Update from Haiti: Ten days since Moise’s assassination

In the ten days since Jovenel Moise was assassinated the international media has been primarily focused on the constantly shifting details of the attack itself. The Haitian police have arrested nearly 30 people for involvement, including nearly 20 Colombians (some with US training background) apparently working under contract with a Miami based security company, run by a Venezuelan ex-pat. Several more Colombians were killed in fighting with Haiti’s police, and others remain at large. A Haitian-American doctor has been arrested as one of the possible “masterminds” behind the plot, and the head of Moise security has also been brought in for questioning. 

Meanwhile, some things remain the same…

In some ways, the division of power within Haiti looks similar to before the July 7th assassination. Claude Joseph as acting prime minister, working alongside Leonel Charles as head of the Haitian National Police, represents the continuity of Moise’s governing coalition such as it was. The political opposition situated in the remnants of Haiti’s senate have nominated Senator Lambert as acting president, and Ariel Henry as acting prime minister, proposing that they assemble an interim government to oversee elections – to be held in 2022. Finally, there are hundreds of civil society organizations who are calling to launch a participatory process of selecting an interim authority to oversee a new electoral process. 

For now, the United States and international community seem to be backing Joseph, though the US did dispatch a team to facilitate conversation between Joseph and the official political opposition. President Biden is dispatching Marines to lock down the US embassy in Port au Prince, but has indicated that more troops from the United States were “not on the agenda.” For now, then, the fear of military intervention has been forestalled. However, the voices of social movement leaders continue to be set aside by US policy makers – which is a dynamic we seek to change.

There continues to be reports of attacks in the popular neighborhoods of Port au Prince, where armed groups have been fighting for weeks now, displacing 14,000 people or more. Security concerns have made reaching some of those displaced nearly impossible for local partners. We have delivered some funding to help those displaced, and are also now raising general funds so that we can respond in other ways to the crisis as well.

A Call to Action from social movements

The message from social movement partners in Haiti and the folk we work with here in the United States is that Haitians must lead in this transition – and not just an acting prime minister. Rather calls for an inclusive process should be heeded. This week a statement was circulated for organizational signatures to lift up this central message alongside other relevant points. The statement includes the following principles to guide further action

A Haitian solution. Haitians should lead in building the path forward. Foreign actors must not impose solutions from abroad. Even prior to Moïse’s murder, Haitian organizations have been building consensus for a transitional government. Foreign governments and international institutions must not overstep their role by declaring who has authority in Haiti, particularly when that conflicts with Haitian law.

We need only look to the recent MINUSTAH mission to see that foreign military interventions fail to create lasting public democratic institutions that are necessary for any country to function. Despite spending 13 years and $7 billion — ten times Haiti’s GDP– the MINUSTAH mission left Haiti with more guns and less democracy. The mission also afflicted Haiti’s citizens with sexual exploitation and abuse, leaving behind hundreds of children fathered by peacekeepers, and was responsible for introducing cholera to Haiti, killing an estimated 10,000 people.

A commitment to a participatory dempcratic process. After decades of foreign intervention and aid policies that have destabilized Haiti, each branch of the Haitian government has been systematically dismantled, and public confidence in Haiti’s governance has declined to nearly nothing. Haitian organizations and civil society have long been calling for a transition government to restore stability, basic security, and democracy. Haiti must have a transition process in order to rebuild its democratic institutions, and this process must be inclusive of all sectors of Haiti’s population. 

Ensuring that conditions for fair, participatory, and credible elections are in place before rushing Haiti to the polls. Elections are a fundamental part of the democratic process. However, they must be free and fair and perceived as legitimate in order to strengthen democracy. Elections will not be free and fair without inclusive voter registration, an independent and legitimate electoral body, and the security necessary not only to vote, but also to campaign leading up to election day. Meaningful participation requires that women and other marginalized groups also participate in the electoral process. A race to hold elections on an internationally-imposed timeline risks further eroding democracy in Haiti. 

Protection for the right to free expression and the right to life. Over the past three years, all Haitian people have learned that there is no safety; there is no guarantee that they will make it home when they leave. Human rights defenders and activists are frequent targets of threats and attacks, and essential health care workers have been injured and killed through kidnappings, attacks and gang violence. Gender-based violence, including rape, has been increasing during this crisis, and thousands of women and girls have been displaced from their homes, making them even more vulnerable. 

Three years ago, on July 6-7, 2018, the emerging evidence that government officials had stolen more than $2 billion from state coffers and rising gas prices sparked the first in a series of protests against corruption and impunity. These massive mobilizations of Haitians across class and political lines marched together to call for accountability and democracy. They were consistently met with brutal repression from the government and indifference from the international community. 

There have been 18 massacres documented in Port-au-Prince over these past three years. Perpetrators have targeted neighborhoods active in opposition protests, and have not been held accountable. Human rights groups have documented connections between officials and the armed groups responsible for these massacres, including Moïse and other government ministers.  Further, some argue that these massacres  constitute crimes against humanity. 

Recognition of how foreign interventions have contributed to current conditions in Haiti. While many are calling Haiti a “failed state”, what we see is the failure of centuries of policies imposed on Haiti by the international community, including aid policies, that prioritized foreign interests and short-term gains over sustainable democracy and prosperity for Haitians. The 2010 earthquake was an opportunity to rebuild Haiti with strong public institutions. However, despite hundreds of millions of aid dollars, Haiti’s entire public administration was outsourced to foreign institutions and NGOs. 

To read the full statement connect HERE. If your organization can sign, you can do so HERE.  The statement with signatures will begin to circulate next week, including to member delegations at the United Nations and policy makers in the United States.

Must See Webinar

Finally, the Haitian Studies Association is sponsoring a webinar with social movement leaders from Haiti on Wednesday July 21 from 11:00 to 12:30 EDT. Participants are:

Moderator: Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper, University of California, Irvine

Panelists: Rosy Auguste Ducena, RNDDH; Velina Elysée Charlier, Nou Pap Dòmi; Magalie Comeau Denis, Komisyon pou Jwenn yon Solisyon Ayisyen; Sabine Lamour, SOFA; Josué Merilien, UNNOH/ Konbit

The event is Co-Organized by the Haitian Studies Association, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Haiti Response Coalition, Haitian Studies Institute at Brooklyn College, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, and North American Congress on Latin America.

Click HERE to register

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Haitian civil society is clear: No Intervention, support Haitian-led solutions

Twenty-eight people have been arrested by the Haitian National Police for involvement in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse – including 2 Haitian Americans and 26 men from Colombia, some identified as former military by Colombia’s government. The arrests followed two days of confusing reports about gunfights, attackers taking shelter in the Taiwanese embassy (which is in Petionville, near Moïse’s private residence), and the burning of vehicles thought to have been used in the attack. Colombian police have been present in Haiti for some time. In terms of an official mission, at least, some were brought in to work with the Haitian National Police to assist with confronting the recent wave of kidnappings – a program coordinated by the United States International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) .

Details of the attack itself have begun to come out. Maria Abi-Habib, bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean for The New York Times covered many of these details on The Daily podcast this morning. As with everything else, these details leave more questions than answers. The fact that the attackers encountered no resistance in entering Moïse’s residences is of huge concern. Former Senator Steven Benoît appeared on the radio program in Haiti on Friday, and said that Moïse had been killed by his own security people, and that the Colombians had been set up. Le Noveulliste reports that the two Haitian Americans arrested claimed to have been translators, and that the units had gone to the presidential palace to arrest Moïse, not to kill him. 

Whatever the truth is, it is clear that the quick arrests conducted by Haitian National Police have not settled the question.  As Woy magazine noted on Friday, 

Many Haitians were quick to call out the irony of the Haitian National Police (PNH) being so quick to find those allegedly responsible for Moïse’s death as many previous high-profile killings, including that of Mèt Monferrier Dorval (who was shot and killed in his home which is in the same neighborhood as Moïse’s home), Evelyne Sincere, Gregory St. Hilaire, and even that of their very own colleagues who died during the Vilaj de Dye mission remain unsolved. There’s also the case of Matisan, Site Solèy and other parts of the greater Port-au-Prince region are still under the complete control of gangs, crippling parts of the capital and displacing thousands of men, women and children in the process.

Meanwhile, the international response has consisted largely of statements of shock and concern, alongside appeals for calm and condemnations of Moïse’s murder. The United Nations Security Council met on Thursday to discuss Haiti in a closed session. Following the session, Helen La Lime, who heads the UN office in Haiti, said that the government has requested more security support.

The United States Department of State held a press briefing on the situation in Haiti on Wednesday afternoon. The DOS spokesperson indicated that the US still supports Haiti sticking with the elections timeline – a position that was reiterated by Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s Minister for Elections, to The Guardian

Pierre, the elections minister, said on Thursday night that a presidential vote as well as a constitutional referendum that had been slated for 26 September before the assassination of Moïse would go ahead as planned.

“It [the vote] was not for Jovenel Moïse as president – it was a requirement to get a more stable country, a more stable political system, so I think we will continue with that,” Pierre said. He added that preparations had long been under way and millions of dollars disbursed to carry out the votes.

The Washington Post’s editorial board, which had been increasingly militant in its call for foreign intervention in Haiti – even prior to Moïse’s assassination – is now arguing for a military intervention under UN or other auspices. It is not clear how influential this line of argument will be; however, the prospect of a military intervention is clearly a concern.

A Haitian led solution

As Brian Concannon makes clear in his interview with Ian Masters, within Haiti, most people do not want to see a foreign intervention. There were more guns on the street and a severely weakened institutional framework for government when the last UN peacekeeping mission left, relative to the situation before they arrived. The UN mission also introduced cholera through carelessness, and its soldiers were involved in sexual exploitation of young people in the communities they operated in.

There is a broad consensus within Haiti that there should be no foreign military intervention. There should also be no rush to hold elections; rather, an interim authority composed of a wide range of political and civil society actors must be empowered to create the conditions for elections. A statement issued from multiple sectors, including representatives of political parties, and social movement organizations, issued a call for a conference of organizations, “to find a national compromise to resolve the crisis.”  They “ask the international sector to recognize that it is Haitians who must solve Haiti’s problems in order to bring their true solidarity to this Haitian solution.” 

Pierre Esperance, Executive Director of the National Human Rights Defense Network in Haiti, echoes this position in Just Security, writing,

Supporting Haitian solutions for Haiti is not as difficult as it sounds: civil society has known a transitional government would be necessary for quite some time. Civil society has developed a roadmap for a transition. The plan would include, among other things, the need for a transition period of sufficient length to restore electoral infrastructure, to strengthen the judiciary to credibly rule on elections, and to reinforce police capacity to counter gang violence and ensure a safe environment for elections. The Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis – a body created in January 2021 with the support of more than 300 notable Haitian organizations and institutions, including the Episcopal and Protestant churches (as well as my own organization, the National Human Rights Defense Network) – is the latest iteration of this effort. This commission has already met with Haitian political parties, civil society organizations, and the private sector to build out a plan for a feasible political transition.

In short, there is a clear need for an investigation in to assassination of the president – as called for in a statement by the Coalition of Civil Society Actors on Friday, and international support for a Haitian-led solution. No intervention.

As Mamyrah Dougé-Prosper and Mark Schuller argue in an excellent analysis published by NACLA

Activists in Haiti are clear that they do not want a foreign invasion or an occupation force. Not only woefully failing at its mission of disarmament, the 15-year UN mission that introduced cholera to Haiti and a wave of sexual violence also provided stability for foreign extractivism and profiteering in tourism, agribusiness, textile, and mining sectors.

It is clear that we do not have the answers today. We may never know who was in on the plot to assassinate Haiti’s president. We need to be asking different questions. Or rather, we need to take on different actions that concretely contribute to a people’s agenda. What if instead of scrambling for news on Haiti and deciphering the real issues from the analyses and opinions of international Haiti experts, we supported the Haitian people’s efforts to tell their own stories and share their own dreams directly with us?

We will be sharing more statements from Haitian civil society organizations in the coming days. You can also check Haiti Watch’s website, which includes statements from Haitian organizations on the crisis over the past several months – most have been translated.

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US Migration Policy Under Biden: Signs of Hope and Cause for Concern

As a candidate Biden promised, and seemed poised early on, to chart a new path toward a more people-centered reform agenda.  As president he has taken many hopeful steps, but still leans on deterrence and criminalization to a degree that is concerning.

Biden entered the presidency prepared to take quick action on immigration. His very first day in office, the administration announced a moratorium on most deportations, new enforcement guidelines for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and halted new enrollments in the controversial Migration Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico” program). During the first week new legislation was introduced to provide a path to citizenship for unauthorized migrants living in the United States, expand support to Central America to address the “roots of migration” and re-write visa rules for temporary workers. 

Several signs suggest hopeful change in policy toward refugees and asylum-seekers: 

The Migration Protection Protocol (MPP) has been formally ended

MPP was one of Trump’s more controversial policies. People seeking asylum in the United States were forced to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings, ultimately just over 70,000 people. Beginning in April of 2020 these hearings were suspended because of COVID-19. By the time Biden took office, some families had been waiting over two years in Mexico. Human Rights First documented 1,300 victims of violent crimes among those forced to wait in Mexico under MPP. 

Following the decision to halt new enrollments in the program in January of 2021, Biden’s new border policy team established a screening process to get people with asylum claims out of the temporary and often dangerous camps and shelters they had been living in, and into the United States to await their hearings. As of May, most of those who still had asylum claims under MPP had been admitted. In June, MPP was formally ended.

Biden’s Attorney General overturns Sessions efforts to limit grounds for asylum

In 2018, Donald Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, instituted new rules that limited the grounds upon which one could seek asylum. Sessions targeted people who were fleeing violence perpetrated by non-state actors, under the general claim that if people were not fleeing political persecution they would not qualify as refugees. In separate rules, he limited the ability of women fleeing domestic violence to qualify for asylum, and denied asylum to those fleeing gang violence. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland overturned these rules last week, reversing decisions Session had made in cases involving asylum claims from Guatemala and Mexico. From Reuters: “The significance of this cannot be overstated,” said Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council. “This was one of the worst anti-asylum decisions under the Trump era, and this is a really important first step in undoing that.”

Central American Minors Program reinstated/expanded

In 2015 the Obama administration established a program that allowed children from Central America to apply for asylum while still in their home country, before risking a dangerous journey through Mexico and an uncertain future at the border. The program was widely viewed as a promising step, but was never able to process enough children – leading to a massive backlog of applications. When Trump became president, he cancelled it – leaving 2,700 children already approved in limbo.

In March 2021, the Biden administration re-opened the Central American Minors Program (CAM), which specifically seeks to reunite children in Central America with a parent in the United States. The first phase of the program was revisiting applications that were in process at the time Trump ended the program in 2017. Last week, CAM was expanded to take on new applications.

In the face of all this good news, it is still important to point out where work remains to be done. These are some areas that offer cause for concern:

Title 42 enforcement remains a huge problem

In March of 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Protection issued an order citing authority to limit migration under Title 42 of the U.S. code on public health grounds. As a result, the Trump administration had been denying everyone encountered at the border a chance to seek asylum – including unaccompanied children. People thus denied, have been summarily expelled – most into Mexico. Biden has continued to employ Title 42 to expel most people encountered at the border. Even here, there are a few rays of light, as the administration has ended the expulsion of children, and slowed the expulsion of families. Until Title 42 is ended, however, it will remain the primary hurdle facing people seeking asylum in the United States.

The message remains: Don’t Come

As a candidate and since taking office, the administration has focused on undoing Trump-era border policies that closed off avenues to asylum. This is an important effort, still incomplete as indicated by Biden’s continued enforcement of Title 42. 

But every step along the way, Biden and Harris have repeated the same refrain – “Don’t come to the United States.” Throughout the spring, US embassies in Haiti and Central America were posting memes of Biden telling people not to come to the United States. During a press conference in Guatemala in June, Kamala Harris said, “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come….The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”

In addition to the continued use of Title 42 already mentioned, those who do make it across the border are also being increasingly redirected to detention facilities. The number of immigrants being held in detention has ballooned from 14,000 to 24,000 since Biden took office. Though 14,000 was an historically low number, the direct result of Trump closing off the border in 2020, the increase in detention over the last few months is the clearest indication that Biden remains committed to a punitive framework for addressing migration. With so many people displaced due to poverty, violence, and other systemic injustices and the US in a privileged position to provide support, such policies must change. 

 

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Quixote Center and Nou Pap Dòmi raising support for people displaced by violence in Haiti

Thousands of people have been displaced from the communities of Martissant, Fontamara, and Grand Ravine due to conflicts between rival gangs in those areas. A gymnasium in Carrefour has been turned into a shelter, and many more are simply living in Fontamara square or alongside roadways. As reported in Al Jazeera, 

On Monday, UNOCHA said gang violence had displaced about 10,000 civilians in Port-au-Prince between June 1 and 14, while the total number of internally displaced people (IDP) so far this year sits at 13,900.

The agency said less than a third of all IDPs are currently receiving assistance, due to limited resources and access, while “frequent shootings and regular roadblocks are limiting access to entire neighbourhoods and spreading fear among the population”.

Quixote Center and Nou Pap Dòmi are working with families to distribute needed emergency supplies in Martissant. You can contribute here.

UNICEF, which has a presence in Carrefour, has assembled powerful testimonies of some of the people displaced here

Gang warfare is hard to disaggregate from the political situation, and is a prime example of why so many are arguing that elections can not happen in this environment. From the St. Kitts Observer:

Pierre Espérance, executive director of the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, said gangs control about 60% of the country´s territory and that 12 massacres have been reported since 2018 in disadvantaged communities. However, he said he is especially worried about the most recent upswing in violence.

In this handout released Tuesday, June 15, 2021 by UNHaiti, internally displaced people sit inside a shelter at the Center Sportif of Carrefour in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. A UNICEF report says that escalating gang violence has displaced thousands of women and children in the capital in the first two weeks of June. (Boulet-Groulx/UNHaiti via AP)

“It’s the worst we´ve seen,” he said. “Gangs have so much power, and they are tolerated. … Each day that passes with Jovenel in power, the situation is going to deteriorate.”

If you want to support humanitarian aid efforts for internally displaced Haitians, please make a financial contribution here

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In the wake of Supreme Court TPS decision Congress should pass the Dream and Promise Act

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that people who currently have Temporary Protected Status, but who entered the United States without having been “inspected,” are not eligible to become permanent residents. 

The ruling came in the case Sanchez vs Mayorkas. Sanchez, originally from El Salvador, entered the United States without inspection in the mid-1990s. As a result of El Salvador’s TPS designation in 2001, Sanchez became lawfully present in the United States, and was granted temporary status to work. In 2014 Sanchez applied for lawful permanent residence and was denied because he had never been formally inspected at the border and granted a lawful entry. 

The Supreme Court upheld that decision in a unanimous ruling yesterday arguing that “eligibility for LPR status generally requires an “admission,” the lawful entry of the alien into the U.S. after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer. Sanchez did not enter lawfully and his TPS does not eliminate the effect of that unlawful entry.”

Advocates had argued that because TPS requires an application and review, such a process was in essence the equivalent of a lawful inspection at the border. The Court disagreed. 

It is important to underline that the decision was concerning the ability of someone who had entered the country unlawfully to later apply for permanent residency. The ruling was not about TPS directly, and does not affect anyone’s TPS status. The Court simply said that the process of applying for TPS can not stand in for a border inspection under the current legal requirements for becoming a permanent resident.

So, under current law, if someone entered the country lawfully and with an inspection, even if they later overstayed their visa, and are now lawfully present as a result of TPS, they can apply for permanent residency. If they did not enter the country lawfully, they cannot.

Summary from Justia of the ruling

Full text of the ruling

Key takeaways:

  1. This ruling does not impact anyone’s current TPS status
  2. This ruling does not impact the Biden administration’s decision to redesignate Haiti for TPS in any way. People from Haiti present in the U.S. on or before May 21, 2021 will still be able to apply for TPS once it is published in the Federal Register.
  3. This ruling does make clear the need to change the law so there is a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for people living in the United States, regardless of how they arrived…The Dream and Promise Act would do this. Justice Kagan actually notes this in the ruling (p. 8-9),

Congress, of course, could have gone further, by deeming TPS recipients to have not only nonimmigrant status but also a lawful admission. Legislation pending in Congress would do just that. See American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, H. R. 6, 117th Cong., 1st Sess., §203, p. 29 (introduced Mar. 3, 2021) (amending §1254a(f)(4) so that a TPS recipient shall be considered “as having been inspected and admitted into the United States, and” as being in, and maintaining, lawful status as a nonimmigrant”

Let your Senators know that you support HR6: The Dream and Promise Act, which will extend a path to citizenship for TPS holders as well as Dreamers [people who “unlawfully” arrived in the United States as children, and have qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)]. The Congressional switchboard is (202) 224- 3121.

The Dream and Promise Act passed the House last year as well, and then died in the Senate. It may not be taken up for a vote any time soon in the Senate, but always good to let your Senators know you support it.

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Law school clinics at Harvard, Yale and NYU call on Biden to denounce controversial constitutional referendum

The Moise government in Haiti has once again postponed a controversial constitutional referendum. The chair of the electoral counsel announced on Monday, June 7 that the referendum, re-scheduled for June 27, would be indefinitely postponed due to the current COVID-19 outbreak in Haiti..

There is widespread opposition to the referendum in Haiti. First, the referendum seems to clearly violate the current constitution, which does not allow amendment via referendum. Secondly, people are being asked to simply vote yes or no on what is an entirely new form of government. For example, the proposed constitution would concentrate power in the presidency, by eliminating the senate, and also end Haiti’s dual executive form of government, where the president shares power with a prime minister. Finally, there is little trust in Moise, who has ruled by decree since January of 2019 and who many, including members of Haiti’s Supreme Court, argue should have stepped down on February 7, 2021 when his tenure ended in favor of an interim authority to oversee elections.

As the security situation in Haiti continues to decline, the human rights law clinics of Harvard, Yale and New York University School of Law issued a statement calling on the Biden administration to “unequivocally” denounce the referendum, saying it should not simply be postponed, but “should never be held.” The Law Clinics’ joint announcement on the statement’s release reads:

The Global Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on June 8, 2021, calling on the U.S. government to heed civil society’s demand and cancel the planned constitutional referendum in Haiti.  The referendum, which will ask Haitian people to vote “yes” or “no” on a new Constitution, is illegal.  It is the most recent, bold effort by President Jovenel Moïse to consolidate power and comes on the heels of dozens of presidential decrees that undermine checks on the executive. Haitian civil society has widely denounced the referendum, noting its illegality and emphasizing the impossibility of holding a vote under the current administration.  International actors are increasingly recognizing the illegitimacy of the referendum, and the danger to democracy that it poses.  However, continued technical support and provision of aid to the government of Haiti to hold elections means that international actors, including the United States government, are tacitly supporting the unconstitutional vote.  With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, and building off our February statement, the clinics urge the U.S. government to urgently and publicly call to cancel the referendum.

You can read the full statements (and share) in English and Haitian Creole

 

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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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Quixote Center delegation and other immigration updates

Temporary Protected Status Update

The biggest news we have shared in recent weeks is the redesignation of Haiti to receive Temporary Protected Status. This happened on May 22, and impacts people from Haiti who were in the United States on or before May 21. People who qualify for TPS are allowed to stay and work in the United States until it is decided that it is safe for them to return to Haiti. The program is reviewed every 18 months. 

Of course, as with all policy, getting agreement to do something is only half the battle. Getting it done correctly and quickly requires a certain amount of vigilance as well. The Quixote Center joined in with 130 organizations on this letter to the administration asking for TPS to be handled quickly and as inclusively as possible. Please feel free to share among your networks. 

Meanwhile, the campaign to get TPS extended to Central America continues. Nicaragua was one of several countries for whom the Trump administration sought to cancel its TPS designation. The administration was ultimately successful in the case that impacted Nicaragua’s TPS designation (there were several court challenges to Trump’s effort to cancel TPS). So, at the moment, Nicaraguans that have been approved for TPS are still able to stay and work in the United States, but absent a renewal, or redesignation, their protected status will end in October of 2021.

Alianza Americas is leading a coalition effort to get a new TPS designation for countries in Central America impacted by hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit the region within two weeks of each other in November, as well as ongoing violence. The call is for redesignation for Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and designation for Guatemala (which has not received TPS before). 

There is a week of action under way. You can check Alianza Americas and Presente.org’s toolkit for social media posts and other ideas, and to sign their petition here. 

The Biden Administration formally ends the “Remain in Mexico” program

Of the many things the Trump administration did to gut the United States’ asylum system, one of the better known, and often brutal, tactics was the Orwellian named “Migrant Protection Protocol.” Under the provisions of this program people seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border were made to wait on the Mexico side of the border for a hearing with U.S. immigration judges. People were forced to wait for months, and ultimately years once hearings were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions last March. MPP ultimately directly impacted over 71,000 people.

People waiting in Mexico were frequently victims of cartel violence and kidnappings. Human Rights First documented 1,500+ cases of people enrolled in MPP who were attacked while in Mexico.

When the Biden administration came into office, they immediately halted new enrollments into MPP. At the time, new enrollments were fairly limited because most asylum seekers were (and still are) removed under a different program, the public health order currently keeping the border locked down to asylum seekers: Title 42. The January suspension did signal the beginning of Biden’s DHS clearing MPP cases – or, allowing those still waiting in Mexico a chance to register and enter the U.S. to await asylum hearings here.

On June 1, 2021, DHS Secretary Mayorkas announced the formal closure of the Migrant Protection Protocol, ending one (of many) of Trump’s border debacles. 

With MPP formally closed, it seems that Biden should now begin the process of winding down Title 42 expulsions. 

Detentions going up, and up

With the end of the Migrant Protection Protocol, and a lower percentage of people being expelled under Title 42 (though still huge numbers overall), the number of people in detention is going up rapidly. While Biden entered office with a commitment to minimize the use of detention, the U.S. immigration system is sadly designed as an inherently punitive system, and detention has been its centerpiece since the early 1980s. So more people are being admitted, but many of them are being placed in detention while being processed.

Because of Title 42 expulsions, and a modest slowdown in internal enforcement operations in the spring of last year, the number of people held in immigrant detention facilities fell to an all time low by the end of January in 2021 – less than 13,000 for the first time in over 20 years.

As of May 28, 2021 that number is up to 23,107  As outlined by TRAC, the increase is almost entirely the result of people being redirected to ICE detention by Border Patrol. 

The Quixote Center and Franciscan Network on Migration: “Delegation and Witness at Mexico’s southern border”

September 19 to 25, 2021
Tenosique, Salto de Agua, and Palenque in Mexico and
El Ceibo,
Guatemala (dependent on border restrictions)

Join the Quixote Center and the Franciscan Network on Migration on a delegation to southern Mexico to examine the impact of U.S. policy on Mexico’s immigration enforcement on its southern border. The Franciscan Network on Migration connects the work of migrant shelters run by Franciscans in Central America and Mexico. The Quixote Center is a member of the network, and also works with community groups in Nicaragua and Haiti.

The focus of the delegation: Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has cracked down on migration along its southern border with Guatemala: The result is an expansion of security forces patrolling in border states, changes to visa rules, increased us of detention, and since March 2021, the closure of the border with Guatemala to all but “essential” travel. These pressures have come from both Trump and the Biden administration, and have been further complicated by COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

Join us, as we visit the border to see first hand the impact of these policies, and to meet with immigration rights advocates providing shelter and other relief to migrants crossing into Mexico in this new environment.

The delegation will begin in Tenosique, Tabasco. We will spend a couple of days with people at migrant shelter, La72. We will also meet with UN refugee offices in the area, and if travel restrictions have been lifted, we will visit shelters just across the border in Ceibo, Guatemala. We will also visit shelters in Salto de Agua and Palenque, both in Chiapas. 

How to get involved

The cost of the trip is $995 and includes meals, hotel, all in-country transportation, and translation. The cost of international travel is not included. Delegates must arrive at the airport in Mexico City on Sunday, September 19th. From there we will travel together to Villahermosa, Tabasco (the cost of the connecting domestic flight from Mexico City to Villahermosa is included in the delegation fee). 

You can apply to participate on the delegation here. A deposit of $250 is required by July 1, with balance due August 15.

We require that everyone participating on this delegation provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.  

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Immigrant detention is increasing again and so are COVID-19 infections

Throughout the last year, the number of people being held in immigration detention facilities fell. Starting at about 38,000 last March, the number of people being held in detention at the end of February this year was just below 13,000. As we reported throughout the year, the decline was the result of border policies, specifically Title 42 – a controversial public health order under which people are denied access to regular immigration processing, including the right to request asylum. Under Title 42, people have been summarily expelled when encountered at the border- almost all of them within 2 hours of being picked up. A smaller number of people, primarily those who cannot be returned to Mexico, including those from Haiti, are detained for a few weeks before being expelled. 

Under Trump, over 600,000 people were expelled under Title 42 – which meant 600,000+ people that would have been detained for some amount of time under “normal” circumstances, never entered the system.

Since President Biden came into office, Title 42 expulsions have continued, but the percentage of people expelled under Title 42, versus those placed into regular immigration processing channels (“Title 8”) has fallen off – even as the total numbers have gone up all around. In October, 91% of Border Patrol arrests led to immediate removal under Title 42. In March and April, 63% of arrests led to Title 42 removal.

 

The result of more people being redirected into Title 8 processing is an increase in detention. The number of people being held in detention at the end of the first week in May was over 19,000. This represents a 50% increase in detention since Biden took office. This is true, even though Biden issued new enforcement parameters that have seriously reduced internal enforcement arrests (“ICE” in the chart below). As we can see from the table, the increase in detention is all the result of border arrests and transfers from Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

As detention numbers increase, it raises concerns again about exposure to COVID-19 inside detention facilities. Over the course of last year, ICE did very little to adjust its procedures to protect people. It continued to transfer people from facility to facility, it continued to deport people, and within facilities, there was little access to protective equipment and COVID testing. The result was that ICE detention centers became COVID-19 hotspots, leading to the highest annual death rate in years. An investigative report by Detention Watch Network concluded that “between May 1 and August 1 [2020]….ICE detention facilities were responsible for over 245,000 Covid-19 cases throughout the country.” 

Finally, the New York Times reported on the spread of COVID-19 around the world as a result of ICE detention practices and deportations.

Given ICE’s track record, we are rightly concerned about the health of those incarcerated. For one thing, ICE has NO uniform vaccination program. Indeed, even though a federal agency, it has left vaccination decisions to the states and/or localities where its detention facilities are located. So, unlike the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which provided vaccines for federal prisoners, ICE has provided none for those in its custody. The predictable result is that very few people in detention have received a vaccine. Indeed it was during the first week of May, that the first known vaccines for anyone in ICE custody in Texas were provided by Houston’s public health department; 130 doses delivered to the Houston Processing Center.  Meanwhile, in Texas, 402 people are in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

System wide, there are currently 2,123 people who have tested positive in ICE custody – or 1 out of 9 people in custody. 

Physicians for Human Rights wrote a letter to the Secretary Mayorkas of the Department of Homeland Security saying,

The number of COVID-19-related deaths in custody, and immediately following release, continues to increase. Although release of people from immigration detention is the most appropriate solution to this crisis, it is also an urgent human rights issue to ensure that detainees have timely access to the potentially lifesaving COVID-19 vaccine. PHR submits this letter based on more than 30 years of experience documenting health and mental health risks in immigration detention, providing medical and psychological evaluations for individual clients, and producing peer-reviewed articles and national research reports, including one based on interviews with 50 people held in ICE detention during the pandemic that shows ICE’s cruel and callous treatment of detainees and failure to ensure safe conditions.

The recommendations in the letter are:

  1. Issue an unequivocal public statement that all people in immigration detention should be vaccinated as a priority population. While acknowledging the important role states and localities play in vaccine rollout, there must be an indication from federal authorities that vaccinating people in immigration detention is a priority. As the agency responsible for ensuring the health and safety of people in immigration detention centers, DHS must play a clearer role in ensuring access to vaccines and coordinating with the appropriate state and local authorities. 
  2. Ensure that vaccine supplies are reserved for people in immigration detention. Consider direct allocation of federal vaccine supplies to detention centers, as the Bureau of Prisons already does for people in other federal detention facilities. Alternatively, or additionally, ensure that state public health authorities dedicate a specific proportion of their vaccine allocations to people in immigration detention facilities located in their states. 
  3. Provide community legal and social service providers and advocates with access to detention facilities to communicate with detainees about the vaccine. Clear messaging on vaccination plans must be delivered to people in detention by trusted sources.  

The full letter is here.

You can help elevate these demands by calling the Department of Homeland Security comment line at 202-282-8495 and let them know you support insuring that all people held in ICE custody receive a vaccine – and that they be released as soon as possible!

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Franciscan Network on Migration Annual Report

Below is a message from Br. Jaime Campos, OFM introducing the annual report of the Franciscan Network on Migration. The Quixote Center is the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration in the United States, and John Marchese serves on the coordinating committee. If you would like to support this work, you can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Franciscan Network here.


On behalf of our Steering Committee, I am pleased to present to you the Franciscan Network for Migration’s 2020 Annual Report. This first report fills us with joy because it is the result of the efforts of women and men who have set out to serve migrants and have woven a network nourished by the rich Franciscan spiritual values of fraternity and minority. As we incorporate into our life and mission the attitudes of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees, we give life to the desire for universal brother and sisterhood, and the Kingdom of God becomes present in our midst.

Forming this network has required the dedication, patience, discipline and hope of everyone involved. I warmly thank those who, along with their daily work that they carry out in grassroots communities and organizations, share their lives with others in order to rediscover and come together around the migratory crisis that a large part of the world is experiencing and that has increased with the Sars2-COVID-19 pandemic.

From this reality, between struggles and hopes, the members of the network have joined to multiply the good towards our migrant brothers and sisters; working in a network that emerges from creativity, accompaniment and prayer. At times, the terrain exposes them to stretches of reflection and unity, as well as bifurcations of an overwhelming reality. But in each segment of the journey, they contribute, build and renew with their dedication the decision to walk together in this great project.

Our efforts have focused on the region of Central America, Mexico and the United States. In the following pages you will read about how the network has been woven, about the people who have joined, about the organizations that are part of this fabric, and about the instruments that we have used to form a network of work, encounter, and fraternity that is committed to the human rights of migrants.

Br. Jaime Campos, OFM

Member of the Steering Committee

Read the full report here

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

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