Take Action: Courts push back against the Trump administration

Dreamers

The Supreme Court ruling against the Trump administration’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) has been well covered in the news. DACA offered protection from removal for “dreamers,” or people who arrived in this country as children but who are unauthorized. The ruling allows DACA to stand as policy, though there may well be further efforts to halt the program. The future of the policy largely lies with the upcoming election.

In addition to this landmark ruling there have been three other recent decisions to note. 

I. Children in Custody

In the first case, a federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release all of the children in its custody due to concerns about exposure to COVID-19. A huge victory, at least on the surface. The judge did not specify that parents must also be released. If ICE insists on holding parents, this could set up another family separation crisis. 

Immigrant children are held by the U.S. government through several agencies. Customs and Border Protection may hold unaccompanied children and families with children, usually for 72 hours or less, before making a determination to deport, release or transfer them. Currently, almost everybody picked up by CBP, including unaccompanied minors, are being deported immediately with almost no processing and no opportunity to seek asylum. 

Unaccompanied children, at least prior to the border closure in March, were typically transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they would be detained until a family member or community sponsor could be located. There are just over 1,000 children in ORR custody right now, a very small number by recent standards – mostly because new arrivals are simply being deported.

Families with children, at least those that are able to remain together, are typically transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains families in one of three facilities (two in Texas, one in Pennsylvania). These children are the focus of the judge’s order: “Citing recently reported coronavirus cases among detained families, as well as allegedly lax masking and social distancing enforcement at two family detention facilities in Texas, U.S. Judge Dolly Gee ordered ICE to release all minors who have been held for more than 20 days.”

The catch is that Gee does not have the authority to mandate the release of parents – her authority is directly tied to oversight of the Flores Settlement agreement that provides guidance for the treatment of children in custody. The choice is that ICE must either release the parents as well, or separate the families by placing children with community sponsors or other family members. Unless pressed to do otherwise, ICE will almost certainly try to continue detaining the parents – which means separating children from parents yet again. 

Members of Congress issued a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and ICE leadership asking that families be released together.

“Family separation should never be this country’s policy. Medical organizations have long stated that the practice creates extraordinary harm to children,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matthew Albence. “Detention of children for any amount of time, even with their parents, causes physical harm and irreparable trauma.”

ICE has until July 17 to release all of the children in custody.  Take a moment to sign our petition demanding that families be released together.

Sign the Petition!

II. Public Health Service Act

The next case involved a direct challenge to the administration’s authority to summarily expel children and asylum seekers under a Center of Disease Control policy that Trump has used to essentially shut the border down to everyone – including refugees and unaccompanied children. The ACLU, Oxfam and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies sued on behalf of a 16 year-old boy from Honduras and his father. From the ACLU’s release on the judges initial ruling in favor of the child:

A federal court has once again provisionally blocked the deportation of a Honduran boy in the first legal challenge to the Trump administration’s order restricting immigration at the border based on an unprecedented and unlawful invocation of the Public Health Service Act, located in Title 42 of the U.S. Code…

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols issued a ruling from the bench today prohibiting the removal of the boy under Title 42 protocols as the lawsuit continues. The judge agreed with the plaintiff’s central argument that the CDC had likely exceeded its authority in ordering the expulsion of children and asylum seekers under the public health laws. (emphasis added).

This case may establish the necessary precedent to bring an end to Trump’s border expulsions policy, which has so far led to over 40,000 people removed at the border without any due process. Though the ruling this week does not by itself do that – it is an important first step toward bringing this tragedy to an end.

III. Transit Ban

Finally, a court ruling on Tuesday will end – for the time being – the Trump administration’s efforts to close off asylum to anyone who transits a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border. The so-called “transit ban” had effectively ended asylum for anyone arriving at the U.S./Mexico border who was not a Mexican national. The transit ban was clearly intended to target Central American refugees, but ultimately impacted refugees from all over the world who travel through several countries in Latin America before arriving at the U.S. border. 

The case was brought by the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, and was focused on the administration’s violation of rule-making procedures and public notification requirements related to the transit-ban. The merits of the policy itself are also under judicial review in a separate case. In a communication to coalition partners, CAIR’s litigation director, Claudia Cubas, wrote:

In CAIR Coalition v Trump, Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee sitting on the federal bench in D.C., just vacated the third-country transit rule (the Administration’s asylum ban II barring asylum seekers who passed through third countries en route to the US without seeking asylum in other countries) in its entirety, based on the government’s failure to follow APA notice-and-comment.  The court also declined to stay its decision, so it goes into effect right away.

TAKE ACTION

These rulings are part of larger efforts to restore asylum policies in the United States. Toward that end, we encourage everyone to take part in Virtual Asylum Advocacy Days on July 14-16. The Asylum Working Group and Interfaith Immigration Coalition are organizing virtual legislative visits with your members of Congress. There will be a virtual training session to help prepare in advance. You can sign up here.

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The United States’ uncomfortable relationship to torture

Today, June 26, is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This year marks the 34th anniversary of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment coming into effect. 162 countries have ratified the Convention, including the United States. Nevertheless, the United States continues to engage in and justify torture.

The Convention defines torture:

“[T]he term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.” — Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984, art. 1, para.1) Emphasis added

Nils Melzer, who is the Special Rapporteur for this Convention, issued a report in 2018 which argued that states’ practices employed to deter migration constituted torture. As we noted then, Melzer’s description of the problem, though not directed at any one state, read like a synopsis of U.S. immigration policy:

In response to increasing numbers of…”irregular” migrants arriving at their borders, many States have initiated an escalating cycle of repression and deterrence designed to discourage new arrivals, and involving measures such as the criminalisation and detention of irregular migrants, the separation of family members, inadequate reception conditions and medical care, and the denial or excessive prolongation of status determination or habeas corpus proceedings, including expedited returns in the absence of such proceedings. Many States have even started to physically prevent irregular migrant arrivals, whether through border closures, fences, walls and other physical obstacles, through the externalisation of their borders and procedures, or through extra-territorial “pushback” and “pullback” operations, often in cooperation with other States or even non-State actors. (Melzer 2018, 4)

At the time we wrote about Melzer’s report, we emphasized detention as a method of torture. Detention is arbitrary in the sense that the vast majority of people are held under mandatory detention statutes that provide little space for individual assessment. Because detention is indefinite, people are under added stress, not knowing when they will get out. Conditions in immigrant detention facilities are horrible. Facilities still rely heavily on solitary confinement to manage behavior or punish non-compliance. They routinely neglect the health concerns of those detained, especially mental health concerns, with one result being that nearly half of the people who die in detention commit suicide. Facilities have been dragged into court for the use of forced labor. Above and beyond these factors, for many there is the added torture of separation from family members, including children.

In October of last year, Freedom for Immigrants issued a much more detailed report on detention:

This report focuses on the difficult-to-quantify qualities of immigration detention itself —the uncertainty, the fear, the isolation—and how they affect not only those detained, but also their families and community networks. We identify how systemic isolation plays out in the lived experiences of people impacted by this system and the ways in which people cope with it. The goal of this report is to strengthen community-based resources for resilience and resistance in the face of a purposefully cruel system.

Detention is a form of torture.  As a matter of policy and practice, the U.S. government intentionally makes people suffer while in formal custody in order to serve other objectives. This is torture. The maltreatment of people in detention cannot be dismissed as “incidental to lawful sanctions.” While one might argue that feelings of anxiety and depression are natural side effects of incarceration, one cannot seriously argue that prolonged use of solitary confinement, placing people in freezing rooms, denial of mental health services and other health services, poor food quality, and effective denial of contact with family, friends and even counsel, are incidental to lawful sanctions. Indeed, these practices contravene legal obligations for how people are to be treated.

Inside our borders, we torture every day. At the moment, in the context of a global pandemic, this torture takes on increased severity. People are literally fearing for their lives, as they watch others being held with them get sick. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has changed very little in terms of its practices, continuing to shift people around, deport them, and force them into hearings. In some cases, conditions have reached absurd levels of cruelty. At the Geo Group-managed ICE facility in Adelanto, California, for example, the company has been spraying harsh chemicals intended for outdoor use as the principal means of disinfecting the facility. They have continued this practice even after multiple reports have emerged that the chemical is making people sick – including coughing and sneezing blood. ICE has stood by the company.

All of this has been made worse over the last year and half as the Trump administration has shut down the border to asylum seekers. The administration has forced asylum seekers to wait for their asylum hearings in camps on the Mexico side of the border. The administration has denied people who transit a third country the ability to even seek asylum, unless they are denied in that country first. And, now the administration is sending people who do seek asylum back to Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras, to first seek asylum in one of the countries – even as the bulk of asylum seekers are fleeing conditions in one of those three countries.

Again, the administration’s response to COVID-19 has only made this situation worse. The United States is now summarily expelling everyone who crosses the border – over 40,000 people since mid-March, including children traveling alone – under an abusive CDC order intended to justify border controls. No one is being allowed a chance to even apply for asylum.

For too long, the United States has sought to legitimate a deterrence strategy that is, let’s be clear, a form of torture. We must call it what it is. As we commemorate the victims of torture, we would do well to consider all those who are incarcerated. We join in the call to #FreeThemAll and to #SaveAsylum. 

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“Toto” Constant back in Haiti and other updates, take action

Shada Demolition

On Monday, June 15 bulldozers razed the community of Shada II in Cap-Haitien, along Haiti’s northern coast. Close to 1,500 families lost their homes as a result. Apparently none were notified in advance of the destruction, nor were any compensated for the loss. This inexplicable act was officially carried out in retaliation for a gang assault that left a police officer and five other people dead days before – but this is either not at all true, or, at best, a very partial explanation. The largest gang in Shada is assumed to be politically aligned, and thus this may well have been in part retaliation. However, that hardly suffices as an explanation for putting 1,500 families out of their homes in the midst of a pandemic.

The organization SOIL has been working in Shada II since 2004 issued a statement about the demolition (full statement here):

At this critical moment in global history, when the world is grappling with the combined public health emergencies of COVID-19 and systemic racism, we feel it is critical that we call attention to human rights issues that impact the communities we serve. There are many unanswered questions about what happened in Shada II last week, and we urge human rights groups to investigate. At the same time, SOIL stands in solidarity with the thousands of innocent people who lost their homes and belongings, and we recommit our organization to sustained social change. True change demands that all stakeholders come to the table to shine a light on the injustices suffered by vulnerable communities caught in the crosshairs of larger political, economic, and social forces, particularly at a moment when the world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for compassionate ingenuity and proactive support to those most at risk. 

We will continue to report on this as more details unfold and the community regroups to decide what comes next.

Toto Constant is Back in Haiti

Emmanuel “Toto” Constant was deported from the United States to Haiti on Tuesday, June 23. Constant is the former leader of the FRAPH, a notorious paramilitary organization responsible for the deaths of thousands of people while the country was under military rule following the coup against Aristide in 1991.  Constant fled to the United States when Aristide was reinstated in 1995 where he remained until this week. Meanwhile, in Haiti, Constant was convicted in 2000 in absentia for his involvement in the massacre at Raboteau. Despite the conviction, Constant was allowed to remain in the United States. Early efforts to remove him stalled, and most assume he was being protected as a former CIA asset. However, he was later convicted of real estate fraud in New York and imprisoned. For many the hope was he would remain in prison. 

After serving 12 years of a 37 year sentence, Constant was released from prison and immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Reports that Constant was to be deported emerged in early May. Over the course of several weeks ICE would put Constant on a flight manifest, to later remove him. Constant was finally deported this Tuesday. What does this mean?

Constant was arrested upon his arrival under the 2000 conviction which still stands. However, Constant is entitled to a new trial. Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph (both of whom were involved in landmark human rights trials in the late 1990s that led to the 2000 conviction of Constant and others) published an op-ed in the Miami Herald that explains what is at stake.

A credible prosecution of Constant must respect both his rights and those of the Raboteau Massacre’s victims, who have official status in the case under Haiti’s “civil party” system. The victims are entitled to a robust prosecution that presents all the available evidence, as well as the right to notice of hearings, to participate in some of them and to appeal rulings that infringe on their rights. The original Raboteau trial is a good benchmark: It included expert testimony from international forensic and military experts, documents from the military archives and extensive victim and witness testimony.

The passage of time since Constant’s crimes in Haiti does not prevent his prosecution. His death squad’s murder and torture of civilians were both widespread and systematic, placing them squarely within the definition of crimes against humanity, so the statute of limitations cannot apply. Constant was convicted under a command responsibility theory, and the evidence was mostly documents, which are as credible as ever.

For now, the hope is that Constant remains in custody. He has many former political allies in positions of power under the current government -and should he be released, could wreak havoc. The U.S. has a role here. In 2000 the Clinton administration stalled releasing documents related to FRAPH activity that had been taken by US forces from FRAPH headquarters in 1995 during the operation to reinstate Aristide. Once documents were released they were heavily redacted. The U.S. must support requests for evidence this time around. 

Deportation flights continue…for now

As indicated by Toto Constant’s arrival in Haiti, deportation flights are continuing. We encourage everyone to continue to reach out to members of Congress and press for an end to these flights.

If you have not done so yet, you can send a message to your member of the House and ask them to support legislation to end deportations to Haiti. The Haiti Deportation Relief Act was introduced by Frederica Wilson and has the support of committee and subcommittee chairs on the Foreign Relations committee – which means it could get a hearing, committee vote and make it to the floor of the House if people show enough support. It clearly will have a hard time moving in the Senate – but we must press when and where we can!

In addition, the Quixote Center’s Executive Director, John Marchese, was one of 360+ human rights activists and other notables to sign a letter that was sent to the Department of Homeland Security and State Department, including the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, last week. The letter was organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. You can read that here. You can also then print this letter, and send it with a message to your members of Congress to end deportation flights! Find their address here.

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#FreeThemAll Campaign Update #3

Since early March we, and many others, have been calling for the release of people from prisons, jails and immigrant detention centers as a necessary step to stop the spread of COVID-19, and protect the lives of those incarcerated. During late March and April there were releases, largely of people in pre-trial detention in county jails and/ people at the end of their sentences, if they had been incarcerated for a non-violent offense. At the same time very few state prisons joined in releases, and the Federal system also largely failed to release people. 

The numbers now are truly horrific. As of June 9, the Marshall Project reports that 43,967 people who are incarcerated in state and federal prisons in this country have tested positive for COVID-19 – and only a handful of states have even begun wide-spread testing in prisons. That is an overall rate of close to 29 per 1,000.  States that have instigated wide spread testing regimes, such as Texas, have double this rate or more. New Jersey has the highest rate at 135 cases per 1,000. 

522 people have died of COVID-19 in prison since the beginning of the outbreak.

In addition, there have been 9,180 cases of prison staff with COVID-19 and 38 deaths.

The Marshall Project breaks down the data by each state. You can review their reports here.


In immigrant detention centers, the total number of people being held has fallen off dramatically – from 38,000 in mid-March to just over 24,000 today. However, the driving force behind this fall in detentions is not releases but deportations. While advocates have been successful in getting humanitarian releases for individual clients, it has been quite a battle, as ICE has fought every effort in the courts. ICE has also continued its process of transferring people within its detention network, which has accelerated the spread of the disease. Meanwhile, deportations have continued, and include documented deportations of people with COVID-19 to Mexico, Jamaica, India, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and Haiti, with concerns about deportations to Brazil and Ecuador as well. 

ICE has been reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19 among people incarcerated in their detention network since April, but recently changed the format of these reports. They also reported an inexplicable increase in the number of people tested over two days by 1,800, with no parallel increase in cases. That said, according to official data, of the 5,096 people tested, 2,016 have tested positive (as of June 5). Almost 1,000 are still in custody. ICE only reports 2 deaths in custody, but we’ve reported on three, and frankly, people released and/or deported are not tracked. Which is to say, I don’t believe their reporting on this at all.

Conditions inside immigrant detention centers and prisons remain horrible. Among the more outlandish cases of gross inhumanity, is the GEO Group’s spraying of chemical disinfectants intended for outdoor use inside Adelanto Detention Facility. On May 21, Freedom for Immigrants reported jointly with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice that dozens of people have been made sick by the use of this disinfectant  – but the company has not (as of this writing, to my knowledge) changed its practice. ICE, for its part, has simply backed the company, saying any suggestion they are using the chemical inappropriately is a lie.

Check out the FreeThemAll campaign and follow for further updates and actions.

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Black Lives Matter

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black people by police officers and racist vigilantes attest the need for systemic change and solidarity in the fight for justice and equity for Black communities. The Quixote Center stands in solidarity and friendship with Black communities and the Black Lives Matter movement.  

As a multi-issue social justice organization, the Quixote Center aims to bring about lasting systemic change. Confronting racial injustice in the United States and elsewhere requires action that undercuts the material bases of oppression. We call for and support campaigns that seek to defund police departments, eliminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement, end the detention of migrants and seek the abolition of prisons. Funds used to police and incarcerate should instead be directed toward building sustainable communities. 

We support in an unqualified way the right of those who are engaged in protest actions in response to injustice, particularly racism, at this time. The harm to human life, disproportionately to the Black community, brought about by state violence and persistent institutional racism, must end. 

For those who are unable or do not feel it would be prudent to participate in mass mobilizations at this time for health reasons – particularly in light of the global pandemic – there are other ways to support the cause of racial justice.  

    • For those who would like to learn more about anti-racism work, you can start here.
    • For those who want to get engaged in movement activities, the Movement for Black Lives has a list of ideas for actions, coded for degrees of risk, connected to themes that have animated the ongoing week of action.
    • For those who want to support protesters in the streets from their homes, here are some ideas.
    • For those who want to donate to black-led organizations working directly on questions of racial justice, here are just a few to get started:
      • Black Lives Matter– Founded in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, BLM is an international organization whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities. 
      • Minnesota Freedom Fund– Community-based nonprofit that pays criminal bail & immigration bonds for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality. 
      • Movement for Black Lives – created as a space for Black organizations across the country to debate and discuss the current political conditions, develop shared assessments of what political interventions were necessary in order to achieve key policy, cultural and political wins, convene organizational leadership in order to debate and co-create a shared movement wide strategy.
      • Black Visions Collective– A black, trans & queer-led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression & violence, & shifting the public narrative to create transformative long-term change. 
      • Campaign Zero– online platform & organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.
    •  

Printable version of statement

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Can you shame the shameless?


In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.  Stokely Carmichael

Last week the United States government deported 150 people to India, among them were 76 people from Haryana State. Upon arrival 22 of those people tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday of this week, the United States deported 30 people to Haiti. Eight of those people tested positive while in detention in the U.S. in late April or early May. None of them had been retested before being put on a flight. As I write now, those deported are being quarantined and retested in Haiti – where access to tests is in short supply. 

On Sunday, May 24 Santiago Baten-Oxlaj died after being detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. He was the third person to die in the last three weeks with COVID-19.  Like the other two to die, Oscar López Acosta, and Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, he was facing “criminal removal,” meaning he had committed a crime in the United States, completed a sentence in a U.S. jail or prison for that crime, and was then picked up by ICE to be deported. The “crimes” that led to months-long detention, and ultimately death for these three men, were a conviction for drunk driving, years old drug possession charges, and crossing the border without papers for a second time. Certainly, they had done nothing to warrant a death sentence, which the 25,911 people in detention as of May 23rd are now facing. They should all, I repeat, ALL, be released to shelter in place with family. For those who don’t have family, there are community sponsors lined up to assist. This must be done now. We’re basically out of time.

ICE has tested about 10% of the people in custody – 52% of those tested, 1,392 people as of May 29, have tested positive. Despite months of warning, ICE has done next to nothing to change its procedures. They have provided almost no protective equipment. Indeed, two men working for a private contractor in a Monroe, Louisiana facility, where staff were told not to wear face masks, are now dead. ICE has continued to move people around from facility to facility within the United States. Even those they know have COVID-19. They have continued to deport people – from these facilities, to countries around the world. 

In the process, ICE is confirmed to have deported people with COVID-19 to Haiti, Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, India and Guatemala. ICE has very likely sent people with coronavirus to Ecuador, Brazil, Honduras and El Salvador, as well, and possibly even Nicaragua, which sees very few deportations, but did have a flight last week that originated from the Alexandria, Louisiana Staging Facility – the site of the worst staff COVID-19 outbreak in the system.  ICE has done such a bad job at containing the virus within its detention facilities, that it is becoming impossible for them to put together a flight without people who have been exposed. They are supposedly testing more under pressure from recipient countries, but can’t even do that right. In the last two weeks, ten people arrived in Guatemala with COVID-19 on deportation flights after ICE assured the government that all had been tested. This was at least the fourth deportation flight to Guatemala that included people testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival. The president of Guatemala suspended flights from the U.S. for the third time last week, and was, for the first time, publicly critical of the U.S. government for showing such disrespect to his country.

The next day, the United States deported 25 children to Guatemala anyway. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement was already a pretty unpopular agency before COVID-19. Thus far, in the context of a global pandemic, ICE has conducted itself with a “callous indifference” to the conditions of the people in its custody. It is not a secret, of course, and so, ICE’s non-handling of containment related to COVID-19, the deaths in custody, and the absurdity of not just deporting people, but strong arming governments critical of the practice, have all resulted in criticisms far and wide. From members of Congress, to the editorial boards of major newspapers and foreign leaders  – people have spoken out to halt deportations and drastically reduce the number of people in detention. Nothing has changed. 

As the quote above suggests, it is nearly impossible to tweak the conscience of people who have none. That is the situation we are facing with immigration enforcement in this country. The people responsible are indifferent to the consequences of their practices. Checks and balances are not working. The administration simply refuses to answer questions, or lies to Congress with impunity. Federal courts are the one venue where practices have been challenged successfully, but upon appeal, the Supreme Court has sided with the Trump administration more often than not.

So, how to shame the shameless?

You can’t. You can’t reason with people who have constructed a highly profitable immigration gulag out of lies and misinformation. And you can’t stop them from putting all of our lives at risk by failing to enforce the most basic health precautions against COVID-19. They do not care. 

What can we do? We can out maneuver them. First, while the national scene seems hopeless, at the local level people are winning fights, getting people released, and moving local, county and even state governments to push back against the ICE enforcement machine. The people in power in D.C. will not be there forever, and to dismantle what they have wrought we will need a vocal constituency to keep up the pressure once they are gone. Local action builds that national constituency one campaign at a time. Check out the #FreeThemAll campaign for connections.

Second, there is the creation of a parallel infrastructure. There now exists an expansive ecosystem of support for migrant communities in this country – from a national network of community bail funds, to shelters, to sanctuary churches and sanctuary cities providing a wide range of services. The government cannot really touch these things. The folks in the White House can complain, demonize and misinform, and curtail state support where it exists. But they can’t stop this process. 

Finally, in all of this work there are efforts to build out. The immigration rights movement is significant – and has grown tremendously as a result of Trump’s all out war against immigrants. That said, we can’t win alone. In freeing people from detention, we build common cause with the prison abolition movement. In organizing to support immigrant workers fighting wage theft and abuse in the workplace, we reach out to labor organizers. Together we all can fight climate change – a major driver behind forced displacement, and we must speak out against the brutality of war and our government’s foreign policy more generally that contributes to forced displacement and bankrupts us here at home. 

I don’t honestly care one bit what Trump thinks at night when alone, or whether he regrets the cruelty he has sought to normalize for political gain. I doubt such self-reflection is possible for him. What keeps me up at night is thinking about how to make his point of view irrelevant.  We might not find a conscience there to tweak, but we do outnumber them. Let’s not ever forget that and work together to make the world we want to see.

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Invisible enemies, immigration policy, and the language of oppression

Imagine from Swarthmore Phoenix

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ~George Orwell

In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. ~Donald Trump, April 20, 2020

I read the news today, oh boy. ~John Lennon


In 1946, George Orwell wrote the essay “Politics and the English Language.” Of particular concern in this essay was what Orwell portrayed as a general decline in the English language, evident in the use of unimaginative metaphors, pretentious diction, extraneous verbs and other operators, and, finally, what he simply calls the use of “meaningless” words. Orwell argues that the general decline in language is both a cause and effect of environmental factors. In his words, language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

Orwell’s particular target was political language, which is constantly deployed to “defend the indefensible.” He writes, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.”  

The manner in which language is used to conceal more than to reveal in the hands of politicians, political commentators and even politically engaged “everyday people” was hardly a new concern, even in 1946. Whether the English language has suffered a general decline is not precisely an empirical question, of course, but if we agree that political language was in a sorry state of affairs in 1946, abused as it was to deflect attention away from the brutality of war and conquest, it is not a huge leap to suggest the language of politics has continued to devolve. Political language has become inherently untruthful. Indeed, we hardly expect honesty at all from our political class any more (beyond what can be defended from our own “standpoint”). The result is brutality, which if commented on at all, is veiled in lies. 

The Invisible Enemy

The segue from this general observation to the Trump administration is not a difficult one. Trump is known to lie pretty much continuously. When he tries to tell a version of the truth, he is often wrong, or minimally, confused about the details. And yet, his administration has been the fulcrum employed to engineer a massive redistribution of wealth – to the wealthy – while gutting every regulatory regime that existed prior to January of 2017. Alongside these activities, his administration has employed a hyper-nationalistic narrative to turn an already brutal immigration system into one of abject cruelty. This brutality has evolved over the years behind consistent use of terms like “criminal alien” and “illegals” (one hardly needs to ask who “illegal” refers to anymore). Justified by this rhetorical twist that turns migration into a crime, the United States has built the largest immigration jail network in the world. Most of the people trapped in this system have committed no crimes, of course, but the language of criminality works here as it works in domestic “criminal” justice to dehumanize.

This network of immigrant jails and the mechanics of removal enfolds otherwise disparate institutions and interests, from thousands of private companies to dozens of county and local police agencies, alongside the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country, into a constituency with a material commitment to maintaining the detention and deportation machine. If there is any doubt about this publicly-funded commitment to profit from the pain of migrants, one need merely look at how the last two months have played out. From the standpoint of reason and public health, detention centers would have been cleared and deportations halted. Border controls, unavoidable in such times, would have been crafted in a way that maximized the provision of health services to migrants (and all of us!) — as it is no one’s human interest to leave people uncared for in the face of a pandemic that is indifferent to the borders we draw around our otherwise imagined communities.

But Trump is not operating from the standpoint of reason nor concern for public health. Unable to even say COVID-19, Trump’s team has sacrificed thousands in order to capitalize on brutality in the fight against the “invisible enemy.” Since early March, the Trump administration has fought against humanitarian releases from detention facilities, has continued to deport thousands of people from those detention facilities to countries around the world, and has engineered a public health crisis at the U.S./Mexico border out of sheer indifference to the human suffering these policies mean for tens of thousands of people. 

“Committed to Health and Welfare”

On Sunday, May 17, 2020, Choung Woong Ahn took his own life at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, California. Ahn was 74 years old and a diabetic. ICE had refused to release Ahn on bond after multiple appeals from family and attorneys since the time he was taken into custody in February. Ahn was a permanent resident. He had been convicted of attempted murder in 2013 and was taken into custody by ICE after he had completed his sentence earlier this year. Given his age and health conditions, there seems little reason to have kept him detained. His crime made him deportable, but he had already served his sentence. If he were a U.S. citizen, he would simply have been sent home. Had he been permitted bond, and allowed to wait for his hearing with family members, he would still be alive.

In the press release announcing the death of Choung Woong Ahn, ICE included this statement: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody.” If this was remotely true, the people in ICE’s custody would mostly be released. Certainly, they would have been released in the face of a global pandemic. ICE, when pressed, will claim that immigrant detention is civil detention and not intended to be punitive. This is true – legally speaking. And yet behind the prison walls where ICE detains people, those people are brutalized, emotionally scarred, physically scarred and in too many cases, whatever the ultimate outcome of their cases, suffer what will become lifelong trauma as a result. Many take their own lives. Ahn was not the first to do so this year. And sadly, he won’t be the last. We can expect such human losses until the detention machine is shut down.

Overall, Ahn was the eleventh person to die in ICE custody since the fiscal year began on October 1, 2019, and the third person this month. This is the highest annual total of deaths in ICE custody in a long time, and we are only half-way through the year. As a sign that things are about to get far worse, the other two deaths in May were due to COVID-19. As of May 19, ICE reported that 1,145 people in custody have tested positive for COVID-19. Since ICE has only tested 2,194 of the 26,660 people currently being held, the actual number is surely much higher. 

The first person to die in ICE custody as a result of COVID-19 was Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejía. Carlos was born in El Salvador and he fled that country as a child with his mother and sister after his brother was killed during the civil war in 1980. He had lived in the United States for 40 years. Like many people who live in the shadow of trauma, Carlos struggled with addiction and one result was a number of arrests for possession and a DUI. For these offenses, he served sentences like anyone else, and yet, under Clinton-era laws, the convictions made him deportable. With a removal order in place, Carlos was placed in detention at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility after being stopped at a check-point by Border Patrol in January of this year. Carlos also had diabetes severe enough that an injury to one of his feet several years ago led to its amputation. In a wheelchair, diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes, he should have never been detained at all while awaiting his hearings — and certainly should have been released with humanitarian parole once the threat of COVID-19 was apparent. Instead, he was incarcerated. He contracted COVID-19 in detention and died on May 6 after being transferred to a medical facility for treatment.

After forcing Carlos into detention, delaying testing and treatment for COVID-19 until he was very ill, (and in the process exposing many of the people detained with him to the disease as well), ICE also wrote in the release about his death, “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody.”  ICE’s expressed concern for the people in its custody has to be set alongside the tomes of affidavits, reports and inspector general findings that testify to the contrary. Against this wealth of evidence of abuse, denial and/or serious delay in the provision of health services, ICE’s boilerplate expressions of commitment ring hollow. More importantly, what this means is that ICE was unprepared for COVID-19, and, per its track record in dealing with other outbreaks of communicable diseases, ICE has altered its operations only minimally in response to the crisis. For example, in a May 14 letter to ICE director Matthew Albence, congressional leaders wanted to know why…

At the Otay Mesa facility, Marciela Ortiz was assigned with 15 other women to begin working in the kitchen, the same workspace where another detainee had tested positive for the virus. Within days, Ms. Ortiz and other women on the kitchen detail began experiencing coronavirus symptoms. When Ms. Ortiz sought help, she was told to walk around and take a shower. Ms. Ortiz and others with symptoms were left in the general population rather than being isolated. Ms. Ortiz was not able to get tested for coronavirus until after she was released on bond. She tested positive.

Members of the House Oversight and Civil Rights committees have written three letters to Albence demanding answers about scenarios like this since April. They are still waiting. Meanwhile, people keep getting sick.

Óscar López Acosta was born in Honduras. He had been charged for irregular re-entry, having crossed the border after being deported in 2009 and again in 2012. Rather than simply plead out, however, Óscar fought the charge and was held in pre-trial detention for months. In May of 2019, he was released from federal prison after a judge sentenced him to time served for the re-entry charge. Rather than get released, however, he was transferred back into ICE custody, where he remained for another year. On April 24 of this year, after it was confirmed that another person detained with him (and dozens of other people) had tested positive for COVID-19, he was released from Morrow County Jail. Oscar himself tested positive on May 3, and died of complications from the disease on May 17. He should have never been detained. Óscar López Acosta also had diabetes, and ICE knew this. During his trial for irregular re-entry in January of 2019, he went into diabetic shock after jailers forgot to give him his insulin injection. There was no purpose to his detention to begin with, and given his risk factors, he should have certainly been released much sooner. Now he is dead. 

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled in Fraihat v ICE, that ICE must undertake a mandatory review of everyone in its custody that is at high risk if exposed to COVID-19 and release more people. In making this ruling, the judge noted that ICE had utterly failed to adopt practices consistent with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He wrote that ICE’s “systemwide inaction” has “likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing” of ICE detainees. It is worth noting that two guards, Carl Lenard and Stanton Johnson, are also among those who have died after contracting Covid-19 in ICE detention facilities. Both worked for Lasalle Corrections at the Richwood facility in Monroe, Louisiana. They, and others working in the facility, had been directed not to wear face masks.

Throughout this system of detention facilities ICE claims 44 people who work for them are confirmed positive for COVID-19. However, ICE does not report on the people employed by contractors. Carl Lenard and Stanton Johnson were never included in this count. So, again, ICE is engaged in spreading serious misinformation about conditions in detention facilities. Of the cases ICE will claim, the facility with the worst outbreak among staff is in Alexandria, Louisiana. This facility is one of several staging facilities used by ICE Air Operations for deportation flights. 15 people have been confirmed positive at this facility. 

Protection?

Over 100 people who have been deported through the same facility over the last month have tested positive once they returned home to Guatemala, Haiti, and Colombia. They may or may not have contracted the disease in Alexandria. They could have gotten it anywhere in ICE’s network of detention facilities. Why? Because ICE continues to transfer people within its network, carelessly spreading the disease by taking people from facilities with high infection rates and transferring them to facilities where there were none. For example, an outbreak at Prairieland, Texas was traced back to a transfer of people from hard hit detention facilities in the Northeast. When ICE was told by a federal judge to reduce crowding in facilities in South Florida – they simply transferred people. The result was an increase in cases at the Broward Transitional Facility from 3 confirmed to 19 over the weekend. All 16 of the new cases were among people transferred from the Krome detention center in Miami.

Under such conditions, ICE’s decision to continue with deportations demonstrates the “callous indifference” with which it views not only the people in custody but the communities from which they originate. The number of people held in ICE detention facilities has fallen from just over 38,000 in March to 26,660 as of May 16. Most of this decline is the result of continuing deportations while book-ins to ICE facilities have fallen off. In March, 20,000 people were booked into ICE detention facilities as a result of border arrests and internal removal operations. That fell to 8,500 in April, and 3,900 through the first half of May. Humanitarian releases have been relatively few and far between, as ICE has fought every effort in court to gain release of people. At the same time, ICE has continued to deport thousands of people.

Using flight information retrieved from FlightAware’s database, Jake Johnston with the Center for Economic and Policy Research has documented 273 likely deportation flights to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean since February 3, 2020. While the pace of flights has slowed somewhat over this time period compared to recent years, it is still an astounding number. Almost all of the destination airports for ICE charters are otherwise closed to international commercial flights, as countries seek to restrict travel and contain the spread of COVID-19. The efforts of governments in Guatemala and Haiti, in particular, to stop deportation flights after people have arrived testing positive, have only resulted in vague promises from ICE that they will be more careful, and pressure from the Trump administration, which threatened to sanction any country that refuses to accept deportation flights. And so ICE’s “callous indifference” to the people in its custody is now the world’s problem as well.

In addition to these deportation flights, 21,000 migrants have been pushed out of the United States into Mexico since mid-March as the Trump administration has used its war against the “invisible enemy” to shut the border. In reality, Trump’s administration has been trying to shut the border to asylum seekers and other immigrants since he took office. Currently, under the guise of a CDC order on restricting border crossings, people seeking asylum at the southern border are denied any hearing. They are simply deported back to Mexico. Many of those from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are then picked up by Mexico’s immigration authorities, and bused to Mexico’s southern border. There they may be detained, deported, or released with temporary papers. The CDC order that Trump is using to justify this policy was extended indefinitely on May 19. 

Others so removed join the tens of thousands of refugees already crowded into towns along the Mexico-U.S. border who have been waiting, in some cases over a year, for a chance to have their asylum cases heard by a U.S. immigration judge. The hearings they are waiting for have been suspended. The people jammed into border camps, overcrowded shelters, or scratching out a living in the streets of Tijuana, Matamoros and Ciudad Juarez are the unfortunate “beneficiaries” of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols.

The impact of this policy has already been devastating. 57,000 people forcibly returned to Mexico over the last year to wait, with only a handful receiving asylum through immigration hearings that are a farce. With the border closure and summary expulsion of asylum seekers and others, the situation becomes more overcrowded, unhealthy and uncertain. This week, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune released a report on the impact of these border policies on children. The opening story is of two sisters, ages 8 and 11, who crossed the border at Brownsville after their father disappeared in Matamoros. The family had been waiting for a year for their hearing under the MPP. Instead of reuniting the girls with their mother, who is living in the US, they were held for two months by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, at which point ICE declared their intent to deport them back to El Salvador. As the result of a last-minute appeal, they were reunited with their mother, and are allowed to stay…for now. Other kids have not been so lucky. 1,000 unaccompanied minors have been summarily expelled at the border under the CDC order since mid-March. 

“All I want is the truth”

The Trump administration’s approach to COVID-19 has clearly been to deflect attention and thus responsibility for its own very botched efforts to take the looming crisis seriously back in January and February, when concerted actions might have made a huge difference. In deflecting blame, Trump has rolled out a whole barrage of nonsense, from endorsing conspiracy theories, to popping hydroxychloroquine, to blaming China and Obama. Accompanying the nonsense has been a quieter war on people whose only “crime” is being non-citizens of the United States. On the frontlines of this war, people are also dying. 

While the United States will struggle, perhaps for years, to reverse the damage done by the last two months of crisis, there are fairly simple and reasonable things that can be done today: Allow people to leave detention facilities in this country, reinstate asylum at the border, accompanied by health screening and care, and stop deportations. Aside from boosting capacity to screen and care for people at the border, none of these things really cost money. Indeed, a moratorium on detentions and deportations would save millions. More importantly, these steps would save lives and reduce the chances of infections for everyone.


Get involved

There are efforts afoot to address all of this. We are facing an uphill battle to be sure, but you can weigh in and get involved. Here are a few of the efforts that are already under way: 

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Food Insecurity and Emergency Fund for Gros Morne

Source: World Food Program Global Report 2020, pg. 104

The world is facing a global hunger crisis of “biblical” proportions, at least that was the headline for CNN’s report on the looming impact of coronavirus on food supply chains and health systems around the world. Does biblical mean really bad? Or huge? Or end of times? Not clear. But certainly the point was global hunger was about to spike. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the world was facing a crisis of maybe pre-biblical proportions – or more Hebrew Scriptures than Revelations-level stuff. The World Food Program’s report for the coming year initially identified nearly 130 million people facing a crisis level or worse for insecurity around the globe – meaning they either did not have enough food, or could only eat by foregoing other necessities. These pre-COVID numbers were modified upwards as borders began to shut and economies slowed. The World Food Program in essence, doubled its estimate of people facing crisis level food shortages, with the risk of perhaps 36 countries seeing famine for some of their people. Currently there are 10 countries in the world where more than a million people are at crisis levels of food insecurity, and thus on the brink of falling into widespread famine.

Haiti is one of them.

The World Food Program tracks crises across different levels of food insecurity. From Phase 1 (None, or minimal) to Phase 5 (Famine). As the map above shows, almost all of Haiti’s departments are at Phase 3 (Crisis). As noted, this means there is either not enough food, or people can only eat enough if they forego other necessities. Across the country 2.6 million people are at this level. Another 1.1 million people are facing Phase 4, or emergency levels of food insecurity, meaning there are large gaps in meeting daily requirements that are reflected in wide spread malnutrition. In total, then 3.7 million people are at crisis level of higher.

Another 3.2 million people are at Phase 2 – or stressed, meaning households are barely finding enough to eat. The households at Phase 2 are at high risk of sliding into Phase 3 as the economy slows and food prices increase.

All of which means, in Haiti, 35% of households are currently facing crisis levels of food insecurity, or worse and the prospect of that number reaching 65% amidst the economic contraction associated with COVID-19 is very high. This would, of course, also mean that people currently facing more extreme shortages will see their situation worsen. Famine is a very real possibility in parts of the country.

The roots of this crisis run deep. It is widely understood that the current food crisis in Haiti rests on historical factors, from the re-engineering of Haiti’s economy as an agro-export platform under the U.S. occupation 100 years ago, to the dismantling of protections for domestic food production in the late 1990s, to the recent collapse of their currency, the Haitian gourde, and spikes in fuel prices. Another collapse, that of the rural economy in Haiti, contributed to the movement of people to increasingly crowded and under serviced cities, thus magnifying the tragedy of the earthquake in 2010 and other disasters. The point is that these deep structural changes have reshaped Haiti and will not be transformed any time soon. Though, perhaps, as the current crisis unveils the global forces undermining food security, world leaders will take it more seriously in Haiti and elsewhere. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the primary countervailing force has been the organization of people in rural areas seeking to find sustainable pathways out of the crisis. The combined efforts of peasant associations, rural workers, reforestation initiatives and youth organizing are laying the foundation for a different kind of rural ecology. 

Our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is one small part of this nationwide effort. You can explore the map below to get a sense of the scope of the program.

In the coming week we are making a special appeal to support an emergency fund that will support the purchase of seeds to disseminate to small farmers in the region. The program already runs a seed bank. Our goal is to boost supplies for the seed bank so that the team can expand efforts to deliver seeds for low or no cost as soon as the spring rains begin. Planting now, means more food in three months. You can join in this effort by making a donation here

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Nicaragua in times of coronavirus: Amazement and suspicion

 Below we share a reflection on COVID-19 in Nicaragua. The country has seen very few confirmed cases compared to other countries in the region. While opposition figures have simply said the government is lying about the numbers, this hardly explains the difference – which goes far beyond anything the government could actually hide if it wanted to. So understanding what is happening in Nicaragua is very important. 

Magda Lanuza has been an activist and friend of the Quixote Center for many years. She regularly works in Nicaragua, but is currently in El Salvador where she penned this reflection earlier this week. The oriignal in Spanish can be read here.

by Magda Lanuza in San Salvador, El Salvador, April 18, 2020

What’s going on in Nicaragua? For some, it is interesting, scandalous and impossible that the country only has 9 reported cases as of April 18, when there are already countries in the region that outpace it, such as 640 in Costa Rica. In what follows, I will explain nine differences that make what is happening in this country distinct from what is happening in the Central American region. This is not the time to take advantage of the situation and discredit political rivals, to make apocalyptic messages, or to announce miraculous remedies or recipes for cleansing and magical eating. One should keep a level head as they read this story, which will be written for centuries to come.

  1. Massive vaccination campaigns: The country has focused on preventive health for the past 40 years. In the 1980s, the tuberculosis vaccine – BCG – became widespread. Then in the last 10 years influenza vaccinations have become widespread, giving priority to the elderly. Meanwhile, in Honduras and Guatemala, the health system is semi-privatized and no longer supports the needs of the general populace. Prevention is better than medicine, and in health it pays double!
  2. Public health system: In the last 12 years, 17 new hospitals have been built, for a total of 73 public hospitals available to 6.5 million inhabitants. In addition, there are 143 Health Centers equipped for patient observation and treatment, and 1,333 health posts. All of our health systems suffer from limitations, but in Nicaragua, public investment in public health is not negligible!
  3. Organized and informed communities: No other country in the Central American region has the information network and training with Health Brigade members that exists in Nicaragua. There are 5,806 community health centers. From these sites, communication with health authorities is received and distributed, reaching the farthest corners of the country. “ATTENTION, if you came to our Municipality you must isolate yourself for 14 days!” So say the posters that these brigades deliver and carry in recent months.
  4. There are no deportations from the United States: Despite having the airports closed and making constant requests to stop deportations, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have not stopped receiving chartered flights every day. These brothers and sisters arrive in precarious health conditions from the center of the pandemic (more than 700,000 cases and 37,309 deaths). The Guatemalan Minister of Health stated that between 50% and 75% have arrived positive. Nicaragua today does not have this problem either!
  5. Isolation since April 2018: Since the attempted coup in April 2018, the nascent tourist industry collapsed. We can still find on the web pages of northern embassies warning their citizens not to travel to this country. There are no flights from Iberia, British Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia, KLM, or Air France, such as one finds in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Managua International Airport already had very few flights before COVID-19!
  6. 6. Strict controls for passengers and travelers: The Nicaraguan Army has dedicated itself to controlling the blind spots on both borders. Those who arrived via the airport are checked, and they are sent to social isolation and follow-up in their own homes. El Salvador, when it still had no cases, forced hundreds of people to remain in confinement centers in a single location. This measure of 30 and up to 45 days of compulsory confinement has been questioned because it is not recommended by the WHO / PAHO. The overcrowding in these centers may have contributed to the increase in imported cases (190 today). The strategies devised in each case will yield its own results!
  7. Tourism industry almost null: Guatemala has nearly 2.5 million tourists to year, while Nicaragua had only reached 1.7 million in 2017. In Costa Rica, tourism totaled 6.3% of GDP, while in Nicaragua, it barely reached 5% prior to April 2018. The Nicaraguan tourist industry went from receiving $840.5 million for tourism in 2017 to $544.4 million in 2018, according to official data. The virus likes to travel and they call the cases “imported”!
  8. Extensive territory versus population density. Nicaragua is the largest country by area in the region with 130,700 sq km and has the smallest population in the entire region with only 20 inhabitants per sq km. With almost 43% living in rural areas, compared to El Salvador which has 326 inhabitants per sq km, and Costa Rica with only 25% of its population in rural areas. The space is enviable and healthy!
  9. Closure of airports and borders of neighboring countries: Guatemala closed off flights on March 17. Costa Rica closed its borders (no flights) on March 19. Honduras closed its borders on March 16 (no flights) and El Salvador closed off flights on March 18. Meanwhile, COPA Airlines and AVIANCA, almost the only airlines that arrive in Managua, have suspended all their flights since mid-March. Nicaragua has already been quarantined since mid-March!

Finally, I would like to offer one more difference for those who are believers. God has protected and will continue to bless the suffering and dignified people of Nicaragua. 

And so, the headlines that have come out in large international media outlets such as El País, BBC, RTVE, The Guardian and CNN, are not valid but cynical. Then they have been copied by media in the region, such as La Tribuna in Honduras on April 12, with photographs from marches in 2018. 

Times of pandemic bring out the best and the worst in us. For some, their basest interests, fake news, racism, and hatred emerge and instill fear in the population. Others show their solidarity and dedication to the most helpless. Those are the Saints of these days, as Pope Francis said in his homily from Rome on Easter Sunday.

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Deportations and #FreeThemALL: Another week of action

Flight tracker showing deportation flight to Haiti, April 23.

Around the world, leaders are closing borders, restricting travel and movement, mandating social distancing, and employing various restrictions on when, how and which business can be open. This includes the United States. 

However, for the business of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, things have been cruising along, pandemic be damned. There are many outrages here, but the most transparently obvious one is that Trump’s team keeps deporting people. On the receiving end, countries are reluctant to open their borders and airports to people who are arriving from the global hub of coronavirus infections, the country formerly known as the United States, especially when they have not been screened for COVID-19. So, Trump has threatened to sanction any country that refuses to accept deportation flights. He has also, thus far, refused to take even the most modest precautions to ensure that people who are COVID-19 positive are not being put on a plane with others, and sent to a country that will struggle to manage the necessary quarantines and protective measures. 

For example, several people who had been deported to Guatemala tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival two weeks ago. So, the government of Guatemala temporarily suspended acceptance of these flights. After Trump threatened sanctions (though not worded in a way to target Guatemala directly) the Guatemalan government agreed to accept more flights, but requested that anyone being put on those flights be thoroughly screened first, and that the flights themselves be limited to 25 people so quarantine on the receiving end could be managed.

When flights resumed to Guatemala at the beginning of last week, ICE sent 182 people in one day, on two different flights. On one of those flights, 44 people tested positive. That represented 25% of the total confirmed cases in Guatemala at the time. Additional testing showed that close to 80 people deported from the U.S. to Guatemala had arrived with COVID-19. 

Of course, in any sane country, the result would be suspending all deportation flights at this point, so that procedures could be evaluated.

We do not live in a sane country.

Deportations have continued. To Brazil and Honduras on Sunday. To Ecuador – which is facing, perhaps, the worst crisis in Latin America. To the Domincian Republic on Tuesday, which also has a very high infection total. As I am writing a deportation flight is literally halfway to Haiti, carrying 120 people. 

There is no evidence that ICE has changed anything  – they simply take temperatures as people board.

ICE deported 61 people to Haiti on April 7. Three of them were confirmed positive upon arrival.

The Quixote Center and many, many, many others have been speaking out – shouting out – about these flights. 164 organizations signed a letter calling for deportation flights to Haiti to end – this was published on Monday this week. Another 60 signed a letter released last week calling for flights more generally to be suspended. Members of Congress, including chairs of the House Foreign Affairs committee and subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, have called for flights to end.

“No comment” from ICE. The administration did send a team from the CDC to evaluate Guatemala’s testing protocols. 

To be clear, the danger with deportation flights is not the people. It is the public health crisis unfolding in detention facilities, and the fact that the process of deportation involves shifting people through multiple detention centers on way to a “staging area” where they will be further detained until flown out of the country. We wrote more detail about this process last week here.

Within detention facilities, as with prisons and jails more generally, infections are spiking. Because ICE is carelessly shifting people from site to site, while within each site, social distancing and other basic precautions are not possible, means the risk of infection and spread within ICE’s network of facilities is huge – and growing.

Accordingly, the call is to end deportations AND end detention. Both of these things must happen. Ending deportations without releasing people from detention risks leaving people in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. It is quite literally putting people’s lives at risk.

On a positive note…

People all across the country are continuing to mobilize. There have been a variety of creative actions outside detention centers throughout Texas, California and Washington involving people gathering in their cars. Across the country people are still keeping the pressure on to #FreeThemAll! 

In the courts, attorneys are working hard to get people out of detention, and out of prisons. An important ruling this week, could lead to thousands of people being released – though the administration will no doubt resist full implementation.

In the case, Fraihat v ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was being sued in order to gain the release of people who are at risk for infection due to age or underlying medical condition. In responding to ICE’s defense for failing to provide adequate care or establish guidelines for containment, the judge was not having it. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal wrote, “As a result of these deficiencies, many of which persist more than a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court concludes Defendants have likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of the Subclass members [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.’”

The ruling, if implemented fully, will require ICE to release thousands of people, and mandate that the agency adopt protective measures to maximize the safety for those that remain in custody. Of course, ICE will fight the ruling. 

Until everyone is released, we will keep demanding that ICE #FreeThemAll, and we will continue to work for the release of people in jails and prisons around the country as well.

#DefundHate action: Send a video postcard to Congress

Send a video postcard to your member of Congress today, calling on them to reject any additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the fourth COVID-19 stimulus package and let them know what investments you want to see in your community. 

The billions of dollars used to fund ICE and CBP could instead be invested in critical healthcare, education, and housing programs that support our collective wellbeing, while people navigating their immigration cases should be able to do so with their families and communities rather than in detention. Tell your member of Congress what you want to see!

How to Send a Video Postcard in Three Easy Steps

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Contact Us

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

Direction to office:

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

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

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