Del Rio: How to make 15,000 people disappear in a week

International Office on Migration details on removal flights (click to enlarge)

On Friday, September 17, there were 15,000 refugees under a bridge in Texas seeking entry into the United States. Most of them were from Haiti. A week later, they were all gone. What happened to 15,000 migrants in the space of 7 days? 

The numbers below are not precise, and, to be clear, people came and went from the camp, so likely more than 15,000 people were there at some point during the week. DHS also reports that there were 30,000 encounters in the Del Rio sector overall (including the camp), starting on September 9 to September 24. So some of the deportation and expulsion numbers reflect that reality as well.

Based on press reports and feedback from folk who have spent the week in Del Rio, this is a rough outline of what has happened to people from the camp, and others arrested by Border Patrol in the area.

Expelled to Mexico: According to Secretary Mayorkas, 8,000 people “voluntarily” returned to Mexico. “Voluntary ” in this case means being told to go back across the river or be deported back to Haiti. Mexico has been reluctant to accept Title 42 expulsions from Haiti until now, yet, received them this time. This is a reminder that Obrador refuses to say “no” to the United States on immigration no matter how abusive the request. Those “voluntarily” expelled back to Mexico were mostly bussed away from the border once there, many to Tapachula, Chiapas. Others were flown from Reynosa to Tapachula or Villahermos in Southern Mexico by Mexican immigration authorities. For those who evaded INM at the border they are now targets for arrest and detention.

Of course, many people had fled from Tapachula over the last few weeks – some after waiting months, or even years, for a decision on their asylum claims within Mexico. Unable to leave the state legally until a having received a decision from COMAR, and with no work available in Tapachula, in desperation people began leaving in large numbers at the beginning of September following a crackdown by INM and national guard on several caravans protesting conditions in Tapachula. The crisis in Tapachula was the precursor to the disaster in Del Rio. By flying and busing people back there now, the situation will simply continue to decline. 

Expelled on ICE Air Operation flights: From Sunday, September 19 to Monday, September 26 the United States flew 37 removal flights to Haiti. The flights will continue into this week and possibly beyond. The pace of flights has been so intense that ICE Air Operations began flights to Cap-Haitien in addition to Port-au-Prince, and expanded its roster of sub-contractors. iAero, the company that gets 95% of all ICE Air flights, also got the lion’s share of these flights, but World Atlantic Airline and Global Crossing Airlines were also paid for flights this week. Lest we forget, there is a lot of money in official cruelty – one reason we keep doing it.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees these flights, never gives out details. We can estimate from 32 flights that close to 3,400 people have been deported through Sunday – with 6 flights on Monday the total will be over 4,00o soon. CNN reported 1,424 on 12 flights as of Wednesday last week based on data from the International Organization on Migration office in Haiti – 40 were children who did not hold a Haitian passport). 

If Biden keeps up this pace there will be 6,000 to 7,000 people expelled to Haiti over a two week period. I cannot think of another country to receive this heavy concentration of expulsions in such a short period of time – especially considering that Haitians have made up a very small number of encounters at the border so far this year (less than 2%). 

It is reported that Mexico will begin removal flights to Haiti next week – so many of the 8,000 people expelled to Mexico may still be deported to Haiti anyway. This is “chain refoulement” and illegal under international law – but then just about everything that happened this week has been illegal under international law.

Detained while awaiting expulsion: Many of the people remaining in the United States are in detention facilities. Early in the week, Border Patrol began bussing, and flying people to other ports of entry to be held pending removal. People have been detained all along the border from Eagle Pass to Pearsall to the family holding center at Dilley. Mayorkas’ comments earlier in the week suggested as many as 6,500 people were transferred to other facilities Those not already part of the deportation total above will likely be included unless they receive support from attorneys.

As much as the bridge captured headlines, it is important to understand that Border Patrol has been encountering 6,500-7,000 people a day all summer. Most are expelled under Title 42 immediately, but because of the new strategy of flying, many of those expelled into the interior of Mexico, and many more are detained for days or weeks while awaiting flights. 

The conditions in these Border Patrol facilities are routinely horrendous. Overcrowding hasn’t helped. Reports from inside are of people who are sick, with high fevers, and not getting medical care despite attempted advocacy by attorneys.

The horrendous conditions in the camp in Del Rio, the abuse meted out by Border Patrol agents against migrants, and the horrible detention conditions has led to a civil rights complaint against DHS. The Grio summarized:

Haitian Bridge Alliance, The UndocuBlack Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and African Communities Together on Friday sent a letter of complaint…addressed to the department’s head of Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Katherine Culliton-González.

Highlighting the graphic images and video of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers on horseback hitting migrants with horse reins used as whips, the complaint accuses the department of several violations and demands that DHS stop the deportation of migrants who were either victimized by CBP or were witnesses of abuses at the border.

Some families allowed to stay: Other folk, mostly families, have been allowed to stay in the United States for now. Some have been given an order to report to immigration authorities within 60 days – others are in detention awaiting processing. Reports from attorneys in Del Rio are that the documents many people have been given are improperly filled out by Border Patrol agents and some contain no dates. This kind of sloppy care at intake is often a problem for people who later seek asylum. It is hard to believe it was unintentional. 

It is not clear how many people from Del Rio were permitted entry – thousands to be sure. In San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso and Houston, families were arriving all week to temporary facilities set up mostly by volunteers, who received them and helped them along to the next phase of their journey, wherever that might be. 

According to the Washington Post, DHS officials estimated that 30,000 people were encountered overall in the Del Rio sector over the two week period starting September 9, and that of those 12,400 were allowed to request asylum or other form of protection. That said, it seems that for the 15,000 people in the camp, the majority were expelled. 

While the Associated Press (and any number of Republicans) raised concerns about these admissions undermining Biden’s “deterrent” strategy, it is worth noting that as of September 30th, Biden will not be able to expel families under Title 42 anyway. This follows a Federal court ruling blocking the practice – unless the administration wins an appeal. People allowed to stay will not be expelled any time soon. However, they still face an uphill battle to remain in the United States, as most will likely not be granted asylum in the long run.

Rough summary

If DHS encountered 30,000 people during a two week period, with about half of those ending up under the bridge in Del Rio, the break down is something like this:

12,000+ allowed to apply for asylum or other relief (almost all families w/children). Many of these people are still in detention.

8,000+ summarily expelled to Mexico

6,000 in detention waiting to be expelled – though some might be allowed to stay, certainly people are fighting for them.

4,000 already deported to Haiti as of end of the day, Monday, September 27. (I do not know how many people were expelled to other countries during the last two weeks from Del Rio or the camp specifically).

What to do!

Donate to support legal services: There are a number of groups trying to provide legal support services to those in custody. The folk we work most closely with are with the Haitian Bridge Alliance. They are amazing. You can donate to support their efforts directly here.

Continue to demand that Biden halt these deportations: Call the White House at 202-456-1111, or contact your member of Congress and ask them to speak out against the expulsions. We’ve set up a form to make that easy for you here, or click the take action button below. Following up with a phone call helps, and certainly sharing this update and the alert spreads the word.

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The Quixote Center denounces the Biden administration expulsion of Haitian refugees

The Quixote Center joins with other human rights and faith-based organizations in unequivocally condemning the Biden administration’s decision to begin the mass expulsion of Haitian refugees who have been detained in Del Rio, Texas.

“The disaster unfolding in Del Rio is the direct result of the Biden administration’s decision to keep Title 42 enforcement in place. By continuing this Trump policy of denying people access to asylum at the border under the guise of public health, Biden has left them no place to go,” says Quixote Center program director, Tom Ricker.

Since taking office the Biden administration has escalated the Trump administration’s policy of misusing Title 42 of the U.S. Code to illegally block asylum at ports of entry and expel families and adults who cross the border seeking protection, including many from Haiti.  According to prominent public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and other medical schools and hospitals around the country, there is no sound public health rationale for the Title 42 ban on migrants.

Quixote Center executive director John Marchese says, “Blocking refugees from seeking asylum in the United States is cruel. Expelling Haitians in this way given conditions in Haiti right now, following an earthquake several weeks ago, and the ongoing political instability, manifested in the assassination of the country’s president, is unconscionable.”

The Quixote Center joins in the demand for the Biden administration:

  • Stop all deportations: Haitian migrants are refugees, fleeing dangerous conditions in Haiti, and shouldn’t be sent back without an opportunity to claim asylum or other protections.
  • Terminate Title 42: don’t defend it and stop using it to unjustifiably expel Haitians.
  • Grant humanitarian parole: Haitians seeking protections must be granted humanitarian parole to allow them to be transferred to safer conditions and away from CBP mistreatment.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance: Provide safe shelter, water, food and health care to Haitians who are in Del Rio awaiting an opportunity to request protection.
  • Investigate CBP: The Office of the Inspector General must immediately start an investigation into the use of whips, or whip-like devices, and other mistreatment of Haitians by Border Patrol.

The Quixote Center has partnered with grassroots groups in Haiti for 30 years and also supports migrant shelters in Mexico and Central America.

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Inverting Hanlon’s Razor: Greg Abbott and Operation Lone Star 

Hanlon’s Razor is an informal principle of logic which states, “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Living in Texas for the last ten years, I have decided that one must turn Hanlon’s razor on its head to explain Texas politics. Much of the country tends to attribute Texas political grandstanding to stupidity, when in fact, what is happening is actual malice directed at people for political gain. 

Take Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas. He is on a mission. That mission is to make himself into the Lone Star Trump, possibly with an eye toward becoming a player on the national stage, while, minimally, winning over the increasingly extreme GOP primary voters of Texas. 

Toward that end, he has committed to continuing to build “Trump’s” border wall on the Texas’ state dime. To pay for the wall, Abbott pulled $250 million from the state’s prison system, which is already underfunded and understaffed, or more to the point, overpopulated with people who should be at home. With much fanfare, including a press conference at the border with Donald Trump, Abbott has pushed this agenda, knowing full well that he can only build, at best, 10 miles of wall with the misappropriated funds (Texas’ border with Mexico is over 1,200 miles long). And then, only if he can find 10 consecutive miles of land that Texas landowners are willing to cede to the state (Abbott has also committed not to use eminent domain). Good luck with that.

Sounds stupid, right? Sure. But the goal is not to actually build a wall. The goal is to give the appearance of standing up to the big bad federal government and its “open border” president. And if Abbott can appeal to Trump’s base (vital to winning the GOP primary) in the process, all the better. 

Which brings us to Operation Lone Star. 

Operation Lone Star is the latest iteration of Texas governors sending state police into border communities to hassle migrants, and inevitably, also hassle life-long Texans. Abbott’s latest twist on this twisted approach to race-baiting is to arrest migrants under state criminal trespass laws, and send them to prison for as long as possible before turning them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or the Border Patrol for removal. Grassroots Leadership shared video of migrants being processed in a parking lot before being sent to jail, most apparently having no idea what was going on. There are no lawyers and no due process. 

Abbott has converted a state prison outside of Dilley for the purpose of holding migrants, at enormous cost to Texas taxpayers. And he is now pressuring a special session of the Texas legislature to make Operation Lone Star, heretofore the result of an executive order issued under a state of emergency, the law of the land (alongside a $1.7 billion appropriation).

Abbott justifies all of this with the claim that Biden’s “open border” immigration policy has been a bonanza for traffickers and drug dealers, which in turn threatens the lives of Texans. Please note: the targets of enforcement are people whose “crimes” have nothing to do with drugs or slavery, but rather that they walked across someone’s front yard.

This seems really stupid. But again, to assume any of this has to do with law and order misses the point. Trump’s base, which Abbott desperately wants to also be his base, mostly doesn’t live near the border. They have no idea that border communities have some of the lowest crime rates in the state. Indeed, the murder rate in Hidalgo county is lower than than murder rate in Palm Beach County, Florida where Mar-a-lago is located. They do not know that 11 of the 34 counties included in Abbott’s original disaster declaration declined to participate, including four of the most populous counties in the Rio Grande Valley, nor do they know that very few border counties have adopted their own disaster declarations at Abbott’s invitation. Trump’s base is also unaware that state troopers have been hassling border residents in Texas for years already, with no demonstrable impact on migration, and the only impact on crime being an increase in non-border communities that no longer have adequate policing (because their officers have been sent to the border). They don’t know. They don’t care. They just hate Biden.

It is also very clear that they know little about what Biden has (and more to the point has not) done as president. Biden has made some reform moves on immigration (some key ones, like ending the Migrant Protection Protocol or instating a temporary moratorium on deportations have been blocked by a federal judge in Texas in suits brought by Texas’ attorney general). Yet the core elements of Trump’s border policy remain in place, including the framework of “Title 42,” which uses public health authority to expel anyone encountered by Border Patrol immediately, with no chance to seek asylum. Indeed, Biden has actually expelled far more people in six-months than Trump did the previous year. 

Another area of non-concern for Texas policy makers is that the reason immigration has recently increased has absolutely nothing to do with border policy in the US (which, as noted, has hardly changed). In fact, migration is on the rise everywhere as the result of a global COVID-19 recession, which has slammed Central America and Caribbean in particular. This has been compounded by the destruction wrought by several hurricanes, and ongoing political violence in Honduras and Guatemala, not to mention draconian US sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba. And this is just the short list of crises that are driving people from their homes. 

So arresting people for trespassing in Texas is not going to put any kind of dent in migration. Even by the distorted logic of “deterrence,” the idea that Operation Lone Star will impact migration is laughable. Abbott knows this (no one is that stupid, right?). 

No, Abbott is being mean to immigrants because such maliciousness makes for good politics in Texas. Simply dismissing Abbott as a buffoon is thus a huge mistake. Trump won the White House this way, and if not Abbott, someone like him will try again in 2024 with the same playbook. In Texas, we are still living with the result. Trust me, one should never dismiss as stupid that which is done with malicious intent. Never. That’s how they win.

Grassroots Leadership and RAICES, among others in Texas are working to halt HB9, which would make Operation Lone Star law. If you live in Texas you can sign the petition opposing the law here. If you don’t live here but have friends that do – share it with them.

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Earthquake Update #2

It has now been seven days since an earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, doing tremendous damage in the Sud, Nippes, and Grand Anse departments. According to the latest update from Haiti’s government, 2,189 people are confirmed dead, with another 12,268 injured. Some communities have yet to be reached by government officials and volunteers, and so this toll is likely to climb much higher. 

The damage is hard to fathom. Nearly 61,000 homes have been destroyed and 76,000 damaged. Nearly 75,000 families are without housing. The country was already facing a food security crisis, compounded by high fuel prices, and the closing of transportation corridors that connected the south to Port au Prince, which were closed off due to fighting in Martissant and surrounding areas. Emergency support efforts are thus compounded by the intersection of these other, pre-existing crises, draining resources and creating insecurity for the delivery of assistance. 

The government announced on Monday that there was a truce with gangs in Martissant. Several aid convoys were able to get through during that time. That truce seemed to be fraying by Thursday, as renewed fighting led to massive traffic jams coming in and out of Port au Prince. Two doctors were apparently kidnapped – one reportedly on his way to perform an emergency cesarean section. Unattended because of his kidnapping, the mother and child both died. Outside the main roads, however, it is not clear that the fighting in Martissant ever really stopped. A friend in the area wrote to me that people are risking their lives every day trying to get relief to the south.

The challenges are very real, to be sure. But it is also important to underscore that in the face of these challenges there has already been a significant response both within Haiti and among international actors. Within Haiti, official coordination is taking place through the National Centre for Emergency Operations (COUN) and Departmental Centres for Emergency Operations (COUD). Both the COUN and COUD meet regularly with local officials and organizations providing assistance in order to coordinate and prioritize aid. It is still in the early phases, and gaps in the delivery of assistance are clear. 

Les Cayes, for example, is still accessible by road and the airport is functioning. The response there has been significant. At the same time, Jeremie has been harder to reach, and the hospital is lacking in supplies. Smaller towns in Nippes are reportedly receiving little attention. 

Quixote Center response thus far

Thanks to the generosity of many of you, the Quixote Center raised funds this week, and will continue to reach out as the crisis evolves.  Our strategy for the use of funds includes short and medium term goals. In the short term we are supporting groups in Haiti that are delivering emergency supplies. Toward that end we have partnered with the Kolektif pou lakay.

The Kolektif pou Lakay is a new organization, and describes itself as, “a team of young professionals, mainly from the south of Haiti, the most heavily impacted area by the August 14, 2021, earthquake. Our objective is to ensure that the victims’ urgent needs are met. Your contribution will help us acquire and distribute, thanks to our team on the ground, drinking water, food, medical assistance, and hygiene kits directly to the victims. Additionally, we look to provide temporary housing to those in need. In the interest of transparency, a report will be drafted every two weeks on our social media platforms.”  

The Kolektif pou lakay is receiving donations from individuals through a Gofundme page – which you can access here to donate directly if you are able. We have worked with several members of the collective from Noupapdomi on other projects, and will continue to provide support in the weeks to come. 

The Quixote Center is also working in collaboration with the Haiti Response Coalition to establish mechanisms for need assessment and coordination of assistance. The Haiti Response Coalition is a network of mostly US based organizations that work in partnership with organizations in Haiti. The goal of our work with the HRC is to facilitate better coordination so that assistance is reaching some of the areas that might otherwise get looked over. HRC is in the process of investigating and doing some initial mapping of the area to get a better sense of what is needed and where. 

Go here to donate to the Quixote Center emergency response fund.

Longer term

The Quixote Center’s core relationship in Haiti remains the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne. We are reminded over and over again about the need to develop sustainable and equitable food systems. This is the work of the Formation Center and the primary outlet for our resources. Gros Morne was not impacted directly by either the earthquake or the recent tropical depression. Nevertheless, our work there is also an emergency response in many ways. 4.4 million people are impacted by food insecurity in Haiti – and that estimate is prior to the earthquake. Our commitment to the program, and the incredible ingenuity and creativity of the agronomy team is long term. Their work continues in these difficult times, and so does our support. We are keeping our emergency fundraising for the earthquake separate from our general efforts – this is just to let you know this other work continues.

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Expulsion flights to Mexico violate human rights

Border crossing at El Ceibo. Image: Wikimedia

Last week we, and everyone else, reported that Biden decided to maintain restrictions on asylum seekers put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) under pressure from Trump’s immigration advisor, Steven Miller. The restrictions claim authority under Title 42 of the US Code, for the government to restrict travel on public health grounds. Miller lost no time in pressing the CDC to issue the order last year, using COVID-19 to achieve what he had otherwise failed to do: Close off access to asylum at the southern border.

Under Title 42 people encountered by Border Patrol are simply expelled – as quickly as possible. The vast majority are expelled into Mexico, while some others, including folk from Haiti are detained briefly before being put on flights home. Biden halted the expulsion of unaccompanied children in January, and has reduced the number of families expelled – but has refused to halt family expulsions altogether, a decision that led a host of organizations to restart a suit against Title 42 in federal court. Since the beginning of this fiscal year (October 2020) 750,000 people have been summarily expelled under Title 42, and well over a million people since the program was first launched in March of 2020.

So what are these flights about? 

What became apparent quickly is that many people once expelled, tried to cross again. The so-called recidivism rate, or the percentage of people who re-cross after being expelled, increased significantly under Title 42. With this change also came a shift in demographics. The largest group of people expelled are single adults, and most are from Mexico – not Central America which had been the pattern in the years prior to Title 42. To deal with the recidivism issue, the United States re-started interior flights to Mexico, basically flying people to Mexico City or further south to make it harder for them to return to the border. 

This week, the twist is that Biden’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now flying non-Mexican nationals to airports in southern Mexico, where most are then put on busses by Mexico’s migration authority and forcibly expelled into Guatemala. 

Hundreds have ended up in El Ceibo. From The Washington Post:

“They are being tricked, because in Mexico they are told that in El Ceibo there will be a bus that will take them to their countries. These are lies. When they arrive they say: Where is the bus? Where do I take it to go to my country?” said Natalia Lorenzo, who works for the Guatemalan government’s human rights ombudsman in Petén, the department where El Ceibo is located.

Andrés Toribio, who runs the shelter in El Ceibo, said he was shocked by the sudden arrival of hundreds of migrants from the United States. The area is mostly known as a crossing point for migrants being smuggled north and a transit point for drugs.

On Monday night alone, Toribio said, at least seven buses arrived with those had been expelled from the United States.

“These are people whose rights were violated,” he said. “They weren’t given the right to apply for asylum in either the United States or Mexico. Then they end up here in a place with almost nothing for them, without organizations that work with migrants.”

To be clear what this means – people who have fled violence in Central America, passed through Mexico and made it to the United States border, are being denied the right to make an asylum claim, detained, then put on a plane to Villahermosa or Tapachula, Mexico and expelled back into Guatemala by bus – all in the name of public health. Mostly these are single adults, but families are being expelled in this manner as well.  

Public health experts have been arguing with the CDC, Trump and now Biden about Title 42 since its inception. There is no public health justification for denying people access to asylum. None. It is fully possible, as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees reminded the United States yet again this week, to design a COVID-19 screening process that honors asylum obligations and maintains public health. 

Meanwhile these expulsions are themselves a public health disaster. From the beginning of the pandemic immigration detention facilities (along with prisons) have been hotspots for COVID-19 infections. So, it is no surprise that the Delta virus is creating a new and dangerous spike throughout ICE’s detention network. People who are flown out of the United States are first detained. Even if this is just over night or a few hours, they will end up in staging areas where people from throughout the US detention network pass through. Exposure is practically guaranteed. Then there is the crowded flight, followed by being packed on a bus and then dumped at a border. None of this exhibits much concern for public health or COVID-19 prevention.  

Much of the media focus has been on the politics of immigration, specifically highlighting the pressure on Biden to not move too quickly, lest the screams of the nativist/Trumpistas drown out the rest of his agenda. Clay Risan at the New York Times, for example, points to polling that shows only 33% of US Americans think Biden is doing a good job on immigration and a slight majority, 51% who think he is not. Of course, some of the naysayers are unhappy because he is not moving fast enough. Indeed, Biden is leaning on Trump’s disastrous policy infrastructure while initiating changes only on the margins. Much has been promised, some good things delivered, but not nearly enough has changed in core policy areas, like Title 42. The dissonance is increasingly hard to take. 

For now, Title 42 is in place for at least another 2 months.  Even if the courts step in, the case before them deals with family expulsions under Title 42 – not single adults which make up the vast majority of removals. We don’t have to accept that – and will keep fighting it. But it would take little more than a directive from the White House to end these flights – and that should happen now.

What to do? You can let the White House know you want these flights ended. The White House Comment line is at 202-456-1111. You can also check here for additional ways to communicate with White House officials.

We are raising funds for the shelter in El Ceibo, Guatemala that is receiving people who have been expelled. You can make a donation here to help with that, and share the link with friends. We will have more of an update after staff visit the shelter tomorrow.

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TPS for Haiti and Title 42 both extended by Biden, ICE still likes to hide

It has been over a year since we discontinued the Daily Dispatch, which served as our regular  (indeed, daily) summary of immigration policy. We are not bringing it back any time soon, but this week feels like one where we need to offer some news briefs and updates from a few areas of immigration policy. So in this installment of the Occasionally Recurring Dispatch!

Biden strings together some good news….

Last week we took Biden’s team to task for raising the specter of “boat people” regarding the current crisis unfolding in Haiti. We, along with other organizations, have been pushing the administration to actually do a handful of things about immigration and Haiti that would be helpful (instead of pulling out racist tropes). Last Friday he did – and for a few days we were all excited. And then….well the good news first.

Biden did extend Temporary Protected Status to Haiti in May. A large coalition has been pressing for (at least) two things regarding TPS and Haiti. The first is that the re-designation date be moved forward. The original announcement came on May 21, so only people from Haiti already in the United States on or before that date could apply for TPS. The second thing was to get the Federal Register notice posted quickly, so that people could begin the process of applying. 

On Friday Biden’s team finally did both things – they posted the Federal Register notice and also extended the re-designation date to July 29. The new date is significant – as there were a number of Haitians (exact number is not clear but hundreds) in ICE custody that were facing removal having arrived after May 21. Most can now make a claim under TPS to be released.

There is still work to be done on TPS – including a permanent solution that includes permanent residency. We are still fighting to get people who were made to wait in Mexico access to TPS – as under normal procedures, they would have been present in the United States before the designation date. There is also the concern that people who arrived via Brazil or Chile may be denied TPS on the grounds that they had, in effect, resettled in one of those countries first. That said, as a first step, getting TPS in place, the date extended, and the Federal Register Notice live so people can begin the process of applying, is all great news. 

And then….

Biden’s much anticipated decision regarding the extension of the Trump era (error?) policy, “Title 42” came down this week, and Biden blew it. At least if you care about access to asylum and human rights. This week Biden announced that the administration would continue enforcing Title 42 restrictions, including summary expulsions.

Title 42 refers to a section of the Federal code under which a public health order was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection under intense pressure from Trump’s immigration advisor Stephen Miller in March of 2020. The order denies anyone encountered by Border Patrol the ability to apply for asylum. They are simply expelled back into Mexico immediately – or in the case of Haitians and others not from Central America – they are detained until they can be expelled. But at no point do they have access to regular asylum screening.

It was assumed that Biden would at least suspend the expulsion of families under Title 42 (he did agree to halt the expulsion of unaccompanied minors back in January). But he did not even do that. Admittedly, Biden has expelled a lower percent of those encountered than Trump, and much of this is due to a decision to expel fewer families. Why he would waffle on the family question is baffling. We can only assume that the nativist/racist backlash to anything deemed a “softening” of immigration policy scares even the Democrats.

Title 42 has been updated before. Biden’s update requires that the policy be reviewed every 60 days. 

A letter coordinated by Human Rights First prior to the decision lays out some of our concerns. 

Rational, science-based measures, recommended by public health experts exist to mitigate COVID-19 concerns and safely process asylum seekers at the border. The use of Title 42 – described as a “Stephen Miller special” by a former Trump administration official – was implemented over the objections of senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) experts and has been widely discredited by epidemiologists and public health experts who have confirmed it has “no scientific basis as a public health measure.” These experts provided detailed recommendations for the safe processing of asylum seekers to your transition team, the CDC, and other officials in your administration. In May 2021, medical experts for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) filed a whistleblower disclosure condemning the policy for lacking a public health justification and for fueling widespread family separation and detention of children. Medical professionals providing care in encampments and shelters in Tijuana have also decried the expulsion policy as threatening the health and safety of migrants.

We join in with other organizations in calling on the administration to end Title 42 immediately.

ICE is still a rogue agency….

“Judge Mehta responded: ‘It’s as if nobody heard a word I had to say last time we were here. I am literally at a loss right now. I am at a loss. I have never, in my judicial career, had an agency respond to a judicial order in the way that ICE has responded to this order in this case.’”

Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) has a long history of avoiding any kind of scrutiny, be that from members of Congress, inspector generals or Federal judges. Even though there is new leadership at the top appointed by Biden, ICE’s penchant for secrecy remains firmly in place. As an example, ICE has been fighting the disclosure of its full “data dictionary” in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) located at Syracuse University. A data dictionary is a database tool by which data points and their relationships are defined. So, ICE is not fighting the release of data per se. They are fighting the release of details on how they codify relationships between data points.  

A Federal Judge refused to let ICE of the hook back in July. Things got interesting:

When Judge Mehta refused, ICE continued to drag its feet. Then at the previous July 12 hearing to review progress in the identification and release of the data dictionaries, ICE official Ryan C. Stubbs had told the judge that “the agency’s [i.e. ICE’s] position is that these complete data dictionaries…are [to be] withheld in full.” Judge Mehta advised Stubbs, “…if that’s what the agency’s position is, then I think the agency needs to rethink it, because I will tell you…that’s a nonstarter with me.” But at the following July 29 hearing, openly flaunting the judge’s opinion and order, ICE produced samples where virtually all of the data dictionaries’ contents had been redacted and blacked out.

Judge Mehta responded: “It’s as if nobody heard a word I had to say last time we were here. I am literally at a loss right now. I am at a loss. I have never, in my judicial career, had an agency respond to a judicial order in the way that ICE has responded to this order in this case.” (See page 9 of transcript.) And he ordered “the head of the Civil Division…and whoever it is at the agency in the [ICE] general counsel’s office that can actually respond to meaningful questions from the Court, need to be [present at] this next hearing.”

This is the same agency that ignored repeated requests for explanations concerning conditions and practices at ICE detention facilities during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite repeated requests from members of Congress. The agency has basically ignored (by refusing to meaningfully enforce) years of recommendations by the Office of Inspector General on any number of issues – but perhaps most crucially the provision of health services in ICE’s network of privately run prisons. ICE always just adds a footnote to its press releases about how much they care, and how much is spent on health care when responding to criticism – when they bother to respond at all. So, secrecy is the culture of the place, and remains so under Mayorkas.

The TRAC suit is very important as TRAC is one of the few entities with the capacity to assimilate data on immigration enforcement, including detailed analytics about immigration court, detention and removal proceedings. They do this very well – perhaps too well for ICE’s comfort zone. It will be interesting to see what comes next. 

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Jovenel Moïse has been assassinated

Haiti’s acting president, Jovenel Moïse was assassinated this morning. Press reports are largely leaning on a brief statement by interim prime minister Claude Joseph for details. The statement reads (translation, CNN),

“At around one (1) o’clock in the morning, on the night of Tuesday, July 6 to Wednesday, July 7, 2021, a group of unidentified individuals, some of whom were speaking in Spanish, attacked the private residence of the President of the Republic and fatally wounded the Head of State. The First Lady was shot and is receiving the necessary treatment.

“Condemning this heinous, inhumane and barbaric act, the Prime Minister a.i., Dr. Claude Joseph, and the CSPN are calling for calm. The security situation in the country is under the control of the Haitian National Police and the Haitian Armed Forces.

“All measures are being taken to guarantee the continuity of the State and to protect the Nation.

“Democracy and the Republic will win.”

The Miami Herald is reporting that videos show that the attackers claimed to be with the DEA:

The assailants claimed to be agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to videos taken by people in the area of the president’s home. Moïse, 53, lives in Pelerin 5, a neighborhood just above the hills in the capital.

On the videos, someone with an American accent is heard yelling in English over a megaphone, “DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down.”

Sources said the assailants, one of whom spoke in English with an American accent, were not with the DEA.

“These were mercenaries,” a high-ranking Haitian government official said.

Residents reported hearing high-powered rounds fired with precision, and seeing men dressed in black running through the neighborhoods. There are also reports of a grenade going off and drones being used.

Moïse’s assassination comes amidst an escalation of violence in the capital. Over the last month, armed groups have been fighting over control of parts of Port-au-Prince, leading to the displacement of thousands of people in Martissant, Grand Ravine, and Delmas. The southern part of the country has largely been cut off from the capital as a result. During one night last week, June 30, fifteen people were murdered including reporter Diego Charles and opposition activist Antoinette Duclair. 

Adding to the confusion is the question of succession. According to the 1987 constitution, the president of the Court of Cassation (Haiti’s Supreme Court) is supposed to take over as an interim authority, but the head of the court, René Sylvestre, recently died with COVID-19. Moïse had just announced the appointment of Ariel Henry on Monday as the new prime minister, but he has not been approved by the Council of Ministers yet; there is no acting parliament which would normally have to approve a new Prime Minister. Claude Joseph is standing as interim prime minister and will have to work with the Council of Ministers to craft a way forward.  

The United States Press Secretary said, “It’s a horrific crime and we’re so sorry for the loss…we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.”

Andy Levin, who chairs the House of Representative’s Haiti Caucus, said, “The murder of Jovenel Moïse is a devastating if not shocking example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled. For months, violent actors have terrorized the Haitian people with impunity while the international community—the United States included, I fear—has failed to heed their cries to change course and support a Haitian-led democratic transition.”

Meanwhile, citing a fear of further instability, the president of the Dominican Republic, Luis Abinader, ordered the Haiti/Dominican border closed.

As this is a developing story, consider checking for regular updates on the Haiti Watch Twitter account. 

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Franciscan Network on Migration Participates in UN Dialogue on Human Rights of Migrants

One June 24, 2021 the Advisory Committee of Franciscan Network on Migration collaborated with Franciscans International and together with 30 other organizations (including the Quixote Center) to make a joint Declaration on the harsh reality faced by migrants in Mexico, Guatemala and the United States. The statement as delivered by Ana Victoria López Estrada is below in English and Spanish.

47th Session of the Human Rights Council

Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants

23 June 2021
Delivered by: Ana Victoria López Estrada

Thank you Madame President,

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report on “pushbacks” and their impact to the human rights of migrants.

We agree with the Special Rapporteur that the principle of non-refoulement is characterized by its absolute nature without any exception. However, we are concerned that the practice to return migrants is performed without an individual assessment and in contexts of militarization of borders, particularly in the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.

We have witnessed an excessive increase of military and security personnel in migratory verification and control tasks.

From June 2019 to December 2020, the military and the Mexican National Guard detained 152.000 migrants on the southern border, including 27.000 children.3 In Guatemala, the Border Patrol has detained and immediately returned migrants, especially during the “caravans” in September 2020 and January 2021, without allowing them to request international protection. These detentions and returns are made with an excessive, arbitrary, and indiscriminate use of force. For these reasons, we are concern by current negotiations between the United States, Mexico and Guatemala on increasing the militarization of their borders. 

Finally, there are hostilities, harassment, surveillance, defamation and aggressions against human right defenders, shelters and spaces supporting migrants, even during the pandemic.

It is urgent that the Council calls on Mexico, the United States and Guatemala to comply with their international obligations and to stop detaining and returning migrants and asylum seekers.

Thank you Madam President.

47° Sesión del Consejo de Derechos Humanos

Diálogo Interactivo con el Relator Especial de los derechos humanos de los migrantes

23 Junio 2021

Presentada por: Ana Victoria López Estrada

Gracias Sra. Presidenta,

Agradecemos el reporte del Relator Especial sobre las “devoluciones en caliente” y su impacto en los derechos humanos de las personas migrantes.

Coincidimos con el Relator en el carácter absoluto e incondicional del principio de no devolución. Sin embargo, nos preocupa que las devoluciones de personas migrantes se realizan de forma masiva sin una evaluación individual y en contextos de militarización de las fronteras, particularmente en Estados Unidos, México y Guatemala.

Somos testigos de un aumento excesivo de las fuerzas armadas militares y de seguridad, en tareas de control y verificación migratoria. De junio de 2019 a diciembre de 2020, las Fuerzas Armadas y la Guardia Nacional Mexicana detuvieron a 152 mil personas migrantes en la frontera sur, incluidos 27 mil niños y niñas.1 En Guatemala, la Patrulla Fronteriza ha detenido y deportado de inmediato a personas migrantes, especialmente durante las “caravanas” de septiembre de 2020 y de enero de 2021, negándoles el derecho a buscar protección internacional. Estas detenciones y devoluciones se hacen con un excesivo, arbitrario e indiscriminado uso de la fuerza. Por eso nos preocupa las negociaciones entre Estados Unidos, México y Guatemala de incrementar la militarización de las fronteras.2

Por último, hay una intensa hostilidad, acoso, vigilancia, difamaciones y agresiones en contra de personas defensoras de las personas migrantes; así como de albergues y espacios de atención a personas migrantes incluso durante la pandemia.

Es urgente que este Consejo exija a los gobiernos de México, Estados Unidos y Guatemala a cumplir con sus obligaciones internacional y abstenerse de continuar con las detenciones y devoluciones de migrantes y solicitantes de asilo

Gracias Sra. Presidenta.

Organizations / Organizaciones

  1. Asamblea Ciudadana contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad – ACCI

  2. Acción Ecuménica por los Derechos Humanos(AEDH)

  3. Asistencia Legal por los Derechos Humanos A.C. (ASILEGAL)

  4. Centro de Derechos Humanos “Fray Francisco de Vitoria O.P” A.C

  5. Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova A.C.

  6. Colectiva Luna Celaya

  7. Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Mexicano

  8. Congregations of St. Joseph

  9. Dominicans for Justice and Peace

  10. Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC-SJ)

  11. Franciscans International

  12. Frontera con Justicia A. C. [Casa del Migrante Saltillo]

  13. Fundación Arcoiris por el respeto a la diversidad sexual.

  14. Grupo belga ‘Solidair met Guatemala’

  15. Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology

  16. JPIC Familia Franciscana – Guatemala

  17. JPIC HFIC Provincia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

  18. JPIC México- Hogar Franciscano

  19. Kino Border Initiative

  20. La 72, Hogar-Refugio para personas migrantes

  21. Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, Inc.

  22. Peace Brigades International

  23. Programa de Asuntos Migratorios Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México

  24. Protección Internacional Mesoamérica

  25. Quixote Center

  26. Red Franciscana para Migrantes en Centroamérica, México y Estados Unidos

  27. Red Jesuita con Migranres Centro Norteamérica (RJM-CANA)

  28. Red Jesuita con Migrantes – Guatemala

  29. Red Jesuita con Migrantes LAC

  30. Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos “Todos los Derechos para Todas y Todos” – México

  31. Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados

  32. Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur

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Haiti: COVID-19 update and the ongoing political crisis

Haiti is experiencing a third wave of COVID-19 infections, and it is quickly emerging as possibly the worst one. Infections were initially concentrated in the north and in Port-au-Prince, but are quickly emerging everywhere. Near our program site in Gros Morne, there are cases at the local hospital, though for now, still manageable. A long overdue shipment of masks from Germany arrived – just as infections were increasing. However, in Port-au-Prince resources are strained. For example, at St. Luke’s hospital, they have run out of beds, and are having difficulty securing oxygen as prices for tanks have increased with the spike in demand.

Graduation ceremonies for the schools have been suspended and exams delayed, though classes themselves have not yet been halted. This could change, or course, but clearly there is a strong desire to finish the school year, already truncated by COVID-19, political protests and security concerns.

We continue to monitor the situation in Gros Morne, but we are not a medical non-profit. For those wishing to provide direct support for medical response to COVID-19 we encourage you to look into St. Luke‘s, which has an historic relationship with the hospital in Gros Morne.  Our own work in Gros Morne in support of ecological programs continues, of course, and we are also part of a team with the Haiti Response Coalition that monitors and reports on the political crisis. Your support for that work is also quite welcome. 

Referendum on the Constitution

Meanwhile, preparations for a constitutional referendum – itself likely unconstitutional – continue. Despite widespread opposition to the referendum within Haiti, and multiple statements of concern from without, the referendum is set for June 27 barring a delay over COVID-19. Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic Policy Research wrote an excellent new piece for the CEPR blog dissecting the role of the “international community” which is implicitly supporting the referendum, despite public statements to the contrary. Jake writes,

The international community has remained largely silent on the question of the referendum. The Core Group, which consists of the US, Canada, Brazil, France, the EU, the UN, and the OAS, among others, issued a statement in April noting that the process was not sufficiently transparent or inclusive. Nevertheless, international actors have refrained from explicitly calling for its cancellation or even its delay. Further, both the UN and the OAS are actively providing support for the referendum, despite their public statements of concern. 

These two multilateral organizations have provided technical assistance to the commission tasked with drafting the new text since it was formed last fall. The OAS even helped with revisions to the text in an attempt to remove some of the more controversial aspects in the original. The UN, meanwhile, has helped to procure sensitive voting materials for the electoral council overseeing the referendum and has an agreement in place to provide logistics for holding the vote. The UN is also helping to advise the national police on an electoral security strategy. 

Constitutional changes and upcoming elections are obviously closely tied together. For example, proposed constitutional changes would eliminate the senate and thus, change the parameters of the elections completely. So, in addition to the controversy over the referendum itself, there is widespread confusion about what it means for long overdue national elections now scheduled for November.

In the lead up to the referendum, opposition politicians are mobilizing – or encouraging others to mobilize – in an effort to block the vote. For example, Jean Danton Léger, a former member of Parliament, representing Léogâne, called on “all citizens to mobilize to thwart the organization of this referendum, which, he said, was aimed not only at building a presidential monarch, untouchable with permanent immunity and not accountable….but also to institutionalize impunity, legalize gangsterism, and deliver the country entirely to neo-settlers.”

The PBS NewsHour did a program on Haiti which provides a good overview of many of the current concerns regarding elections and the referendum. Though they give a few moments to current U.S. policy, the one weakness here and in much Haiti coverage, is the lack of attention given to historic U.S. responsibility, including efforts by the Obama administration that led to Moise and his predecessor, Michel Martelly, being in power to begin with. That said, it is still worth watching, as Haiti rarely gets this kind of coverage. You can watch the program here.

Elections and the OAS

Finally, the Organization of American States is organizing an official delegation to Haiti. The Permanent Council approved the delegation last week. From the Miami Herald:

The Organization of American States agreed Wednesday to send a five-member delegation to Haiti no later than mid-June to see if they can help the Caribbean nation break a crippling political impasse that could derail presidential and legislative elections this year.

The highly anticipated OAS mission will unfold over three days in Port-au-Prince, cost about $24,000 and consist of the representatives of five member states: Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States. The U.S. has agreed to pick up most of the tab following the OAS Permanent Council’s unanimous offer in March to the Haitian government to help facilitate a political dialogue.

According to Wednesday’s [May 26] resolution approved by the permanent representatives of the OAS after negotiations, delegation members will be participating in their own capacity but with the permission of their respective governments. They also will be joined by a representative of the general secretariat of the OAS on the trip. The mission will present a report with its conclusions and recommendations within two weeks of its return.

Given the deep polarization in Haiti, the idea of a delegation to offer mediation toward a more sustained dialogue sounds like a great idea. However, the concern is that the delegation could well end up parroting official U.S. policy 1 which would simply reinforce Moise’s position, and the U.S. demand for elections in the fall. The delegation is not going to be discussing the referendum in any official capacity, though it is hard to see how it does not come up.


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Haiti Re-designated for Temporary Protected Status

One of the goals you have been working on with us and a host of other organizations was finally achieved this weekend. The news was first announced on Buzzfeed News:

The Biden administration will grant more than 100,000 Haitians in the US the opportunity to gain temporary protected status, shielding them from deportation and allowing them to obtain work permits, according to a Department of Homeland Security document provided to BuzzFeed News.

The decision, which immigrant advocates have been pushing for several months, comes as Haiti suffers from a growing political crisis after the opposition party’s calls for the president to step down failed. Reports of increased gang violence and kidnappings have roiled parts of the country, which is already struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The official announcement came on Saturday – and underlined the date of re-designation – May 21, 2021. Only people already here on or before that date are able to apply for TPS (it is not automatic). From the official announcement from the Department of Homeland Security:

WASHINGTON – Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced a new 18-month designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This new TPS designation enables Haitian nationals (and individuals without nationality who last resided in Haiti) currently residing in the United States as of May 21, 2021 to file initial applications for TPS, so long as they meet eligibility requirements.

“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home….”

….It is important to note that TPS will apply only to those individuals who are already residing in the United States as of May 21, 2021 and meet all other requirements. Those who attempt to travel to the United States after this announcement will not be eligible for TPS and may be repatriated. Haiti’s 18-month designation will go into effect on the publication date of the Federal Register notice to come shortly. The Federal Register notice will provide instructions for applying for TPS and employment authorization documentation.

A lot of people have been working on this issue for a long time. Thank you for taking part in the effort. We do not get a lot of victories in this work, so we celebrate the ones we do achieve.

That said, the work never stops. Guerline Jozef, Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, who has been everywhere one can be talking about TPS and removals to Haiti, was on MSNBC this morning explaining the decision – and the people not included.

Some other statements on the decision

From the Family Action Network Movement (FANM) statement:

Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of Family Action Network Movement (FANM), stated, “We applaud and commend the Biden Administration’s decision to redesignate TPS for Haiti. During a recent march in Washington on May 18th and a meeting with White House and DHS officials Thursday evening, I sent a strong message to President Biden that given the deteriorating political situation in Haïti including state sponsored massacres, kidnapping/killing of political opponents , widespread raping of women and girls , it was time to redesignate Haiti for TPS and that “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.””

Steve Forester, Immigration Policy Coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), said, “Haiti’s redesignation for TPS recognizes that extraordinary conditions of political and social crisis and insecurity make deportations to Haiti unsafe and redesignation appropriate. We applaud the administration, which since February 1 has expelled about 2,000 Haitians on 34 flights, for this long overdue and entirely appropriate action.”

Legal Defense Fund: Raymond Audain, Senior Counsel at LDF, issued the following statement following the president’s announcement:

“We are encouraged that President Biden has redesignated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status – and that members of the Haitian TPS community now have the security and stability they were unjustly denied for three years as Haiti’s status remained in limbo. While Haiti should have unquestionably received TPS redesignation due to the country’s concerning humanitarian situation alone, the blatantly racist nature of the Trump administration’s decision to revoke its status speaks even further to the rightfulness of today’s decision to undo this deeply discriminatory and shameful action.

Alianza Americas and

“We commend the Biden-Harris administration for their decision to provide a new TPS designation for Haitian nationals. This has been one of the demands that many Latin American and Caribbean immigrant communities made early on. The situation in Haiti has been deteriorating with human rights violations, poverty, and social unrest caused by the pandemic, further limiting the ability of Haitians to return safely to their country. Over 100,000 Haitians residing in the U.S. will now be able to live without the fear of being detained and deported back to the country they fled from,” said Oscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas. 

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)