The Truth About Busing Migrants from the Border to DC: A Story of Welcoming

UPDATE: The DC Attorney General’s office, whose funding is separate from that of the mayor’s office, has announced a grant program of $150,000 to aid nonprofits leading the welcoming response. We welcome this news, but unfortunately this level of funding is still woefully inadequate to meet the needs of mutual aid groups. 

In April, Governor Abbott of Texas began sending migrants from the US southern border to Washington, DC, with Arizona joining soon after. So far, Texas and Arizona have collectively bused over 7,000 migrants from the border to DC, and now Texas is beginning to send buses to New York City as well.  

 The narrative cycling around conservative media outlets is that Governors Abbott and Ducey have “stuck it to the Dems” by “bringing the border crisis” to their front doors. Abbott and Ducey are using migrant families, who are real people with hopes, dreams, and unimaginable journeys, as political pawns to spin a media narrative about an “immigrant invasion.” There are anecdotal reports of migrants being coerced onto the buses, told that they will be taken to their desired destination, and then sent to DC or New York instead.  

At the same time, many migrants have also been able to benefit from the program, because DC or New York are much closer to their final destination than the Texas or Arizona border. Others don’t have a final destination in mind. Forced to flee their homes, they are content to board a bus to DC or New York City, where, they are told, there will be resources and jobs waiting for them.  

In the case of DC, it is true that the buses have overwhelmed these resources. But this is not the fault of a “migrant crisis,” or the migrants themselves, but of a lack of institutional will to act.  

From day one, a mutual aid network of volunteers, activists, and immigrants’ rights advocates has been mobilizing to welcome and assist migrants arriving in DC despite a vacuum of institutional support from local or federal government. Though FEMA has provided federal funds to SAMU First Response, the main nonprofit officially in charge of coordinating, it has been woefully inadequate to keep up with the needs of receiving, housing, and transporting migrants.  

Sanctuary DMV, through the organizing and willpower of its volunteers, has been able to welcome thousands without such support. In New York City, a mutual aid and solidarity network led by Team TLC NY  is already assembling volunteers to greet and process migrants.  

Both cities’ governments have struggled with how to respond, further complicated by a lack of communication and cooperation from Texas regarding the arrivals.   

 The DC Department of Human Services has been illegally excluding migrant families from the shelter system despite available bed space, denying them critical resources such as a case manager, who could assist in school enrollment, health insurance, and receiving medical treatment. 

 Neither the city or federal government are willing to play a direct role in addressing what immigrant advocates say is a building humanitarian crisis. Indeed, the government’s failure to act is causing the humanitarian crisis in the first place. DC’s Mayor Bowser has not allocated any local funds or government resources to welcoming efforts, despite being able to apply to FEMA for reimbursement, and city officials have been encouraging nonprofits to seek additional federal aid instead.  

 The federal government declined Mayor Bowser’s request for assistance from the National Guard to process migrants, though she plans to renew this request. Sanctuary DMV has pushed back on this request, noting that doing so only serves to further militarize the reception of migrants, and that the city should instead focus on existing services, such as expanding shelter capacity, social services, and language access.  

 New York’s Mayor Adams claimed that migrants were overwhelming the shelter system before Governor Abbott had even begun sending buses. As aid groups pointed out, the shelter system was already overwhelmed by a variety of factors, such as understaffing and rising evictions.  

 To his credit, Adams quickly mobilized emergency measures to accommodate migrants in the shelter system, and appeared in person to greet migrants. Serious challenges still remain, as a new report shows that migrant families are being separated when entering the NYC shelter system. But perhaps Mayor Bowser can consider following in New York’s example and finally commit to welcoming.  

 It is important to remember despite the murky intersection of city, state, and federal politics, and despite the narrative being further weaponized by anti-immigrant media outlets and politicians, the communities of DC and New York City have stepped up.  

 “We recently learned that people have donated about $160,000 to Governor Abbott’s effort to bus people to DC. And we – the DC community – have raised over $350,000,”  said Amy Fischer, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA, and who has been actively welcoming with Sanctuary DMV. 

 “While politicians on both sides of the aisle use fear-mongering tactics to undermine the human right to seek asylum, we know that is not reflective of communities. When we feel overwhelmed with the numbers arriving, or the lack of capacity, our answer is not to tell people not to come. Our answer is to call for more support to expand our capacity to welcome, not shut the door.” 

 Ways to Help 

There are several ways that anyone, anywhere, can take action today: 

 If you are based in DC, there are a couple of ways to help aside from making a donation:  

  • Click to send a letter, tweet, or phone call 
  • Spanish, French, and Portuguese speakers are greatly needed. Volunteers are also needed to sort donations and for clean-up.  
  • Clothing, toiletries, and baby supplies are most needed.  

 In New York City, Team TLC NYC has been leading the welcoming efforts. Click HERE to support.  

 

 

 

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Quixote Center Celebrates Victories Against Anti-Immigrant Policies 

Quixote Center Celebrates Victories Against Anti-Immigrant Policies 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 9th, 2022 

Contact: Alexandra Gulden 

alexandra@quixote.org 

Washington DC – The Quixote Center celebrates victories against two Trump-era policies: the defeat of Congressional amendments aimed at extending Title 42, and the effective end of the “Remain in Mexico” program.  

Over the weekend, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act, landmark health and climate legislation, without anti-immigrant amendments that threatened to extend Title 42 indefinitely. On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will no longer enroll asylum seekers in MPP, commonly referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” and those who are currently enrolled will be allowed to await their scheduled court dates in the U.S. 

“We thank all our partners, supporters, and elected officials who have made phone calls, written letters, and made a stand to demand an end to inhumane and anti-immigrant policies like Title 42 and the ‘Remain in Mexico’ program,” said Quixote Center Executive Director Dr. Kim Lamberty. “Together, these policies have jeopardized the safety of families and adults fleeing from danger, leading to over 10,000 violent attacks against migrants and asylum seekers.  

“The fight is not yet over, as Title 42 remains in place, and immigrant communities continue to face invasive surveillance and detention. We urge the Biden administration to swiftly take all necessary steps to end both Title 42 and ‘Remain in Mexico’, and take action to humanely welcome migrants and asylum seekers, rather than continue to cruelly detain, deport, and expel those seeking safety.” 

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The Quixote Center empowers vulnerable families and communities to become the artisans of their own destiny through transforming oppressive systems and structures. Inspired by liberation theology and Catholic Social Teaching, we do this through sustainable development, advocacy, economic justice, environmental, and educational initiatives. Our current focus is on Nicaragua and Haiti, where we support programs to empower impoverished families and communities, and support for migrants in Mexico and Central America, where we work to mitigate the damage of US immigration policies. Together with our partners, we dream of a world more justly loving. 

 

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A Teacher’s Reflections on the Quixote Center’s Solidarity Trip

Mural at La 72 Migrant Shelter

Two days before the Quixote Center trip to Mexico, a local journalist called me. Louisiana legislators had just drafted a proposal allowing teachers to bring guns to school, and the press wanted a comment from a local teacher. Just ten days after the Uvalde shooting, leaders hastily crafted legislation to demonstrate their resolve in preventing such tragedies in Louisiana.  

“As an educator and a parent, Ms. Molina,” said WDSU’s anchorman Sherman Desselle. “What’s your response to this proposal?”  

“Teachers and students have the right to expect that their schools will be safe,” I said. “It is the responsibility of our public officials and security officers to protect us. Shifting that responsibility to teachers is not fair.” 

Three days later with the murder of nineteen school children and their two teachers still haunting my country’s conscience, I listened as Honduran, Guatemalan, and Ugandan women recounted story after story of their own leaders’ abdication of responsibility to protect them and their children in their homelands. Not one of them recited the “looking for a better life” story–the sanitized narrative of seeking economic security in the American Dream. Instead crushing details of sexual violence, extortion, kidnappings and murders of husbands, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons gushed from their mouths in a litany of terror and desperation.  

“We would not be here if the police had done their jobs,” said a young Guatemalan mother after escaping the narcotrafficker who kidnapped her and held her hostage for three months of rapes and beatings. 

Even as these women flee an astounding level of physical and sexual violence at home, the risk of such violence is extremely high on the road north. Not naïve, migrant women prepare as best as they can. They told us of being “vaccinated” for the journey—taking oral contraceptives to prevent pregnancy if they are raped along the way.  

Each woman sighed as she recounted countless and futile attempts to seek protection and justice from law enforcement and human rights organizations. Each voiced the devastating lack of results, the dismissiveness of officials or even worse…the divulgence of their reports to gangs who retaliated with more intimidation, threats and violence.  

Every migrant woman’s story illustrated the scars of an institutional failure to protect them and their children, and the very name and walls of their temporary refuge, the Franciscan migrant shelter La 72, serve as poignant reminders that this failure is not merely anecdotal but historic and well-documented.  

La 72 is named in memory of 72 migrants who were massacred in Tamaulipas, Mexico in 2010. Today women and children fill the chapel of La 72, a memorial to the murdered migrants. Resting on floor mats with their backpacks and water bottles at their sides, they face the chapel’s altar wall where seventy-two crosses remind them of the tragic fate of their predecessors. Each cross bears the name of a murdered migrant and the flag of his/her country. Some have only the flag… “because we still don’t know the names of all the victims,” explained Alejandra Conde, La 72’s Coordinator of Structural Change. 

The killings are suspected to be the result of collusion between Mexican police officers and drug cartel leaders. In 2011, twelve Mexican police officers were detained on homicide charges in the case. But not until May of this year was anyone convicted and sentenced for crimes against the migrants. Even then, when a Mexican judge finally convicted eighteen drug cartel leaders, it was for the abduction, not of the murders, of the 72 migrants. 

The walls of La 72 do not let migrants or visitors forget the complicity of our nation’s leaders in the heartbreaking tragedy of forced migrations.  

 Another wall at La 72 features a map of the Americas. Former US President Donald Trump’s orange hair erupts into flames from which Latin American migrants appear. “Trump,” the mural admonishes in Spanish, “You will be the one who lights the fire of resistance of the peoples.” In the bottom right corner, the declaration is in Spanglish, “20 enero 2021 got out!!! Mr. Trump Fuera JOH.” The first is a reference to the last day of Trump’s term in office. The second is a popular Honduran political chant meaning “Out with JOH,” initials of former (2014-2022) Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez.  

Trump’s pressure on Mexico to militarize the border created even more dangerous conditions for migrants especially in light of historic corruption among Mexican police—as in the case of the Tamaulipas massacre.  

As for Hernandez, in April, the US government ordered his arrest and extradition on charges of alleged drug-trafficking conspiracy. Last year Hernandez’s brother, “Tony,” a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced in US court to life in prison for drug trafficking and bribery. The US Department of Justice contends that the former president and US ally allegedly received millions of dollars from cartel leaders in exchange for protection from arrest. Juan Orlando Hernandez, they say, allegedly:  

leveraged the Government of Honduras’ law enforcement, military, and financial resources…to protect drug traffickers…including his brother…from investigation, arrest, and extradition; caused sensitive law enforcement and military information to be provided to drug traffickers to aid them in transporting tons of cocaine through Honduras, bound for the United States; directed heavily-armed members of the Honduran National Police and Honduran military to protect drug shipments as they transited Honduras; and sanctioned brutal violence.

 

Alejandra Conde stands aside a mural that documents both moments of violent tragedy and Franciscan accompaniment in the migration experience.

1995: The Franciscan Province initiates attention to migrants.  

8/23/2010: Massacre, San Fernando, Tam [Tamaulipas where 72 migrants were killed].  

4/2011: Mass graves in Northern Mexico 400 tortured bodies  

4/23/2011: La 72 shelter for migrants [opens]  

2011: CNDH [Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos—the National Commission for Human Rights in Mexico] reports that more than 20,000 migrants were kidnapped in Mexico  

5/2012: Mutilated bodies in Cadereyta, NL [Nuevo León] 

1/5/2013: Attack at the train in Barrancas, Ver. [Vera Cruz] 

8/25/2013: Deaths of 12 people from a train derailment in Tembladera 

The exterior wall of the migrant men’s barracks bears the image of a young migrant who once stayed at La 72 and was killed after leaving the shelter to head north. “Our demand is minimal: JUSTICE,” reads the inscription across his chest.  

The walls of La 72 tell the stories of tragedy and exploitation, but they also tell tales of hope, strength, resourcefulness and solidarity.  


 Most of the shelters we visited display such road maps offering valuable information for migrants trying to navigate the ecosystem of exploitation and aid that lies ahead. Map key symbols include: roads, fees (approx.. $100), danger zones, assaults & kidnappings, migrant houses, soup kitchens, rivers, border walls. 

“We are humans. We have dignity. We deserve respect.”

“When [a] youth migrates, hope migrates.”

“When the woman migrates, life migrates.”

“When the family migrates, the social fabric migrates.”

“When the indigenous migrate, history migrates.” / “When the children migrate, the roots of human tenderness migrate.”  

La 72 offers separate living quarters as a safe space option for vulnerable populations such as LGBT community members.

Tomorrow I return to school where teachers will be preparing for students. We will plaster our classroom walls with historic figures, helpful information and inspirational quotes. Much like the volunteer artists at La 72, we hope our efforts can inform, guide, and encourage those who walk the hallways to navigate their paths carefully and pursue their dreams. We will remember our colleagues in Uvalde who will be doing the same.

Hispanics make up over 80% of the population in Uvalde, where a large immigrant community resides. It is painfully ironic that many of those families, like the ones at La 72, may have migrated to escape violence.  

So many migrants at La 72 and the other shelters that we visited voiced their deepest hopes to make it to the US…not because of its wealth but because of their perception of the US as “a country where the law is enforced,” a country where they and their children might be safe from the violence in their own countries and the violence they face on their journey. 

I pray that they will one day be able to breathe the sweet relief of being safe. That they will one day be able to stop running and hiding in fear. I, like those at La 72, will continue to hope and to believe in the strength of community and solidarity. But like those at La 72, I will also continue to hold our leaders accountable for the systemic failure that strips our families of dignity and peace.  

Migrant families, like US school children and teachers, have the right to expect that their communities will be safe—whether in their native lands or in the US. Political leaders and law enforcement officers are paid to protect our communities. When they fail us through corruption, apathy, racism, or incompetence, we will not perpetuate a narrative that shifts blame and responsibility to us. We will continue to hold them accountable, and I will not be packing a gun to school. 

 

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Take Action: One year since Moïse assassination

One year ago today Haiti’s acting president, Jovenal Moïse, was assassinated in his own home. A group of two-dozen mercernaries, most apparently hired from Colombia, were arrested in the days following Moïse’s murder, but the story of who was ultimately behind the plot to kill Moïse continues to unfold. The acting prime-minister, Ariel Henry, anointed to this role by the US State Department and allied members of the so called “Core-Group,” is among the people implicated in the plot. 

The Biden Administration continues to stand by Henry. Efforts to form a new transition government led by a coalition of civil society organizations and political parties continue to move forward, but with no support from the United States government. With US patronage behind him, Henry is given an effective veto over any other process, including the “Montana Process” (so-named after the Hotel Montana where the original transition plan was negotiated, prior to Moïse’s death).

In the year since the assassination of Moïse the security situation for Haitians has deteriorated. Heavily armed criminal groups control transportation routes into and out of Port au Prince. They are also a force to be reckoned with on highways throughout the country. In the capital, the violence has been intense as groups fight over control of key neighborhoods, especially in Martissant, Croix-des-Bouquet, sections of Delmas, and Cite Soleil. 

Insecurity, and a state that feels largely absent, has also deepened a socio-economic crisis impacting access to food and fuel, and has made many livelihoods difficult to sustain. Mix in a COVID-19 recession and a massive earthquake on the Grand Sud peninsula last August, and things are increasingly desperate.

One result is an increase in people leaving Haiti. The US Coast Guard has interdicted and returned nearly 6,000 people this fiscal year. How many others have made it through to other states in the Caribbean, or who have perished in the waters, is not known. 

Haitians continue to arrive seeking relief at the US/Mexico border. The Biden Administration has instead expelled thousands of them back into the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Haiti. The Biden Administration has expelled over 26,500 Haitians during the 18 months he has been in office, more than the last three presidents combined. 24,5000 of those expulsions have occurred just since mid-September 2021.

Take Action!!

To mark this day, we lift up a number of efforts to confront the United States government’s contributions to the instability unfolding in Haiti.

First, as an individual, you can sign this petition calling on the United States government to back down on its unconditional support for Henry

If you are a member of an organization, please seek that organization’s signature on this letter to the Biden administration with the same message.

If you have questions/concerns about the messaging in these statements, you can review a detailed memo that explains the positions here.

Finally, please join us in demanding that the Biden administration halt ALL removals to Haiti. Sign on here.

 

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Reflections from Tenosique

In June, I had the opportunity to visit migrant shelters operating under the Franciscan Network on Migration, a Quixote Center partner, in southern Mexico. No two shelters were alike. To walk across the threshold was to enter a new kind of haven, each beautiful and kinetic in its own way. La 72 in Tenosique seemed always to be bursting with energy, with some migrants entering and leaving the shelter in just a day, and others staying long-term as they worked to determine their next steps and heal.

“We try to make their stay here as pleasant as possible,” said Alejandra, a lawyer at La 72. A hundred people reside in La 72 on any given day. Despite the immense volume of people circulating in and out, the staff and volunteers were filled with unbridled compassion and energy to confront the needs of highly vulnerable populations.  

The Structural Change Program at La 72, as Alejandra explained, aims to both materially improve the quality of life in border communities and foster a more positive and nuanced view of migrants. La 72 staff regularly visits communities and hosts workshops on immigration law and human rights, empowering communities to defend migrants, as well as their own rights.  

Casa Belén, located just across the border in Guatemala, was deserted when we arrived, as most migrants stop there for a night and continue on their way in the morning. La 72 and Casa Belén work together closely to address cases of families separated on the journey, unaccompanied children, and people in a situation of violence; in cases like these, people can stay longer.

In contrast, Casa del Caminante in Palenque has a separate area for longer-term residents, usually families who are applying for refugee status in Chiapas. Their module, complete with a separate kitchen, houses individual dorms for each family. We saw children running around the courtyard’s playground, delighted to have the space to be children.  

In Santa Martha, Chiapas, we were warmly received by two Catholic sisters at Casa Betania. Despite the town’s sleepy appearance, the sisters noted that “every kind of trafficking”—from drugs to humans—is commonplace. But in the shelter’s courtyard, decorated in brightly-colored banners and a large pride flag, such dangers felt far away. 

Map of migratory route

Each shelter is located along the old route of La Bestia, a network of freight trains used by migrants to travel North. It no longer runs in the areas we visited, but in Santa Martha and Palenque, many migrants still undertake the same journey by walking along the tracks. 

We learned from COMAR, the Mexican government’s refugee office, that if applicants for refugee status in Mexico leave the state in which they applied initially, they forfeit their application. In southern Mexico, this was problematic for several reasons. In the South (especially in Chiapas, ranked Mexico’s most impoverished state) it is difficult for migrants to find work. Second, if a migrant in Tenosique needs to travel to Villahermosa for any reason, such as finding work or accessing specialized medical care, they first need to pass through Chiapas, a different state, to get there. This policy leaves migrants trapped in communities struggling to find work. The Franciscan Network was set up to respond to this crisis. 

 Looking to the Future 

As we reflect on everything that we experienced and learned, the Quixote Center team hopes to plan another delegation to southern Mexico before the end of this year! And, we work to ensure that our partners at the Franciscan Network on Migration receive as much from this partnership as we have.   

“The Franciscan Network for Migrants appreciates the support and constant collaboration of Quixote Center to our organization,” wrote Vianey, our RFM liaison at La 72. “This visit was the first and we are in the dialogue to plan more to the southern border of Mexico. We also thank the migrant shelters who received us despite their commitments. We admire the hard work they do every day to seek the defense of the human rights of migrants. It doesn’t matter if we are from different religions or secular, we are always willing to work together for our brothers and sisters. We hope to meet again soon!” 

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Migration should be the flight for the dream of life, not death

The following is a translation of a statement by our partners at the Franciscan Network on Migration on the tragedy in Texas, in which 53 migrants were found dead. To read the original statement in Spanish, click HERE

PUBLIC STATEMENT 

To the Governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Honduras, the United States of America 

To any person in good faith. 

Migration should be the flight for the dream of life, not death 

In Texas, on June 29, 2022, the heat, overcrowding, and lack of oxygen ended the lives of more than 50 migrants abandoned in a trailer that was transporting them as they searched for better living conditions; human beings who were forced to leave their country of origin because of injustice and high rates of violence, events that found them in other lands. 

The Franciscan Network for Migrants (RFM) declares our indignation and dismay at the human tragedy experienced by migrants in the territories not only of Northern America, but also in Mexico. Countries whose principles are the “Republic and democracy” as institutions that safeguard the freedom and life of society. We join in the pain that these families are experiencing; with you, we share our prayers and solidarity. 

As they intend to renew policies and practices that criminalize and affect the human rights of every person who migrates, it is urgent that the countries of Central America and Mexico react to move from containment to protection. In the current regional scenario, vulnerable migrants do not have many options to leave, transit, and reach their destinations safely. This leads them to seek paths that put their human dignity, integrity, health, and, in many cases, even their lives at risk. 

As RFM, we call on the competent authorities of the United States to thoroughly investigate the facts and find those responsible for this unfortunate tragedy, as well as to work to eradicate human trafficking. The situation also reflects how xenophobic-racist guidelines and practices only benefit organized crime networks. We condemn the impunity for the various crimes of which migrants are victims.  

We also demand that the governments of the United States of America, Mexico, and the countries of Central America respond to the commitment assumed by different human rights standards to guarantee the effective protection of the human rights of migrants, as well as their fundamental freedoms. 

 As Christians and Franciscans, we firmly believe in the dignity of every human being; that the encounter between cultures and groups enriches us; that justice, equity, and freedom are the basis for fraternity or “social friendship” between peoples; that the stranger is to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated into our societies, as God himself would do (Deuteronomy 19:34). St. Francis of Assisi was a friend and brother to all living people, no one was his enemy or considered him a “foreigner”; we have a political and spiritual legacy that recognizes that both human beings and creatures from  one family, that we live in the same house which is “our Sister, Mother Earth.” 

In these moments of solidarity of all peoples, as the RFM we continue to accompany migrants and their families who leave, transit, or seek to reside in the lands of the Americas: with our prayers, we unite ourselves to their pain. 

ADVOCACY COMMITTEE 

Franciscan Network on Migration 

  

The Franciscan Network on Migration is a network composed of: 

The Frontera Digna Shelter, Piedras Negras; Comedor San Francisco de Asís para Migrantes, Mazatlán; Casa Franciscana Guaymas A.C; Team Hogar Franciscano, Cholula, Puebla; La 72, Hogar Refugio para personas Migrantes, Tenosique; Casa Peregrina del Migrante “Santo Hermano Pedro”, Guatemala; Equipo RFM-Guatemala; Equipo RFM-Honduras; Equipo RFM-El Salvador; Equipo RFM-Panamá; Equipo RFM-Colombia; Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción de Durham; Carolina del Norte (USA); Migrantes Center of New York. Advocacy partners: Quixote Center, Franciscans International. 

 

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SCOTUS Ruling on “Remain in Mexico” Win for Migrant Communities, but Must Not Lead to Increased Detention

 

For Immediate Release: June 30, 2022  

Contact: Alexandra Gulden, alexandra@quixote.org  

 SCOTUS Ruling on “Remain in Mexico” Win for Migrant Communities, but Must Not Lead to Increased Detention 

Washington D.C.—Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Biden Administration was lawful in its initial termination of the “Remain in Mexico” program, thus allowing for the Administration to finally end the cruel and inhumane policy.  

The Quixote Center celebrates this ruling as a win, but we must not forget the over 71,000 people who have been forced to await their asylum cases in Mexico, including vulnerable populations such as LGBTQ+ migrants and those with severe health conditions.  

 The “Remain in Mexico” policy has imposed irreversible harm on migrant communities. During the Trump Administration, there were at least 1,544 reported cases of violent attacks against people returned to Mexico, including murder, torture, and assault. Under Biden, the program has not been any safer and has continued to block asylum seekers from accessing legal counsel or obtaining a fair chance at asylum. 

 We urge the Biden Administration to immediately end “Remain in Mexico” and allow all enrolled in the program to await their cases in the United States. However, this policy must not and cannot be replaced with increased detention, expulsion, and surveillance of migrant families and asylum seekers in the United States. Instead, we urge the Administration to invest in opt-in community-based support services that offer migrants the tools to thrive, rather than continue the cycle of cruelty and suffering. 

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 The Quixote Center empowers vulnerable families and communities to become the artisans of their own destiny through transforming oppressive systems and structures. Inspired by liberation theology and Catholic Social Teaching, we do this through sustainable development, advocacy, economic justice, environmental, and educational initiatives. Our current focus is on Nicaragua and Haiti, where we support programs to empower impoverished families and communities, and support for migrants in Mexico and Central America, where we work to mitigate the damage of US immigration policies. Together with our partners, we dream of a world more justly loving. 

 

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Quixote Center on the Migrant Trail

Delegates with staff at La72

The heat was the first thing I noticed upon arrival in Tenosique, the location of La72, one of the largest shelters in the Franciscan Network on Migration, a Quixote Center partner. March to May are the hottest months, but in early June the heat was still oppressive, even without much humidity. Imagine walking miles every day in that heat. 

My colleague Alexandra Gulden and I traveled last week to southern Mexico to experience the migrant trail and to visit Franciscan Network on Migration shelters. The idea was to encounter the stories of migrants working their way north, and to learn more about our partner’s work and context so that Quixote Center can better accompany the Network and the migrants they serve.

On our second day we were driving in our air-conditioned van along the road that many migrants take, in the heat of the day, and encountered two young boys, no older than 11 or 12, obviously migrants. Without speaking, our driver rolled down his window and handed them his water bottle. How did they get there, and what would lead their parents to let them go? We will never know their particular stories, but we heard a few others.

There was the family from Honduras. They left with most of their extended family, totaling 20 people, because a young adult daughter was kidnapped by criminal gangs, and her husband and child went missing. The family filed a police report as well as a human rights report, and the result was that the gangs threatened to kill the entire family. The family then understood that the police and the gangs were working together. After receiving threats, the family made the painful decision to migrate, despite the fact that they had not found the missing daughter. They continue to be afraid that the Honduran gangs will find them in Mexico and kill them. For that reason, their hope is to make it into the US, where they believe they will be safe.

There was the group of five young women from Honduras and Guatemala who had found each other for mutual support in the shelter. Several had their kids with them; several had to leave their kids behind. Each story we heard was more shocking than the last. They told stories of horrific abuse by spouses and domestic partners; of kidnapping threats; of family members killed or disappeared; of fear for the lives of their children. They said there was no recourse with the police or legal system; they had filed reports and either the authorities did nothing or the threats intensified. We all cried together in that room as we experienced a small group of women giving each other the emotional support they needed to survive unspeakable trauma. They hope to make it into the United States, where they believe there is rule of law, and that people are held accountable for their crimes. They believe that in the US their children will be safe.

There was the elderly woman from Uganda whose husband and four brothers were killed. When she reported it, she received threats. She left Uganda for Ecuador with her daughter; they settled there for awhile and tried to make a living teaching English. She said they suffered racism and ended up on the streets. They were not able to survive in Ecuador and they decided to migrate farther north. She told a harrowing story of moving through the Darien Gap in Panama, a mountainous forest where there is no actual road, and notorious for its criminal gangs who extort migrants. They lost their money and their identification, slept outside in the forest, were held at gunpoint, were sexually assaulted; eventually, they succeeded in crossing into Central America. The daughter is a certified English teacher, and they hope to make it to the US, where they believe they will have a better life. Perhaps succumbing to realism, when we left they were applying for refugee status in Mexico.

The Mexican authorities told us that of the top countries of origin for migrants in Mexico, number 2 is Haiti and number 6 is Nicaragua. Quixote Center has sustainable development programming in both countries, designed to address the extreme poverty that helps to create the conditions of violence and poor governance that lead to migration. We complement the development programming by working to mitigate the negative impact that US foreign policies have on the ability of Haiti and Nicaragua to pull themselves out of poverty. Our work to accompany those who feel forced to leave their home countries completes our other program priorities. We hope that our work makes it possible for some families and communities to remain intact in their place of origin. For those who have to migrate, we work to contribute to an experience that promotes and upholds their dignity and leads to safety and security.

Future emails and blogs will talk more about this work. In the meantime, you can sign our petition to the Biden Administration demanding that they halt all deportations to Haiti. 

And you can donate here.

 

 

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Abuse in the Air: New report on ICE Air contractor abuse and sports teams that use same companies

Sports teams and entertainers frequently, if unwittingly, find themselves on the same planes that have been (or will become) the site of human rights violations. Should they care? We think so. 

A new report from the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights released this week documents human rights abuses that occur on removal flights carried out for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Using plane tail numbers, the authors of Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry are able to show that the very same planes are used to shepherd college athletic programs, professional sports teams and entertainers around the country. 

Background

The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights has become one of the leading investigative entities uncovering the contractual relationships that constitute the infrastructure of ICE Air Operations. Their 2019 report, Hidden in Plain Sight: ICE Air and the Machinery of Mass Deportation, is one of the clearest explanations of ICE Air Operations one might find. Available here. It is definitely worth your time.

The first thing to know is that ICE Air Operations does not own its own planes. ICE Air Operations does not even directly manage their own flight scheduling. A private company handles the whole operational side of managing ICE Air Operation’s flights. Currently Classic Air Charters holds the contract to manage ICE Air Operation’s flights, a contract worth $740 million plus over a 5-year period, with a ton of contingencies to bump that number up.

Classic Air Charters subcontracts with other private carriers to actually conduct the flights. Swift Air/iAero has received the bulk of subcontracted flights in recent years. Other carriers include World Atlantic Airlines, Global Crossing Airline and Omni Air. For example, of the 36 removal flights to Haiti that happened in May of this year, 21 were on Swift Air/iAero charters, 6 were on World Atlantic Airlines, 6 were on Global Crossing, and 3 were Omni.

Deporting migrants and/or flying them between cities within the United States is the product of US policy and appropriations. ICE Air Operations is a public entity spending tax dollars to implement its program. And yet, like the for-profit immigrant detention industry, ICE Air operates with minimal accountability, and seems to require little from the corporations that implement their program.

The entire operational side of ICE Air is shrouded in secrecy. ICE Air Operations shares the average cost “per flight hour” on their website, for example, but it is almost impossible to find out what was actually paid for an individual flight, or to view the contracts between Classic Air Charters and its subcontractors. This is a problem, since ICE operational standards do not automatically apply to corporate contractors, unless specified in the contract. 

The result is a system in which the violation of civil and human rights is commonplace.

Human rights violations and the charter business

Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry identifies systemic violation of human rights that occur as a result of the way the United States government/ICE manages deporations. They include the denial of non-refoulement, torture, denial of due process, and double punishment. The companies that profit from deportation flights are thus implicated in the underlying systemic human rights violations that would not occur absent their complicity. In some cases, such as physical abuse and torture that occur during the flights, these companie are directly the agents of the violations.

The report makes clear that these companies, indeed using the very same planes, facilitate human rights violations, and then move the seats around in order to fly your daughter’s college volleyball team to a national tournament, or your favorite pro-team around the country. For example, consider this example of the violation of non-refoulement.

Image from Abuse in the Air report

Conclusions

All of our lives are implicated in the labyrinthine network of business relationships that make immigration enforcement profitable, and thus, so difficult to regulate. Who, at this point, has not ordered from Amazon, or watched a video on Prime? Amazon is part owner of the Air Transport Services Group, which manages Omni Air. Almost everybody has done business, as a consumer or partner, with a company financed by the Blackstone Group, which holds a majority stake in iAero, as well as dating apps, health service companies, and cyber security firms. 

All of these connections are mystified by secret deals, and layers of contractual relationships. Are you to blame for deportation violence because you watched the last season of Bosch on Freevee? No. But we can’t escape the fact that profits from these human rights violations are woven throughout our economy and we need to make ourselves more aware of this fact.  The authors write,

The secrecy that surrounds deportation flights have allowed too many of us to distance ourselves from the abuse funded with our tax dollars; understanding the connections between our government, air charter companies, and some of the most well known institutions in our midst may help us begin to unravel these knots, untangling our complicity in the practices that draw profit from migrants’ pain.

As the US government refuses to hold subcontractors responsible, and the carriers have no incentive to police themselves, it is up to all of us to speak out against this abuse. We think that sports teams, entertainers, and others who use private charters should also take a stand not to use the same companies that ICE contracts with, until there is an end to abuse on these planes. 

 

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Migration and Haiti News

IOM Figures, end of May 2022 report. The figure of 25,806 returned from the United States includes Coast Guard repatriations – in addition to flights.

There has been a brief, no doubt temporary, respite from the expulsion of people back to Haiti under Title 42 this week. There was one removal flight to Haiti on Tuesday, which seems to have been “regular” deportations (people removed under normal immigration processing authority, or Title 8). The temporary reprieve is possibly due to the Summit of the Americas taking place in Los Angeles, where a new regional compact on migration is supposed to be announced. Certainly there has been no public commitment from the Biden administration to slow or halt expulsions to Haiti (you can sign our petition demanding a moratorium on removals to Haiti here). In May, the Biden administration expelled over 4,000 Haitians on 36 flights.

The flight this Tuesday (June 7) was the Biden administration’s 268th expulsion flight to Haiti – 231 of which have taken place just since September 19, 2021 when the current wave of mass deportations began. Since September, over 24,000 Haitians have been expelled by air, including families . According to the International Organization on Migration’s office in Haiti, 20% of those expelled from the United States have been children. 

In addition to flights, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Haitians interdicted at sea. The US Coast Guard has captured and returned 5,300 Haitians since the beginning of the current fiscal year (October 1, 2021). As the Miami Herald notes, the actual numbers of Haitians leaving by boat is unknown, as the voyages are often deadly. Many of the people leaving by boat are not trying to come to the United States, but more often to neighboring Caribbean islands. One result is that expulsions from those destinations have increased as well. Cuba, for example, has returned 1,300 Haitians so far this year, the Bahamas, 1,600. 

At the US/Mexico border, confusion reigns. Title 42 is not ending soon. A federal court issued a temporary injunction against the Center for Disease Control and Prevention decision to end Title 42 two weeks ago. Title 42 will end eventually, of course, but it has become a political football, with state leaders using it to bludgeon Biden in courts, and Senate Republicans and some Democrats trying to force a vote on it as a precondition for passing COVID relief (though this strategy may now be on hold). The context here is the midterm elections, which also corresponds with gubernatorial races in many states – including Texas and Arizona.

New asylum processing rules were implemented by the Biden administration this week expanding the use of expedited removal. The new procedures are intended to speed up the process of making asylum decisions. There is deep concern that in doing so, the new rules will limit the ability of people to find representation and build their asylum cases. This means fewer approvals alongside an abbreviated appeals process. More than anything, however, the transition from Trump to Biden continues to be marred by mass confusion about what the rules actually are at the border. 

People from Haiti, and many other countries, are currently waiting in Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Juarez and other border cities confused about when or if to come into the United States. This week the dangers of this were magnified by the murder of a Haitian migrant in Tijuana and the death of another man who was unable to get medical treatment as he was having a heart attack.

Finally, as noted above, the Summit of the Americas is happening this week and there is to be a much anticipated announcement concerning new commitments toward collaboration on regional migration. The two pillars of this agreement seem to be 1.) searching for temporary working opportunities for migrants, and 2.) expanding enforcement throughout the region. As I am writing, the migration declaration has not been finalized, but is expected to include provisions to expand temporary work programs for Haitians in Canada.

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