Daily Dispatch 6/18/2019

The Mexico Deal: What really matters

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Daily Dispatch

June 18, 2019

Listening to Trump explain one of his achievements reminds me a lot of listening to my son read the lyrics to the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus.” Something about the meter and the fact that what is being said makes no sense. And so, no surprise, that the “deal” with Mexico was not so much a deal, in reality, but more of an agreement to talk about a future agreement, at a later date, maybe in 45 days. Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. I’m crying.  Goo, goo, goo, g’joob. See how that works…

From the text of the letter representatives from the U.S. and Mexico actually signed:

The United States and Mexico will immediately begin discussions to establish definitive terms for a binding bilateral agreement to further address burden sharing and the assignment of responsibility for processing refugee status claims of migrants.

The art of the deal indeed…

However, even if the much touted “deal” is not much of a deal, Trump still got concessions from Mexico through threatening tariffs that will prove disastrous for migrants. This is the media magic of Trump. Somehow the things that really matter get lost in the analysis of Trump’s veracity and the indignity that ensues when he takes credit for an achievement not nearly as “huge” as he claims.  

So, what matters:

Mexico really did commit to send more guardsmen to its border with Guatemala – 6,000 in total. That Mexico was already engaged in its own crack down on migration at the border – one that expanded greatly in 2014 in response to refugees from Central America – has been lost in this discussion. Which is to say, the massive deployment envisioned will be a human rights nightmare if current practices are any measure.

Speaking of human rights, the Mexican government arrested and detained two human rights activists, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, in the midst of the bilateral discussion who had been vocal in criticizing the treatment of Central American migrants. Both were released after a campaign from the Alliance for Global Justice and others to press for their release. The arrests were clearly seen as an effort to intimidate activists speaking out in defense of migrants – and a step taken under pressure from the Trump administration.

The head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, Tonatiuh Guillén resigned on Friday, to be replaced by the head of Mexico’s national prison system. Much as Trump has been cleaning house at the Department of Homeland Security to bring in hard-liners, Mexico seems to be doing the same.

Of the items discussed in the joint declaration last week, and the supporting document released by the government of Mexico (to make clear there was no “secret deal” as Trump claimed), the most controversial part is Mexico being designated as a “safe third country.” Such a designation would require that refugees crossing into Mexico would have to first apply for asylum there, even if their intent was to come to the United States. This would require action by Mexico’s legislature, and it is not clear this will be accepted.

For now, Trump is still enforcing the “remain in Mexico” practice of requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their asylum cases can be heard by immigration authorities on the U.S. side of the border. The process is moving very slowly, leaving thousands of people waiting for a chance to file their claim formally in the United States. Following the announced agreement, Trump extended the practice to cover the entire U.S./Mexico border. This led to 10,000 Central American refugees being returned to Mexico by U.S. authorities to await asylum hearings. Part of the joint declaration, the only real commitment the United States made, is a promise to speed up the asylum process.

So, yes Trump exaggerated the extent of his deal with Mexico. But let’s be clear, he got what he wanted, at least thus far. Mexico is upscaling its crackdown on immigration under pressure from the United States. This will be a disaster for refugees seeking passage through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. That human rights disaster should be much bigger news than Trump inflating his accomplishment.

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Protests in Haiti

Protests against Haitian President Jovenel Moïse re-emerged last week as part of a year long campaign demanding his resignation. The movement against Moïse gained international attention last July when protests sparked by an announced end to fuel subsidies ultimately led to the resignation of Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant*. A new government formed in October last year under Moïse-appointed Prime Minister Jean-Henry Céant lasted less than six months when he was removed in a vote of no-confidence a month after February protests. Moise, however, remains in office and has refused to address the concerns of demonstrators directly. This week he made only brief remarks, denying involvement in corruption and demanding that people stay calm – making clear his intent to use the police to maintain order.

In the midst of the latest round of demonstrations, the United States State Department did change its travel advisory for Haiti from Level Four (do not travel) to Level Three (reconsider travel). This will offer some relief for businesses dependent on travel and tourism and make it easier for aid groups to provide services.

The current protests were launched with a transportation strike last Monday. Jacqueline Charles reported on the death of a journalist during the protests in the Miami Herald:

Late Monday night, a well-known radio journalist, Rospide Pétion, was shot to death in Port-au-Prince, authorities confirmed. Pétion worked for Radio Sans Fin…Three of the individuals who allegedly set fire to vehicles belonging to Radio Télé Ginen were arrested by Haiti National Police, who also opened an internal probe into the death of the motorcyclist after the head of the presidential guards, Dimitri Hérard, was accused of firing the fatal shot at the intersection of Delmas and airport roads.

After a pause on Wednesday, protests resumed on Thursday, Moïse’s tepid address Wednesday evening clearly having no impact. From yesterday’s New York Times:

Thousands of protesters demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse clashed with police Thursday as some tried to storm barriers outside the National Palace while others sought shelter as heavy gunfire echoed in nearby streets.

The demonstration came a day after Moïse broke his silence over the country’s recent unrest and rejected demands that he step down over allegations of officials misusing funds from subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela under the Petrocaribe program. He denied any wrongdoing.

The immediate cause of the latest demonstrations was a report issued on June 4 that further documented corruption, directly implicating Moise. From the Miami Herald:

Months prior to Haiti’s deeply flawed October 2016* presidential vote, the man who would become president, Jovenel Moïse, received millions of dollars for questionable road rehabilitation projects that a panel of Haitian government auditors say were part of embezzlement schemes that defrauded the country’s poor out of billions of dollars in Venezuelan aid meant to improve their lives.

At least $1 million was for a stretch of rural road in northern Haiti that government auditors said was paid for twice, after the public works ministry issued the same contract to two firms in late 2014. The firms shared the same tax identification number, government patent, technical staff and resume of projects in their portfolio, auditors said.

The only difference between the firms, auditors noted, was their heads. Agritans listed Moïse, a relatively unknown businessman and eventual handpicked successor to then-Haiti president Michel Martelly, as its head, while Betexs, the second firm, listed someone else. Agritrans received a $419,240 or 66 percent advance on the project — two months before the signing of its contract with the ministry of public works.

“For the court, giving a second contract for the same project… is nothing less than a scheme to embezzle funds,” auditors said about the project involving the Borgne-Petit Bourg-de-Borgne road.

While the media focuses a great deal on opposition to corruption as the primary motivator of the demonstrations, the issues go much deeper. As in any movement, there are factions with different goals and coming from various ideological perspectives in the protests against Moise. However, as the popular mobilizations continue, it is clear that corruption is not ultimately the concern. Rather, it is the grave inequality in Haiti, in which a narrow spectrum of the elite, often defended, or at least shielded by the international “community,” control the economic and political institutions of the country. Corruption is thus an indicator of a deeper social crisis. Increasingly the demands from the movement are directed at confronting these systemic issues.

A recent profile of youth activists, who have been critical in the evolution of the movement helps provide some context:

“But now, the PetroCaribe challenge is not something against a president. It’s not against a dictatorship,” she said. “It’s people asking for accountability, and this is a huge problem in Haiti. But it’s been a long time since we have had so many people coming together to ask for it. I think this is really new.”

The Petrochallenge movement is comprised of two groups: Nou Pap Dòmi, or “We keep our eyes open,” which is focused on government accountability in the short term; and Ayiti Nou Vle A, or “The Haiti we want,” a group that encourages ordinary citizens to get involved in shaping Haiti’s longterm future by encouraging civic engagement, online and offline. Both groups started in the wake of Mirambeau’s tweet.

For inspiration, the Petrochallengers have looked to other youth-led movements around the world that used social media, such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and Y’en a Marre, a Senegalese movement created by young rappers and journalists to protest ineffective government and register youth to vote. They’ve also looked to France’s Yellow Vest protests[…]

Social media is a key component of the Petrochallenge movement, said Gaëlle Bien-Aimé, 31, a Haitian women’s rights activist, comedian and Petrochallenger. For example, people have tweeted photos of vacant lots and skeletal structures where some of the nearly $2 billion in PetroCaribe funds were supposed to have been spent.

For an excellent, detailed analysis of the roots of the protest, I highly recommend the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s (IJDH) recent report, “Haiti at a Crossroads: An Analysis of the Drivers Behind Haiti’s Political Crisis.” In this report, IJDH breaks down not just recent developments, but the historical/structural drivers of the crisis that are important for understanding the current moment. From the executive summary:

This report seeks to put the current crisis in Haiti into context by explaining the short-, medium- and long-term factors driving the unrest, including detailing some of the gravest human rights violations in Haiti during President Moïse’s tenure. In the short term, the PetroCaribe scandal galvanized civil society and was the spark that brought Haitians into the streets. In the medium term, the movement is a response to the Moïse administration’s broader abuses of authority and de-prioritization of the rights and needs of the impoverished majority. President Moïse assumed office without a true popular mandate, having been elected in a low-turnout process that left him beholden to foreign and elite interests and a patronage network over the impoverished majority. In office, his administration has engaged in human rights abuses, flouted the rule of law, and mismanaged the economy in ways that disproportionately impact the poor. In the long term, this administration’s failures are enabled by years of flawed elections, a dysfunctional justice system and domestic and foreign economic policies that have impoverished the majority of Haitians.

The drivers behind the movement reflect repeated failures by Haitian leaders to serve their people, but they are also the result of decisions made by actors outside of Haiti. While the international community has invested billions in building up rule of law institutions in Haiti, powerful governments and international institutions have also exerted influence on Haiti to forge ahead with problematic, exclusionary elections and to accept a system of justice that allows foreign and elite actors to operate above the law. The faults of the decades-long prioritization of short-term stability over rule of law are now cracking. If the international community is to support a sustainable way forward for Haiti, it must finally take its lead from Haitians and support systemic reform that will be long and difficult. Systemic reform is the only way for Haiti to emerge out of this crisis into a place of true stability.

As the protests continue into this week, pressure remains on Moise to step down. What a transition would look like were he to do so, is not clear. Elections for Haiti’s Parliament are scheduled for October and the current crisis will certainly weigh heavily on them. But absent major reform they are unlikely to settle anything or offer resolution to the underlying structural inequities that are driving the current mobilizations. The people of Haiti have always been on the leading edge of democratic mobilization in this hemisphere, from the revolution in 1804 to today’s confrontation with the brutal political structures and consequence of neo-liberalizaton. Too often, victory has been stolen through retrenchment of the elite and an international community that wants a compliance. It is hard to see how things will turn out this time. But the determination to create a new political and economic order is strong, and the protests will almost certainly continue until something significant changes. 


*Corrections:

An earlier draft mistakenly identified Laurent Lamothe as the prime minister who resigned in July of 2018. Lamothe is a former prime minister (2012-2014) who served under President Martelly – he has been implicated in the PetroCaribe scandal as well.

The date for elections in the Miami Herald article quoted above is incorrect. The original election was October 25, 2015 – the results were widely protested, and ultimately annulled. The new “deeply flawed” elections were held on November 20, 2016. 

h/t to Reparations for Haiti (@ReparationsH ) for the call out and corrections.

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Daily Dispatch 6/17/2019

Polls and Pols

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Daily Dispatch

June 17, 2019


I am never sure what to do about polls as an indicator of people’s political views. The findings are driven by the way questions are asked and the answers that are provided for respondents to choose from (seems obvious). Which is to say, polls rarely capture what people actually think about a topic, but at best give a sense of how they prioritize the options pollsters give them. That said, a recent survey by YouGov measuring people’s sense of the pros and cons of immigration for their countries was interesting. For example, of the countries surveyed, people in the United States had the most positive outlook on immigration.

The YouGov study was conducted in the United States, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, France and Germany. Three sets of questions were presented: What was the primary benefit of immigration, what people saw as the greatest negative impact of immigration, and how people generally saw immigration affecting their country. The results were interesting.

On the greatest benefit, in all of the countries surveyed except France, the choice was “better food.” For France it was sports – which if you’ve ever watched the World Cup you’d understand. For the United States the benefits to the local economy came in second with culture coming in third. (Note: What culture means, distinct from food, music and sports, all other options, is not exactly clear). Here is the graph.

In terms of the greatest harm caused by immigration, the United States was an outlier, being the only country where people identified welfare provision as the greatest harm. In all other countries it was crime (number two in the United States). Here’s that graph.

Finally, and most interesting for those tempted to look outside the Trump bubble, the United States and Britain were the only countries where more people held the view that immigration has generally benefited the country over that those who felt it had generally harmed the country.

If we are to try and draw any lessons from this poll, aside from people apparently appreciating taco trucks and Indian carry-out, those lessons are mixed. On the one hand, the rhetoric over reality impact is sobering: More people are concerned about immigration’s impact on crime and welfare than other issues, even though immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than “native born” people in the United States and are not allowed to participate in most welfare programs whether unauthorized immigrants or permanent residents. One suspects this finding of misunderstanding will give fuel to the fire for those who beat on these drums for political purposes (e.g. Trump).

It is important to note that despite the heavy-handed approach this administration has adopted and the rhetoric that has accompanied it, more people look favorably on immigration in this country than others. Those that have tracked these opinions over time, have found that Trump’s particular brand of nativism seems to have led to a backlash among other voters, and that in fact, pro-immigrant attitudes have increased under this administration.

As we approach the next election cycle, this is very important to keep in mind. Many pundits have suggested that Democrats tack right on immigration to capture some portion of “pro-Trump” voters. Even so-called liberal leaders like Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair have said the same for Social Democratic parties in Europe. Rather than cede ground to the “populists,” it is important to get tougher on immigration, the argument goes, if democracy is to survive (David Frum’s actual argument). Whether one buys this notion that somehow the Democrats are inherently better for democracy writ large, or not, it is worth pointing out that moving right on immigration won’t help them win elections. It is a fallacious argument.

At least, Zack Beauchamp, writing in Vox today, makes a compelling case for this. Comparing research done on European elections and prior elections in this country, he argues that Democrats would lose from adopting more restrictionist immigration policies.

One paper compared data on Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, which had a comparatively generic outreach program to Latinos, to its 2012 campaign, which focused heavily on turning out Latino voters by emphasizing pro-immigration positions like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The data concluded that “Obama’s Latino targeted outreach was (1) remarkably effective at winning over Latino voters; and (2) it had coattail effects for Democratic Senate candidates.”

There’s reason to believe this could be even more true in the Trump era. While Trump has mobilized a vocal minority of anti-immigrant voters in the Republican Party, survey after survey has shown that this has led to a backlash among the rest of the population, with numbers of Americans expressing support for immigration reaching historic highs in tracking polls.

For now Democrats in the presidential race, and the leadership in Congress seem willing to bet that support for Dreamers, for example, will help them at the polls. However, the candidates willing to press the immigration conversation further into much needed critiques of enforcement measures at the border and detention are few. As the field narrows next year, there will be more pressure to avoid these topics. Certainly in the general election, whoever wins the Democratic primary will feel pressure to tack right on a number of issues, and especially immigration. The research suggests this will be a bad idea.

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Daily Dispatch 6/14/2019

Fort Sill: Can we learn from history?

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Daily Dispatch

June 14, 2019


George Bernard Shaw famously quipped, “Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man [sic] cannot learn anything from history.” The news this week that the Trump administration plans to detain children at one of the locations, Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma, that was used as a detention center for Japanese Americans during World War II suggests Shaw was probably correct. Fort Sill has been used before to detain unaccompanied minors: Obama used the base – and other locations – to hold children in 2014.

Whether, as a society, we can learn from history is an open question. Certainly we have made enormous progress in creating legal standards for the protection of human rights, for example. But there is a daily struggle for those rights to be realized. And, of course, exactly what lesson(s) we are to draw from history is not always clear. Many people treat Trump’s immigration policy as though it came out of nowhere when only two years ago under a different president, children were being detained, families were being separated, and tens of thousands of people were being deported each month. That said, we can still try to learn what we can.

With that in mind, I want to encourage people to check out Densho. It is an organization committed to education about the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II in the hopes that a better understanding of what happened can actually prevent a similar tragedy from being visited upon a new generation of people. Their statement on the news this week reads in part:

The Trump administration’s plan to use Fort Sill, Oklahoma as a concentration camp for immigrant and refugee-seeking children is just the latest in a long legacy of violent incarceration and family separation at that site.

Over 700 Japanese Americans were incarcerated there during WWII. One inmate, Kanesaburo Oshima, a Japanese immigrant and father of 11, was shot and killed trying to escape.

But Fort Sill’s history of trauma also includes a Native American boarding school where Comanche, Apache, Caddo, Kiowa, Delaware, Wichita, Navajo, and other Indigenous children were separated from their families, their culture, and their language.

And it served as a Prisoner of War camp for members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe who were forcibly relocated from the Southwest in 1894. The Apache leader Geronimo was among the 300-plus members of the tribe incarcerated there. He later passed away at Fort Sill in 1909 and was laid to rest there.

Fort Sill is not an anomaly, but it is a reminder of the ongoing violences of settler colonialism, racism, and xenophobia that have defined far too much of our nation’s history.

So, rather than have the Fort Sill episode be a soundbite in this week’s news cycle, treat it as an opportunity to learn more about this history. Hegel at least hoped that the world would eventually, through struggle, catch up to its ideals. If not from the lessons of history, at least from the aspiration for freedom. Whether this is correct, only time will tell. But the struggle continues nevertheless.

The Densho statement ends:

Sites like Fort Sill, Lordsburg, and Dilley need to be permanently closed, not recycled to inflict more harm. And we must also acknowledge that every single one of these sites exists on stolen land, and the majority of Central American migrants currently detained are Indigenous people.

The battle we’re fighting today started in 1492, not 1942.

#NeverAgainIsNOW

Let’s underscore that NOW!

The Art of Resistance: #NoKidsInCages

In a world where no amount of fact checking can seem to put a dent in policy debates, sometimes the most effective way to make a point is on a more visceral, emotional level. Such was the approach this week in New York City as activists placed cages in the different parts of the city, each with a child sized manequin wrapped in a kevlar sheet inside. Accompanying the visual presentation was a recording of children crying for their parents while being held in detention. RAICES, an organization that provides legal services to immigrants incarcerated near the border, helped to sponsor the installations.

“We want to bring this back to the consciousness of the American people,” RAICES CEO Jonathan Ryan told HuffPost. “One of the many unfortunate consequences of the repeated traumatic stories coming from the border is that, as horrified and angry as people have been, we also become desensitized. It’s important for people … to be confronted with the reality that this is about children, human beings, whose lives are forever affected.”

“This is being done in our name by people who we elected,” he added. “And if we don’t do something to stop this, this will become who we are.”

To see a video of the installations, which were all taken down by early afternoon on Thursday, and to read the full report on Huffington Post, visit here.

Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica Freed

Last week we shared an action alert from the Alliance for Global Justice about the arrests of Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, both of whom are activists working to defend the human rights of Central American migrants and others in Mexico.

Both men have been released from detention. See update below:

We are pleased to announce that Mexican immigrant rights activists Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica have been released from detention! After more than 20 hours of court proceedings, a federal judge in Tapachula, Chiapas, determined that there is enough evidence to demonstrate that neither one of the activists was at the scene where the crimes they were accused of were committed.

On June 5, 2019, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica were arbitrary detained in Mexico City and Sonora, respectively, on fabricated charges of human smuggling. The arrest of these Human Rights activists came after several days of threats from U.S. President Donald Trump to increase tariffs on Mexican goods in order to push Mexico to detain migrants and refugees, mostly from Central America and pushed out of their homelands as a result of U.S. interventions in the region, seeking asylum in the U.S.

Thank you to everyone who joined in solidarity, supported and shared the actions to demand freedom for Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica. The international movement started to demand freedom for the two Mexican immigrant rights activists is an example of the power of grassroots organizing over the expansion of U.S. imperialist practices that demand the criminalization of all of those who denounce the violent consequences of U.S. military, economic and political intervention in the Americas.

There is still a chance prosecutors may attempt to reintroduce charges. We will keep you posted.

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Daily Dispatch 6/7/2019

Take action edition

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Daily Dispatch

June 7, 2019


Since last Thursday we have written a couple of times about Trump’s efforts to penalize Mexico for not doing enough (in Trump’s mind) to stem the flow of refugees from Central America. There is obviously a high human toll to this effort – and we’re already seeing it. Below is an alert from the Alliance for Global Justice about two human rights defenders detained in Mexico this week – activists who have been speaking about the treatment of refugees from Central America in Mexico. You can read the background below and follow the link to take action in support of Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica.

Also, join the “Where are the Children” March, June 9th, 10 a.m to 5 p.m. on the National Mall. 

Connect with local organizations and get involved to support justice for immigrant communities.

Contact Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, to demand freedom for Human Rights defenders Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica (from the Alliance for Global Justice)

Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica were arbitrary detained on June 5 in Mexico City and Sonora, respectively on fabricated charges of human trafficking. Cristóbal Sánchez was detained outside his house in Xochimilco, Mexico City at gunpoint and without a warrant by six men in plain clothes that identified themselves as judicial police. In Sonoyta, Sonora, Irineo Mujica was detained by three officers in plain clothes who handcuffed him and took him to Hermosillo, Sonora. The arrests of these human rights activists, just minutes apart, come after several days of threats from Donald Trump to increase tariffs on Mexican goods if Mexico does not take steps to detain Central American migrants and refugees who are seeking safety in the United States.

Both Cristóbal and Irineo have been victims of harassment, criminalization and threats by different administrations of the Mexican government, including the current government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as well as by organized crime groups. Only in February this year, prior to a meeting with the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kristen Nielsen, Sánchez Cordero publicly attacked the humanitarian work of Sánchez and Mujica leading to harassment and several death threats against them and other human rights activists.

TAKE ACTION HERE

Cristóbal Sánchez Sánchez has worked on migration issues for the past 15 years and is a founder of the Cultura Migrante Collective (Migrant Culture). He has denounced violence against refugees and provided food and water to them. Due to his human rights work, he was previously detained in 2011 in Tapachula and in February 2019 when documenting human rights violations against migrants. Irineo Mujica has been a human rights defender for more than 15 years, working in Mexico and the United States to promote respect for migrants’ rights and immigration reform. He has founded and supported numerous shelters for migrants and refugees within Mexico and documented human rights abuses against migrants by authorities. Mujica has been unjustly arrested on numerous occasions and he has been target of death treats and subject to an intense campaign of criminalization in the media by Mexican and U.S. authorities. Both organizers are in the process to receive protection as part of Mexico’s Mechanism of Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

Tweet Olga Sánchez Cordero (@M_OlgaSCordero), and ask her to stop the criminalization of Cristóbal, Irineo and immigrant rights activists in Mexico.
Ask Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard (@m_ebrard) to stop using immigrant rights activists criminalization as a tool to please Donald Trump.

By arresting Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, the Mexican government is trying to appease Trump and prevent them from continuing their human rights work with vulnerable migrants and refugees. Join us to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Sánchez and Mujica and an end to the criminalization of immigrant rights activists.

March to defend children

On International Children’s Day, a coalition of organizations are organizing a demonstration in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall. If you are in the area, come out to the demonstration and show your opposition to Trump’s zero-tolerance policy that has led to a dramatic increase in family separations at the border.

Where are the children?
Details: June 9, 2019 from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm to oppose
National Mall in Washington, DC, between 12th and 14th Streets.

If you are not in Washington, D.C., there are a few simple actions you can take to support the goals of the march including signing a petition to shutdown the Homestead “temporary” shelter that is detaining children well in excess of the 20-day limit imposed by the Flores Settlement agreement. For more information, and to sign the petition click here.

Get connected

If you are outraged by Trump’s immigration policies or simply want to help out in some way, but aren’t sure what to do, check out our Local Action Map to get connected with organizations doing work in your area. The map is a work in progress – so if you know of work being done that is not included there, let us know so we can add the organization!

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Daily Dispatch 6/6/2019

Trump administration cuts educational and legal services for unaccompanied minors

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Daily Dispatch

June 6, 2019


Migrant children play soccer at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Good Friday, April 19, 2019, in Homestead, Fla.WILFREDO LEE / AP

There are 13,200 migrant children currently being held in facilities around the country (almost half in Texas). These facilities operate under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Children in these facilities are held an average of 48 days while waiting for sponsors – usually family members – to be located, so they can be released to await trial dates on their immigration status. The vast majority of these children arrive in the United States unaccompanied, and are transferred from Border Patrol custody to ORR. A smaller number are children who have been separated from family members upon arrival at the border.

Facilities contracted by ORR have to meet federal legal requirements for the care they provide, and are also required to meet state licensing requirements for the provision of child care. State licensing typically means a requirement to provide education and recreational activities. Under new directives from the Trump administration, these facilities will no longer be reimbursed for these activities. Legal services, such as know your rights trainings so that the children are prepared for immigration court hearings, will also no longer be paid.

Rochelle Garza, a staff attorney with the ACLU Texas, works in Brownsville, Texas, near Casa Padre, the former Walmart that has been converted into a shelter for approximately 1,500 boys ages 10 to 17, explained to NPR:

an average day for children housed in a regular security shelter [is] comparable to a full day of school that includes English, math, science and reading classes. The children get periods of outdoor activity and often play basketball and soccer. There are even sporadic outings to a nearby church, park or zoo.

She said without those programs, housed children are “going to be sitting in prison like conditions.” She noted many of the minors are vulnerable children from Central America who have escaped violence.

Trump has requested an additional $3 billion in emergency budget support to deal with an increase in arrests along the U.S./Mexico border. These funds, if approved, would go to expanding detention capacity – not to funding services for those held.

Mexico and the U.S. in Discussions on Migration

Last Thursday, Trump announced (on twitter no less) that the U.S. would begin assigning tariffs on all products coming from Mexico unless the country did more to stop migration to the U.S. border. As we explained last week, Mexico has expanded its enforcement activities steadily since 2014. What Mexico is supposed to do is not clear – though the administration’s point person on these discussion, Peter Navarro, identified three “specific” items they are looking to Mexico to commit to:

  • Mexico should crack down on asylum seekers.
  • Mexico should strengthen its enforcement of its own southern border with Guatemala, he added.
  • And Mexico should put an end to government corruption at immigration checkpoints in the country.

Where to start….

On asylum, Navarro explained in a CNBC report:

The “No. 1” issue on Navarro’s list would be for Mexico to “commit to taking all the asylum seekers and then applying Mexican laws, which are much stronger than ours.”

“Look, here’s the thing,” he said. “If the people who are moving up with scripts to claim asylum from their narco-trafficker, human-trafficker handlers simply understood that that script ain’t gonna work anymore getting into America,” then the stream of migrants coming up to the southern border to claim asylum “will go to a trickle.”

The administration continues to argue that people are being coached to make certain statements to get into the country under asylum laws, and that their asylum claims are unsubstantiated. If this were actually true, then maybe this would work. But it’s not true. Most of the people arrested at the U.S./Mexico border recently are from Honduras and Guatemala, where violence and political instability are widespread. One of the reasons for the unauthorized border crossings is that regular ports of entries are now largely blocked, as the administration makes asylum seekers wait in Mexico – many for months, extending to over a year in some cases. With ports of entry blocked, people are crossing elsewhere in larger numbers in order to make asylum claims from within the U.S. So, the “crisis” of an increase in arrests is not the result of bogus asylum claims, but this administration’s failure to put sufficient resources toward processing claims for what is a very real refugee crisis at our border. Expecting Mexico to crack down on false claims makes no sense. It is not clear what Mexico could actually do, and the claims themselves are not false. People will keep coming.

Mexico has already expanded enforcement along its southern border significantly. Detentions of people migrating through Mexico has increased, and Mexico deports many more people each year than the United States. We wrote more about this last week.

Ending corruption at border crossings might well be a good thing. But the administration creates a cartoonish image of the problem and, we might add, is so clearly indifferent to corruption in its own ranks that speaking out about this elsewhere seems highly disingenuous.  

At this point, talks have faltered. Tariff increases of 5 percent are scheduled to go into effect on Monday, and will increase 5 percent each month (up to 25 percent in October) until Trump gets what he wants from Mexico – and what he wants is unrealistic. Navarro indicated yesterday that tariffs may no longer be necessary because the administration now has Mexico’s attention. The whole episode may well be a bluff to deflect attention from many other problems Trump is facing.

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Daily Dispatch 6/5/2019:

House passes (weak) immigration bill

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Daily Dispatch

June 5, 2019


Win McNamee / Getty

The House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would offer a path to citizenship to unauthorized immigrants in this country who were brought here as children (“Dreamers”). It would also extend permanent residency to holders of Temporary Protective Status and Deferred Enforced Departure. The bill does not include provisions concerning border security. It was passed alongside a separate bill that takes back some funds for the border wall.

It will almost certainly go nowhere in the Senate, and should it pass there, Trump has promised to veto.

The bill passed largely along party lines, with all Democrats and seven Republicans voting in favor (237 in favor, 187 opposed).

So what does the bill do?

Not nearly enough – this is absolutely not a “comprehensive” bill – but some good things are here. The Dream and Promise Act deals specifically with the future of people here under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Temporary Protected Status, and Deferred Enforced Departure. As many as 2.5 million people could be offered a (circuitous) path to citizenship.

Trump has sought to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects “Dreamers” from removal proceedings, provided they have registered with the program (for a fee) and have no criminal record. DACA was issued as an executive order by Obama after Congress failed to pass the “Dream Act.” Trump’s effort to end DACA has been tied up in Federal Court. Should the law pass, the court proceedings would become moot. However, the path to citizenship envisioned here is a long one.

Those who register in the program would be offered conditional permanent residency — for 10 years! In order to qualify for actual permanent residency at the end of that time, they would:

  • need to have arrived in the U.S. before turning 18 and have been in the U.S. for at least four years.
  • need a relatively clean record — a felony conviction or three separate misdemeanors involving total jail time of 90 days would be disqualifying.
  • need a high school diploma or GED, or to be enrolled in a program to get either one.
  • need to pass a background check and other eligibility requirements.

The bill does offer provisions for Dreamers to get a green card sooner – through two years of military service, three years of work (which they can only do “legally” if they register under the conditional program), or if they receive a college degree. Once people are granted permanent residence, they must then wait five-years to apply for citizenship.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) are both “humanitarian” categories. Both protect people from specific countries from removal proceedings due to political instability and/or natural disasters in their countries of origin. DED applies primarily to Liberians. TPS extends to people from nine countries, the largest groups coming from El Salvador and Haiti. Trump has refused to renew TPS for most countries, but his effort to do so is being blocked by several cases currently in Federal Court. Trump similarly has tried to end DED, but is now focused on fading it out.

Under the new bill, holders of TPS and DED will be allowed to apply for green cards immediately, and then could apply for citizenship after five years as is the case for other permanent residents.

Absent major revision in the Senate to incorporate border security measures and/or elements of Trump’s proposed visa reforms announced two weeks ago, this bill will almost certainly die there alongside other measures passed by the House. Everyone celebrating yesterday knows this. What the bill does do, however, is give us a glimpse of the outer limit of what Democratic leadership is willing to do on immigration this election cycle. We might summarize this strategy as holding up the “good” immigrants who are here as the result of decisions made by others or disasters outside their control for protection, which has the effect of casting  Democrats as slightly more compassionate than Republicans.

This is not addressed in the new bill

Meanwhile, there is nothing of substance in the works concerning the fundamental flaws of an immigration system that criminalizes migration, creates an expansive network of for-profit detention centers (within which companies operate with absolute impunity), leaves the application of immigration law under the sole discretion of the Attorney General, and continues to militarize our border. Some candidates have broached elements of this, but few in the party’s leadership seem willing to take it on.

If the point of legislation such as this bill is, in essence, virtue signaling, why not go further? The truth is, the Democrats helped build this deeply flawed system too. And would rather not talk about it.  

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Daily Dispatch 6/4/2019

Pew Releases statistical profile of immigration

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Daily Dispatch

June 4, 2019


The Pew Research Center released a new report on immigration in the United States providing some interesting insights into immigration trends. Among some key findings:

  • The United States has the largest foreign born population of any country at just over 44 million people. Immigrants are 13.6 percent of the U.S. population – below the historic high set in 1890 when foreign born persons were 14.8 percent of the population. [Note: Not mentioned in the Pew report is that the U.S. foreign born population is significantly lower than many other countries as a percent of population, “about half the share in places like Switzerland (30 percent) and Australia (29 percent), and still lower than New Zealand (23 percent), Canada (22 percent), Austria (19 percent), Sweden (18 percent), Ireland (17 percent) and elsewhere” (Justin Gest, Politico)].
  • 43 percent of immigrants are naturalized citizens, 27 percent are permanent residents, 5 percent are temporary residents, 25 percent are unauthorized immigrants (a number that has declined since 2008).
  • Immigrants from Mexico make up the largest group of foreign born persons – though migration from Mexico has declined in recent years.
  • In 2017, the country with the highest new migration to the United States was India.
  • Overall, immigration from Asia is increasing faster than from other regions. Asian immigrants are expected to make up the largest share of the foreign born population by 2055.
  • 24 percent of immigrants live in California, followed by Texas (11 percent) and New York (10 percent). Two-thirds live in 20 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.
  • Nationally, immigrants do not make up the majority workers of any category of work.
  • Deportations of immigrants declined in 2017, well below the peak achieved under the Obama administration (Not discussed – detentions have increased dramatically). In no year since 2001 have people with a criminal record made up the majority of those deported!
  • Border apprehensions are also down – from 1 million in 2006 to 397,000 in 2017 (this number will likely increase this year – though stay well below 2006).
  • People from countries other than Mexico make up the majority of arrests along the U.S./Mexico border, with those from Central America being the largest group.
  • 70 percent of those polled felt that immigration should be kept at current level (38 percent) or increased (32 percent). Those saying immigration should be reduced were 24 percent.

You can read the full statistical overview with accompanying interactive charts here.

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Daily Dispatch 5/28/2019

Immigration Continues to Decline

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Daily Dispatch

May 28, 2019


The Trump administration’s policies and practices have had a dramatic impact on immigration through official processes. Nearly every category of “legal” immigration is down as the result of delays in processing applications and increases in the denial rate. From Forbes:

“It’s a bunch of different policies and decisions that have added up to a significant shift,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “I think one reason the slowdown in legal immigration hasn’t gotten as much attention is because it’s not just one big newsworthy change, but rather a bunch of clever, smaller changes that have added up to a large impact.”

Net migration to the United States is down 12 percent (we reported on this a couple of weeks ago here). Some of the specific steps taken in recent years that have led to this decline:

Denials have increased: “From student visas and work authorizations to travel visas and petitions for foreign workers, vetting is up and admissions are down. Data released by USCIS in April shows the rejection rate was 80 percent higher in the final three months of 2018 than the same period in 2016, the last quarter of the Obama administration.”

Time in processing has increased: “The previous high for delayed applications was 1.7 million in fiscal year 2004, as the entire immigration and homeland security apparatus was redone in the wake of 9/11. Now, USCIS reports the backlog reached 2.3 million cases in September 2017 and continues to grow despite just a 4 percent increase in applications. The wait time for some visa categories has nearly doubled.

Failure to admit refugees: “‘In Obama’s last year in office, the country admitted roughly 85,000 refugees. Two years later in 2018, the United States admitted just 22,000. ‘Trump has set the refugee admission ceiling at the lowest level, and we’re not even meeting that very low ceiling’ Pierce said.’”

Attacking the asylum system: “Any person on U.S. soil has the right to ask for asylum, but the metering system—a numbered waiting line at clogged border crossings—has kept some potential asylees from entering the country. Additionally, the administration has raised the bar for getting past the first step in the process, the credible fear interview.”

Read the full story and analysis of impacts from Tovin Lapan, writing in Forbes.

And things are likely to get worse…

Image result for lee cissna

Lee Cissna

Late last week Trump requested, and received, the resignation of current United States Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Lee Cissna. This is the latest in a purge of Department of Homeland Security officials, as Trump seems determined to “get tougher” on immigration. Trump has indicated his intention to appoint Ken Cuccinelli, former Attorney General in Virginia, to the post.

Danielle Spooner, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees union representing USCIS employees, had this to say about Cuccinelli’s appointment:

It has become clear that the goal of this Administration is to end immigration all together. How better to do that then by appointing as the leader of USCIS someone who knows nothing about immigration, Adjustment of Status or Naturalization, and whose sole purpose is to destroy the agency that grants these benefits.

That seems to sum up Trump’s agenda well.

Meanwhile, at the border…

As the human rights situations in Guatemala and Honduras continue to decline, the number of people, especially families, seeking asylum in the United States has increased dramatically. Partially because of the hold up at ports of entry – where tens of thousands of refugees are waiting for their “number” to be called so they can cross over from Mexico and apply for asylum, there has been a sharp increase in recent months of people crossing irregularly and then being arrested by Border Patrol agents.

In response to this increase, we would argue the administration would be better served to utilize community release programs on an expanded scale; community release is effective, more humane, and yes, cheaper. As is, the administration only views community release as a last resort – and frames its use as a security crisis, a claim with no empirical foundation.

The actual response of the administration is to build two new “tent” cities to detain families in indefinitely. The New York Times reports on the building of two massive “temporary” shelters in near the Donna and El Paso border crossings in Texas in the video below.

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Daily Dispatch 5/24/2019

Trump wants immigrants and sponsors to repay government assistance

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Daily Dispatch

May 24, 2019


Trump’s efforts to make life miserable for people seeking a new life in the United States is increasingly focused on those who migrated to the U.S. through official, “legal” means. Since his administration’s efforts to recraft the “public charge” rule last October – a new rule under which people here with a green card that received any government assistance could face removal proceedings – to the proposal of Housing and Urban Development last month to evict people from public housing if any member of that household was undocumented, Trump is engaging an all out war to target low-income immigrants. Yesterday, Trump announced that his administration issued a memorandum requiring that immigrants or their sponsors pay back any government assistance they may have received:

President Donald Trump took another step Thursday to crack down on legal immigration, instructing agencies to enforce a 23-year-old law that requires sponsors of green card holders to reimburse the government for welfare benefits.

Trump approved a memorandum Thursday to enforce a pair of provisions signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the White House said. The move comes as Trump has sought to overhaul legal immigration despite congressional resistance.

U.S. President Donald Trump visits the US-Mexico border in Calexico California, U.S., April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The announcement came with a justification – one we’ve heard before – that 58 percent of non-citizen headed households have accessed public assistance “in some form.” The source of this statistic is most likely a National Academy of the Sciences report that found that 58 percent of immigrant households with children had used “any welfare.” Importantly, included in this definition of welfare is food assistance programs like free lunch and breakfast programs at public schools. The same study showed that “native” households accessed housing and cash assistance programs at higher rates than immigrants. The percent of immigrant households where someone had accessed Medicaid was 50 percent, but a number that fluctuates dramatically state to state.  A fact check of an earlier similar claim by Trump included this:

University of California, Davis Law School Dean and immigration expert Kevin Johnson said immigrants cannot be over consuming public benefits because they are not eligible to receive the benefits in the first place.

“To say that the general rate of use by immigrants of public benefits is anywhere close to 50 percent is an exaggeration and just isn’t supported by the evidence,” he said.

Ultimately, the numbers ignore income levels and the fact that many immigrant headed households have citizen members of that household, often the children.

But the point, for Trump, is not to be accurate. Remember this is the man who last year Tweeted:

Not a single statistic in this tweet is accurate. The $3,874 number came from a report about a refugee family (legal!) receiving a one time cash assistance payment (not monthly) to help with resettlement – IN CANADA! Average social security checks in the U.S. are over $1,400 a month – not that this was the point of the tweet.

Trump is working from a very old playbook – associate immigrants with crime and welfare, project the idea that they are granted some kind of preferential treatment over U.S. citizens and blame all of this on the Democratic Party. This is warmed over “southern strategy” style race baiting. The goal is to create resentment and give those in the twitter-verse, social media and watching Fox News a target for that resentment. Which is to say, accuracy has nothing to do with it. 

As the election proceeds, Trump will continue to beat the drum of “deserving” and “undeserving” immigrants issue statements that confuse documented and undocumented immigration to cast a shadow over everyone in this country that is not a U.S. citizen. Fight for policies that animate this bigotry in an effort to keep the debate going and put the Democrats on the defensive should they push back at all.

Of course, it is not 1968. Demographic trends are not on the GOP’s side. This is the racist swan song of a dying order. But, for now, enough people are willing to dance to this tune that real damage to our country and the lives of millions of people is being done.

Fight back.

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