audain, Senior Counsel at LDF, issued the following statement following the president’s announcement:
“We are encouraged that President Biden has redesignated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status – and that members of the Haitian TPS community now have the security and stability they were unjustly denied for three years as Haiti’s status remained in limbo. While Haiti should have unquestionably received TPS redesignation due to the country’s concerning humanitarian situation alone, the blatantly racist nature of the Trump administration’s decision to revoke its status speaks even further to the rightfulness of today’s decision to undo this deeply discriminatory and shameful action.
“We commend the Biden-Harris administration for their decision to provide a new TPS designation for Haitian nationals. This has been one of the demands that many Latin American and Caribbean immigrant communities made early on. The situation in Haiti has been deteriorating with human rights violations, poverty, and social unrest caused by the pandemic, further limiting the ability of Haitians to return safely to their country. Over 100,000 Haitians residing in the U.S. will now be able to live without the fear of being detained and deported back to the country they fled from,” said Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas.
In his retirement, former president George W. Bush has famously taken up painting. His first collection was titled “Portraits of Courage, a collection of oil paintings and stories honoring the sacrifice of America’s military veterans.” His latest work is titled Out of Many, One and is a series of portraits of people who have immigrated to the United States. In an article published in the Washington Post, Bush writes that he had two goals for this series: “to share some portraits of immigrants, each with a remarkable story I try to tell, and to humanize the debate on immigration and reform.”
In the Post article, Bush says he’ll leave specific immigration policies to current political leaders. But then goes on to outline exactly what he thinks should be done in 6 parts. Let’s take a look at each of his ideas.
Bush advocates for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Well, this is low-hanging fruit. He feels like this is an easy place for agreement and it is, with the majority of the country supporting this. But then he goes on to argue that Dreamers should be granted a path to citizenship because “they ought not be punished for choices made by their parents.” Ugh, Bush, really. You had to throw that line in, didn’t you? So, there you have it. Dreamers are good immigrants. Their parents are bad ones. Dreamers shouldn’t be punished, but the implication is their parents should. Their parents are human beings who risked everything to try and provide a life for themselves and their children. Yes, their children had no choice. But one could argue that their parents felt they had no other choice as well.
His next point is the need for a secure and efficient border. He advocates for “all the necessary resources — manpower, physical barriers, advanced technology, streamlined and efficient ports of entry, and a robust legal immigration system — to assure it.” Hmmm. Ok. I definitely agree with a robust legal immigration system (I’d add a robust, fair, legal immigration system). I also support streamlined and efficient ports of entry. Physical barriers and advanced technology? Have we not seen that border walls don’t work like when kids are being dropped over the wall? Or when tunnels are dug beneath them? The ever-increasing militarization of our border just leads to more human rights violations, deaths of migrants, and to one the most dangerous border between two countries NOT at war in the world. “Advanced technology,” in this context — from facial recognition programs to drones — turns out to be little more than a euphemism employed to legitimize increased state surveillance behind a veneer of ostensibly respectable innovation.
His third point is that we need to “work with our neighbors to help them build freedom and opportunity so their citizens can thrive at home.” Yes!!! Let’s address root causes of migration. Trump’s presidency did nothing if not prove that horrific conditions here and at the border do not prevent people from trying to come to the US. Why is that? Perhaps because no amount of deterrence can trump (pun intended) desperate conditions in home countries. But what does it look like to help build freedom and opportunity? Supporting an authoritarian president whose term has ended like Jovenal Moise in Haiti? Imposing sanctions, as in Nicaragua? Supporting known drug traffickers like Juan Orlando Hernandez in Honduras?
Bush also suggests modernizing our asylum system. He says we need a “system that provides humanitarian support and appropriate legal channels for refugees to pursue their cases in a timely manner. The rules for asylum should be reformed by Congress to guard against unmerited entry and reserve that vital status for its intended recipients.” Yes!! Ok, we agree on something. The system has to start recognizing that people seeking asylum aren’t just fleeing persecution based on religion, race, ethnicity or politics. There is a large, and growing, number of migrants fleeing home countries because of climate change. Our definitions of refugee and asylum need to expand to respond to current realities.
Increased legal migration, guest workers, etc. A point of agreement- if it is done equitably and fairly. You’ll excuse me if I’m doubtful.
Lastly, he goes in hard against undocumented immigrants. All the same old arguments — “amnesty would be fundamentally unfair to those who came legally.” No, the system that allows some to come legally while others are forced to risk their lives to come “illegally” is unfair. He does say that undocumented immigrants should be brought out of the shadows with a gradual process to legal residency, so that’s something. But let’s stop acting like our current system is fair and some people are wrong for not playing by the rules.
He closes by saying “Over the years, our instincts have always tended toward fairness and generosity. The reward has been generations of grateful, hard-working, self-reliant, patriotic Americans who came here by choice. If we trust those instincts in the current debate, then bipartisan reform is possible. And we will again see immigration for what it is: not a problem and source of discord, but a great and defining asset of the United States.”
Wait — since when have our instincts tended toward fairness and generosity? The Chinese Exclusion Act? Ethnicity-based quota systems? In an excerpt from the book, Bush acknowledges the racist, biased history of our immigration system. But based on this article, he seems to have forgotten. If we trust our instincts we will end up right where we started. But I’ll agree with Dub-ya on one thing. Immigration is a “great and defining asset of the United States.” So let’s start there and build a new system actually built with fairness and generosity.
Those seeking to immigrate to the United States do not take the decision lightly. The journey is too often mired in trauma brought on by discrimination and exploitation, and too many of their stories go unheard. Asylum seeker Lino, whom I recently interviewed, was not an exception to this rule. We explore his background as well as his migration story, both linked to an emerging understanding of himself as a lesbian in his childhood, followed by later embracing his identity as a trans man.
Lino was born in 2001 in a small Garifuna (Afro-Indigenous) minority community in Honduras. Due to colorism and anti-blackness within his community, he experienced racism, discrimination and marginalization throughout his entire life. Even as a child in school, Lino and his Black classmates were separated from the “white” Honduran students. These white students had better educational resources, while teachers and students alike would discriminate against the Black students due to the color of their skin, going so far as to forcibly cut off Lino’s afro. In addition to Lino’s race, he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation as a lesbian, the brutality of which led to his mother disenrolling him from school around the age of 13.
While Lino stayed home, he was sexually abused by his older sister’s ex-boyfriend and despite telling trusted individuals, no one seemed to believe him. In the midst of repeated abuse, apathy, and indignation he learned to remain silent against his abusers. At age 15, Lino began to date a 28 year old woman. This displeased his parents. His mother supported his sexual orientation; however, his father was disgusted and began to physically abuse Lino’s mother for her solidarity. Eventually, Lino’s father abandoned them and left the mother, Lino and his sister to care for themselves. As Lino found jobs to support his family, he also experienced a lot of threats due to his sexuality. One threat became a reality when they burned down his home; his mother was there when it happened. That’s when Lino decided to immigrate to the United States in order to protect his mother from harm and to protect himself from the anti-black and anti-LGBTQ+ persecution. This was the beginning of his journey. Aged 17, with no money, and no idea how he was going to survive.
Thankfully Lino reached Vera Cruz unharmed. While in Vera Cruz, he met a 34 year old Honduran man who provided food, shelter and money to Lino on the condition that he have sexual relations with him. The constant sexual exploitation and assault weighed heavily on Lino who sought an escape. “I depended on him and he kept threatening that he’d abandon me in Mexico if I didn’t give him my body. So out of obligation, I gave him my body. So, I had to escape him.” After his escape, the Honduran man continued to search for Lino and threatened his life. He claimed that Lino was his property. Lino spent 6 months in Mexico where he struggled to find food and money to cross the border. Once he crossed, he was arrested by ICE and placed in an all women’s detention center.
At this time, Lino began to embrace his identity as a trans man which increased his vulnerability while in detention. Black trans migrants in detention face unprecedented levels of trauma due to anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and transphobia. They also become victims of sexual and physical assault by other detainees and/or prison staff and are often denied access to adequate health resources such as mental health resources. The lack of adequate hygiene expedites their increased risk of illness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, Black trans migrants are detained longer, held in solitary confinement more often, and suffer humiliating and degrading treatment from prison staff.
Throughout approximately 7 months in detention Lino repeatedly faced anti-Blackness and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination by other detainees and officers. Lino remembers “one officer in particular, who humiliated me because I didn’t have any money to call anyone outside of the detention center. The officer always seemed bothered when I’d ask for toothpaste or toilet paper. Sometimes, she’d even lie and say that they ran out when they did not”. That and other experiences such as being unjustly held in solitary confinement only augmented the trauma he faced on his journey to safety and security.
Any communion between detainees is a serious crime and the first time officers put Lino in solitary confinement because a fellow detainee, a Black Honduran woman, had sexually assaulted him. Consequently, both individuals were placed in solitary confinement and under investigation. Lino was unjustly placed there for seven days for being the survivor of sexual assault. The second time Lino was placed in solitary confinement was after a white Mexican woman told one of the guards that Lino had kissed her in the early morning. Despite the interaction being fabricated, Lino was placed under investigation and spent 12 days without sunlight and meaningful human interaction. When asked how Lino felt about the ordeal, he stated “I felt bad and recognized the injustice. I was the victim in the situation but they didn’t take my word for anything, they put me in solitary confinement for 12 days without TV, without even seeing the sunlight- all for a lie”. Severely shaken by his experiences, he contemplated deporting himself and returning to Honduras. “When problems started to arise, I didn’t feel comfortable. I almost deported myself but I knew that’d mean I’d continue to suffer in my country”.
Holding onto hope, Lino was able to connect with a pro bono immigration lawyer and eventually with others who were able to support him. He was connected to Casa Ruby, a nonprofit organization that is run by transgender women of color. Casa Ruby serves as a home for marginalized people, predominantly belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, that provide social services and programs for the success and growth of the person. Casa Ruby is also “everyone’s home” which provides a welcoming environment for people beyond the LGBTQ+ community, it extends to their families and the community at large. While at Casa Ruby, Lino met his current partner. Now, Lino lives with his partner and is in the process of seeking asylum.
Despite all of the hardship Lino has faced throughout his life, he remains hopeful about his immigration process. “I feel saved. Hopefully I’ll have my papers soon. I’m happy I’m out of my country.” Lino still communicates with his mother, yet feels the absence of his loved ones. “It’s hard to get up sometimes. I only have my sponsor here. But I know I’ll get up soon”.
The harassment he faced because of his sexuality, gender, and Blackness were the driving forces behind his decision to immigrate to the United States. Certain marginalized individuals such as Lino, a Black trans migrant, face an increased risk of trauma. The trauma immigrants face after fleeing their homes is exacerbated by maltreatment from ICE staff. Black trans migrants are a vulnerable population and ICE is not equipped with the training or resources to ensure their safety and wellbeing while in custody. Although, Black trans migrants constitute a relatively small number of those in detention, the conditions they face provide evidence of the moral vacuity of ICE detention more generally and their struggles, like Lino’s experiences, provide another reason why immigrant detention must end. Here at the Quixote Center, we support Lino, recognize the unbelievable hardship of his story, and honor him for everything that he has overcome. Lino’s story is one of perseverance, resilience, strength and hope.
SJ Fernandez is at the Quixote Center this summer under a fellowship from Georgetown University where she is a graduate student in conflict resolution. Her studies are focused on racial and ethnic identity-based conflict within the United States, as well as immigrant and refugee rights.
Acknowledgments: Lino for bravely sharing his story. Taurence Chisholm Jr. for providing helpful edits that honored Lino’s story. Quixote Center Staff for this amazing opportunity. Lastly, my mother, Annie Gonzalez, who raised me to be respectful and outspoken, not quiet.
Taste the Nation, a new series on the streaming network Hulu, is hosted and produced by Padma Lakshmi, best known as the host of Top Chef. An immigrant herself, Padma wanted to research immigration in the US in the wake of Trump’s election and the US’s latest anti-immigrant wave. Recognizing the power of food, she chose it as the lens to frame the topic. Through 10 episodes, the show explores 10 popular foods in America. As we learn the history, techniques and rituals that surround the food, we are also shown the history of the people making it, particularly their migration story. The immigration policies that impacted them, both current and historical, are also highlighted.
It is often said that the United States is a nation of immigrants. However, that statement negates an entire group of people and mischaracterizes the history of another.
There are people whose ancestors have always lived here in the Americas and episode 7 explores the rich food traditions of the Apache and the impact of colonialization on those traditions. The episode starts with fry bread. A food many are familiar with and often considered traditional. But the episode quickly explains that fry bread is a food that was developed out of a necessity to use the commodity food rations given to indigenous people by the United States government, after forcibly removing them from their traditional land and food sources. Though it may be tasty, it is a painful symbol of colonialization, displacement and genocide. The episode goes on to highlight the amazing bounty of food that the Arizona desert provides. Foods such as prickly pear fruit, barrel cactus fruit, onions, and small game such as rabbit or pack rat. Indigenous chefs are reclaiming the recipes and cooking techniques of their ancestors that have been erased and nearly lost. They are reclaiming the medicinal, healing properties and health benefits of their ancestral food.
To say that African American ancestors “migrated” to the Americas negates the fact that they were forced to come in chains. Episode 3 explores the rich food traditions of the Gullah Geechee, descendants of enslaved Africans who were brought to the Americas primarily for their knowledge of growing rice. They now live along the coast from northern Florida to North Carolina with an unofficial capital in Charleston, SC. Modern southern and soul food can be traced back to the Gullah, but often they aren’t given credit. Padma talks with chefs and community members who are working and fighting to preserve the traditions and language of the Gullah (a blend of the various languages of the enslaved Africans and English). Sitting on ancestral land where so many atrocities happened, Padma acknowledges that talking about Gullah history is painful, but it is an important part of American History and it is part of the healing process this nation has to undertake.
They say you are what you eat, but do we even really know what we are eating? or where it comes from?Hot dogs are often seen as quintessentially American, as American as baseball and apple pie. But hot dogs, or wieners, are German; so, in episode 2, Padma travels to Milwaukee to explore German immigration. This episode focuses on assimilation and the fact that so many of the German contributions to US culture have been so thoroughly absorbed, they are no longer viewed as German, but simply American. Padma says “Assimilation is complicated. While many people fight to be accepted. Others work to hold on to what might get lost. And that push and pull my friends, is America.”
Many episodes explore what it means to pass on your cultural traditions to children who have a hyphenated identity. In episode 3, about Indian dosas, Padma’s daughter (Indian-American) reluctantly admits that she prefers pancakes to dosas. This cultural transmission is further complicated when you can’t travel back to where your traditions originate, as in episode 6 about kabob and the Iranian-American children of immigrants who fled Iran following the revolution.
The very first episode of the series is perhaps the most relevant to our current debate on immigration. The episode goes to El Paso, to explore, the burrito. The chefs interviewed are quick to note that what we’ve been eating at Chipotle, is NOT what they are making. One chef notes that “a burrito is tradition wrapped in colonialization… Flour is not one of our ancestral foods. It’s an imposed food.” So that flour tortilla, like fry bread, is a symbol of colonialization. The episode talks a lot about the region and the arbitrary border that separates families and friends and has become ever increasingly militarized. Padma says, America loves Mexican food, but asks, “what about the hands that make that food?” Chef Marentes takes great pride in making his tortillas but notes, “It’s hard for me to think that people are going to accept my tortillas before they accept my cousins.”
The last episode takes the viewers to Hawaii and is about poke. It focuses on the fusion of traditional Japanese and Hawaiian ingredients and cooking techniques. Gastronomically, the two have fused well, elements of each have been retained but have combined to create a delicious hybrid. Padma wonders if this could serve as a model for the nation. What would our country look like if traditions could be accepted and respected but also joined to create something new and beautiful. It’s a hopeful note, one that is much needed in these times.
What does it mean to be American? Who decides? Which cultures are welcomed, accepted? Which ones are ignored or erased? Taste the Nation explores all of these questions and more.
But as Chef Twitty says, quoting a West African saying, “if you sit at my table and eat with me, you’ll know who I am.” The table Padma Lakshmi explores is rich in flavor and diversity. It brings stories of pain and hope. And if we sit together and eat at this table, we will get to see the beauty of what it means to be American.
(Hulu is a subscription based streaming service: https://www.hulu.com/)