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.
Flight Eastern 3503, taking Haitian refugees from El Paso to Port au Prince, Jan. 12, 2022
Twelve years ago today, a massive earthquake brought down buildings throughout the Port au Prince area, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing many more. As a result, January 12 is a national day of mourning in Haiti.
For the United States it is just another day to expel Haitian refugees – 443 Haitians were expelled today on three flights.
In September of this year, the Biden administration launched a massive removal campaign against Haitians. It is still going on. Many of those expelled in this time began their journey to seek a liveable life outside of Haiti in the months after that earthquake.
Between September 19, 2021 and January 12, 2022, the Biden administration has expelled 14,800 Haitian refugees on 137 flights. Most have been removed under Title 42.
For context, it is important to be very clear about the following: People who are seeking asylum are not “illegal” immigrants, and under US law, we are obligated to screen their asylum claims, no matter how they enter the country.
That said, the right to seek asylum has been illegally limited under Trump-era “Title 42” enforcement measures enacted by an ill-conceived pronouncement from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection in March 2020. Under “Title 42” the CDC claims that migrants can be removed as quickly as possible, with no access to asylum processing outside of a narrow provision under the Convention Against Torture. In reality, CAT screening is widely denied as well.
For the most part, Haitians cannot simply be expelled at the border under Title 42. They must be flown out. This means detention in congregant settings, ground transportation and flights – all of which make a complete mockery of the “public health” justification for upending asylum processing.
Title 42 is thus an abrogation of international obligations concerning the treatment of refugees, and is, prima facie, a violation of US law. And yet, Biden persists, and regarding Haitians, does so in a way that greatly increases the risks to their health.
Based on numerous reports we know people are put on planes by Immigration and Customs Enforcement without being told they are being sent to Haiti. Adults are often shackled during flights.
On the ground in the United States, immigration authorities treat Haitians horrendously. Haitians are detained, denied attorneys, and mostly denied the chance to make a formal request for asylum. Though the Biden administration has made some exceptions for families, it is not a uniform policy. Nearly 20% of those removed since September are children.
The International Organization for Migration is supposed to provide $120 to Haitians on arrival for relocation assistance – but this assistance is not consistently granted. Returnees are then processed and shown the door at the airport. People who left Haiti a month, a year, or even a decade ago, find themselves pushed onto the streets of Port au Prince at a time when insecurity is about as bad as anybody can remember.
We think this is wrong. If you agree, please join us in sending a message to members of Congress, asking them to speak out against removals to Haiti, and to Biden, demanding an end to all Title 42 removals.
On Monday, December 20, the Biden administration sent three removal flights back to Haiti, with over 340 people on them including 32 children. As we move into Christmas week the administration plans to send planes every day back to Haiti, except for Christmas eve. Since taking office, the Biden administration has removed over 14,000 people to Haiti; at least 11,100 since mid-September.
How can the Biden administration justify bringing together people to discuss the multifaceted problems in Haiti, acknowledging in the process the deteriorating security situation, and still deport thousands of Haitians back to Haiti – many of whom were never even given a chance to apply for asylum under the Biden administration’s ongoing enforcement of Title 42. The Miami Herald’s editorial board lifted up this contradiction (in an otherwise problematic call for UN intervention):
“When the Haitian gang, named 400 Mawozo, kidnapped 17 Christian missionaries in October, the United States warned Americans on the island to get out— now. All the while, the Biden administration was sending planeloads of Haitian migrants in the United States back to their violent homeland. The message? Haiti’s too dangerous for Americans, but it’s good enough for Haitians.”
Since Biden took office we have demanded that deportations be halted. We’ve been joined in doing so by hundreds of human rights and immigrant organizations, members of Congress, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the editorial boards of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe and others. Members of Biden’s State Department team have quit over this policy. And yet Biden persists under the delusion that somehow if the United States keeps being cruel to Haitians and others this will deter people from trying to come to the United States.
While it seems that just about everything has been tried already, we can’t stop demanding. If you would like to join in these efforts, and you can send a message to your member of Congress, encouraging them to speak out. And join in this petition to end Title 42 and the Biden administration’s renewal of the Migrant Protection Protocols. Share with friends.
On Tuesday, December 14 the Biden Administration sent two full removal flights to Haiti. These were the 94th and 95th such flights since Biden launched mass deportations to Haiti in mid-September. The deportations are ostensibly a response to an increase in the number of Haitians attempting to cross into the United States in September.
The September “crisis” was splashed across major media outlets with photos of 15,000 Haitians and others under a bridge between the Rio Grande and the Del Rio port of entry in Texas. At the time, Biden’s Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, claimed that 8,000 Haitians were immediately returned to Mexico. Since then, thousands more have been expelled: Beginning September 19 of this year, the Biden Administration removed over 10,000 Haitians from the United States in expulsion and deportation flights to Haiti. (IOM data as of Dec 12 here -there have been three flights since.)
Between January and March of 2021, the Biden administration expelled over 2,000 Haitians.
Human rights organizations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and several Members of Congress have denounced the removals, without demonstrable impact on the White House. Indeed, A DHS spokesperson said that, according to the US embassy in Port au Prince, the situation in Haiti has improved, and thus people could be safely returned.
This is untrue.
The security situation in Haiti has deteriorated significantly since July – with the assassination of Haiti’s president that month, and an explosion of gang activity since, especially kidnappings. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s most recent human rights report begins, “the government has continued to dismantle the country’s accountability systems, which has fueled unprecedented violence by gangs,2 many with government connections, as well as a continued deterioration of the social and economic conditions in the country.”
Added to this, a massive earthquake in the southern peninsula in August left close to 500,000 people without secure shelter. The violence has hampered recovery efforts. Food insecurity is on the rise, as are prices for nearly everything due to fuel shortages. Yet, Biden has seen fit to expel 10,000 refugees back to Haiti – even as the Civil Rights division of the Department of Homeland Security warned that doing so constitutes a violation of the US commitment of non-refoulement under international law.
To add insult to injury, The Biden Administration has utterly failed to deliver on its promise to assist the Government of Haiti and the International Organization on Migration’s efforts to receive people. The US delayed promised aid, leading the IOM to provide far less relocation assistance than earlier agreed upon. Most people received little more than the price of a bus ticket from the airport in Port au Prince or Cap Haitian to their home. Meanwhile, a massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement corporate partner, the GEO Group, cashed in with a $15.76 million contract to organize removal flights to Haiti in September and October.
Although Biden maintained a progressive immigration stance during the election, he has failed to assemble a progressive coalition on immigration during his presidency. Historically, the treatment of Haitians has been an indicator of the direction of future US immigration policy. This is true now as well.
The Biden Administration has also expanded removals to southern Mexico, alongside new direct expulsion flights to Honduras and Guatemala over the last two months. To be clear, these new flights are not regular deportation flights, but summary expulsions under Title 42. The United States has been expelling people from Central America and Mexico back into Mexico with minimal processing, and no opportunity to request asylum since March of 2020.
However, because many people try to re-enter the United States once expelled, the Biden Administration expels people by plane to get them as far from the border as possible. As with Haitian removals, expulsion flights to southern Mexico and Central America make a complete mockery of the public health dimension of Title 42 – under which the Centers for Disease Control and Protection directed the Department of Homeland Security to expel people immediately to avoid detention and processing in congregant settings. You can’t fly people out of the United States without first holding them in a staging area, e.g. “congregant setting” – exactly what Title 42 was supposed to avoid.
We invite you to join us in condemning ongoing removals to Haiti. You can send a message to your member of Congress asking them to raise their voice in opposition to Biden’s Haiti expulsion policy by using our Legislative platform here.
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
December 10, 2021 marks the 73rd anniversary of the formal approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly. The United States voted to approve the declaration in 1948 along with 47 of the then 58 members of the United Nations (there were eight abstentions, and two not-voting). The Universal Declaration was a bold claim that everyone on the planet was entitled to a core set of rights, regardless of where they lived. It was and remains a powerful vision. Yet it is one that is wholly unrealized in the lives of the vast majority of people on the planet.
One has to look no further than the United States treatment of Haitians and others at the US border with Mexico to get a glimpse of how far we are from realizing the vision of universal human rights.
Since January, the Biden administration has summarily expelled close to one million people. That is, one million people denied the right to make a claim of asylum under the provisions of a “public health” order issued by the Trump administration. The order is referred to as “Title 42” in reference to the section of the federal code under which the Center for Disease Control and Protection claimed authority to suspend asylum in March of 2020. It has been widely criticized by immigrant and human rights organizations, as well as public health professionals, including some in the CDC itself. Nevertheless Biden has maintained, and indeed expanded, the use of Title 42.
Under Title 42 people are immediately removed to the last country of transit. In theory, this applies to both Mexico or Canada, but there have been comparatively few Title 42 expulsions back into Canada (in FY 2021 there were 7,500 Title 42 expulsions on the northern border, compared to 1.1 million on the southern border). The public health rationale for this abrogation of international responsibilities rests on two things: The threat that COVID-19 holds for Border Patrol personnel if forced to monitor and process people in congregant settings, e.g. held in Border Patrol stations. And the related claim of a lack of capacity to safely quarantine and test people in custody (though testing is readily available now). (See page 11-16 in linked report)
As a result, migrants encountered by Border Patrol are summarily expelled – most within 2 hours of being encountered. The catch is that Mexico and Canada have to agree to take people back. Mexico agreed to accept Mexican nationals, and people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras when Title 42 was first announced. These four countries make up over 90% of the people encountered at the United States/Mexico border – but it leaves others, like folk from Haiti, in a legal limbo. Though some have been removed to Mexico anyway, most are detained in congregate settings within the United States, in a complete contradiction of the stated rationale for the policy, until they can be expelled by plane.
The public health argument has never really been the point, of course, and so the fact that the Department of Homeland Security fails to implement its own operating procedures when it comes to enforcing Title 42 is hardly surprising. Indeed, the Biden administration has also argued that Title 42 provides a needed deterrent to migration. The logic is that if people know they will be summarily expelled from the United States – they won’t attempt to come in. Deterring people from seeking refuge in one’s country by meting out harsh treatment to those who try is, of course, a violation of human rights.
The “shipwreck of civilization” at Del Rio and beyond
This week Pope Francis visited migrant camps in Greece. Against the backdrop of the official misery created by European xenophobia, he lambasted the region’s leaders for their poor treatment of migrants, and the political impulse used by nationalists throughout the continent to sow hatred and fear against refugees for political gain. He referred to this situation as the “shipwreck of civilization” and could have just as easily been talking about the United States. Though there are many parallels one could point to between Europe and the United States in their shared determination to offload responsibilities for migrants and deny refugees entrance, the Biden administration’s deployment of Title 42 against Haitians stands out as particularly relevant.
It was just in September that the Biden administration decided to use Haitians as a prime example of its deterrent strategy, basically tossing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a trash can in the process. When an unexpected (officially at least) increase in the number of Haitians seeking entrance into the United States occurred at the Del Rio border crossing in Texas in mid-September, the Biden administration launched a mass removal process that has led to the expulsion of over 9,000 Haitians back to Haiti (official IOM data as of November 26, 2021. There have been 6 flights since), and reportedly (at the time) another 8,000 back into Mexico – despite Mexico’s heretofore reluctance to accept Haitians under Title 42.
At the time, the administration claimed that there were a total of 30,000 migrants encountered in the Del Rio sector and that an “estimated” 12,000 were able to avail themselves of asylum protection. This is misleading. According to Border Patrol figures, just under 18,000 Haitians were encountered in September. Given the larger numbers discussed, I am assuming the 8,000 Haitians Mayorkas said were basically pushed back into Mexico in September are not counted in CBP’s official tally of “encounters” for that month. Either that, or Maryokas was simply guessing.
Over half of the 18,000 people officially encountered have been removed since mid-September – including thousands supposedly placed in Title 8, or regular immigration processing. Some Haitian families were able to avail themselves of asylum processing. However, it is clear that this was a delay tactic, as many have been expelled anyway. Indeed, nearly 20% of those removed to Haiti via plane have been children indicating a high number of family expulsions.
It is not safe to return people to Haiti. As the situation in Haiti continued to deteriorate over the summer, in August, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties warned the administration that returning Haitians to Haiti risked, “violating US civil and human rights obligations,” according to an internal document obtained by BuzzFeed News.
When the increase in Haitians arriving in Del Rio occurred a month later, however, all of these concerns were set aside.
Really, more of a plane wreck…
From mid-September to Monday, December 6, 2021, the Biden administration expelled nearly 10,000 Haitians back to Haiti on 90 removal flights (September 19 to December 7). In other words, in less than three months the administration has flown more flights to Haiti than any other country except Mexico and Guatemala. Meanwhile, Haitians made up less than 3% of all encounters with Border Patrol in FY 2021.
Hameed Aleaziz wrote in Buzzfeed News this week, “A DHS spokesperson said that following the earthquake in August, deportations of Haitians were suspended, but that after the embassy in Haiti determined that conditions had improved, they were restarted.”
It is hard to imagine anyone reviewing the situation in Haiti between July and August this year, and deciding conditions had improved. While I reject the way major media outlets continue to employ cartoonish language to describe Haiti in sensationalized terms (failed state, hell on earth, and so on), the security situation has clearly continued to deteriorate. Kidnappings have increased dramatically. The violence in Port au Prince neighborhoods like Martissant, sections of Delmas, and Croix de Bouquet, have led to the displacement of thousands of Haitians. As a result, outside of the capital the situation has worsened, leaving communities isolated and often unable to get needed supplies from Port-au-Prince.
The provision of resources “for the humane receipt” of individuals, amounted to a pledge of funds that was to provide $100 per person for relocation. However, the funds from the United States were late in arriving, and the International Organization on Migration, which was actually doing the work, was left scrambling for resources. People typically received far less than the pledged amount, often no more than the cost of a bus ticket home. For many of the people expelled in this way, it was the first time they had been in Haiti in years. Almost all of those expelled from Del Rio had arrived at the U.S. border via South America, where many Haitians resettled in the years since the massive earthquake in 2010.
Under such circumstances, it is not a surprise that many of those returned have reportedly already left again. The increase in the number of people leaving Haiti by boat in recent weeks seems an indication of this desperation.
Human rights debacle
The obscenity of the removal policy to Haiti – and its illegality – has been pointed out by many. Recently it directly led to the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, who wrote in his resignation letter:
I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal [sic] immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.
Removals to Haiti were also a contributing factor to the resignation of State Department legal counsel Harold Koh – who introduced his detailed resignation letter:
I write first, because I believe this Administration’s current implementation of the Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return (“refouler”) individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially migrants fleeing from Haiti.
Finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi issued a statement calling on the US to end Title 42 enforcement, saying,
The summary, mass expulsions of individuals currently underway under the Title 42 authority, without screening for protection needs, is inconsistent with international norms and may constitute refoulement.
The realization of universal human rights remains a principle worth fighting for. But in the United States over the last year, we can see why that realization still feels distant. Biden has doubled down on the Trump campaign against asylum – indeed for Haitians in particular, Biden has proven to be much worse. So, as the speeches are made this week, marking the anniversary, remember that we have a long way to go. Even the most basic right to seek refuge – a right of crucial importance to the framers of the Declaration writing in the wake of World War II – is widely being denied across the globe.
And the United States under president Biden still remains among the worst violators.
Join us in calling on the Biden administration to end MPP and Title 42, and restore asylum with respect to the human rights and dignity of all migrants by signing our petition HERE.
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.