Biden must halt expulsions to Haiti

Yesterday morning I had two messages on Haiti in my inbox. One noting that the 27th removal flight to Haiti since February 1, 2021 was scheduled to land in Port-au-Prince later that afternoon. The other message was about a gang attack in the Marin 26 neighborhood in Croix-des-Bouquets not far from the airport in Port au Prince. On Wednesday this week (April 7), three young men were shot and at least one of them beheaded. Initial reports indicated that members of the gang “Chen Mechan” were responsible for the attack – one of the victims being the leader of a rival gang. 

The two story threads have been consistent since Biden took office. Two or three times a week (back in February, three times in one day!) expulsion flights are leaving the United States for Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, there are daily reports of gang attacks, kidnappings, or assassinations in Haiti. I keep wondering how Biden’s folk are unable to connect these dots, and stop the expulsions. 

The sad truth is, Biden’s people know all this – and they keep returning Haitians anyway; Women, children, men, families, are being expelled without having a chance to request asylum. This needs to stop. 

“May face harm…”

Toward the end of February, there was an interagency meeting held to discuss the dangers that people removed to Haiti may face. A document summarizing the meeting was leaked to Hameed Aleaziz of Buzzfeed News. His report of the document’s contents on March 2, 2021, says: 

“[B]ased on a recent analysis of conditions in Haiti, USCIS believes that Haitians removed to Haiti may face harm upon return to Haiti as follows.” The document goes on to explain the conditions in the country and relies exclusively on publicly available information, including a State Department travel advisory from August that recommended not traveling to Haiti due to “crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, and COVID-19.”

By the end of February, the Biden administration had ramped up expulsions to Haiti, deporting more people during the first three weeks of February (963) than Trump had deported in all of Fiscal Year (895). Since this interagency meeting was reported (it is not clear when the meeting itself was held), and despite the clear observation that people “may face harm,” another 700+ people have been expelled to Haiti. 

There is widespread opposition to these expulsions to Haiti within the U.S. Congress, and among human rights organizations, public health experts and others. Nevertheless, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security has been unrelenting. 

Two weeks ago we released a report with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack, The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impact on Haitian Migrants. The report concerns the Trump era Center for Disease Control public health order claiming authority under Title 42 of the U.S. Code to expel people absent an asylum review or access to other humanitarian relief.  Though public health experts have lined up repeatedly to denounce this order as having no public health justification, Biden currently insists on keeping it in place.

For most people, Title 42 policies mean summary expulsion back into Mexico. Well over 90% of the people expelled are removed within 2 hours of first encounter by Border Patrol. One result is that many simply try to come back again. Nearly 40% of those removed this way, try again (this is one reason why the number of apprehensions have been increasing in recent months, even before Biden took office). However, for the vast majority of Haitians, Title 42 does not mean quick expulsion back across a bridge into Mexico. For Haitians, Title 42 means being placed in detention for weeks, and then put on a plane and sent back to Haiti.  

As we document in this report, most of the people arriving at the United States/Mexico border today left Haiti years ago. They are arriving from Brazil, Chile and other countries in Latin America where tens of thousands fled after the Port-au-Prince earthquake in 2010. So, after years of migration, fleeing violence and racism in other countries, on a journey across thousands of miles and seven to ten countries, people arrive at the U.S. border to make a claim for asylum. This they are denied. They are summarily expelled to Haiti without being heard

Another distinction for Haitian removals is that a large portion of them are families. Title 42 policies have no exemption for families and as a result, families have been expelled along with everyone else. Though there is some evidence that Biden is expelling fewer families overall in recent weeks, Haitian families are still being removed at alarming rates. Again, they are not allowed to request asylum or another kind of humanitarian relief. They are denied access to attorneys. They are held in very poor conditions. Most are not able to communicate with the people detaining them. From The Invisible Wall:

“Roseline” is a 37-year-old wife and mother who fled Haiti after being kidnapped, beaten, and raped by a group because of her political affiliations.“They had kidnapped me so I could give information about the political group I was a coordinator of. They beat me up, they raped me… I said I didn’t know any- thing. They let me go and asked me to search for information to bring to them.” After the attack, Rose- line tried to go to the Haitian police, but they refused to provide any form of protection.“I went to the police with what had happened, the police just laughed. They act just like bandits and said I didn’t get killed but I’m still complaining.”

Roseline and her husband fled Haiti in July of 2016. She gave birth to their first son while they were traveling through Mexico. After a long and grueling journey, Roseline entered the United States on Feb- ruary 1, 2021, and was expelled on February 11, 2021 under the Title 42 policy.

In the United States Roseline did not have a chance to speak to an immigration officer about her fear of returning to Haiti. She was never given a Haitian Creole interpreter nor were any of the documents she was given translated into Creole. Roseline did not get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer nor present her case to a judge. She was detained for 11 days without access to a shower or to brush her teeth:

I was in prison, they kept me there and did not give me access to a shower or to brush my teeth or wash myself. I couldn’t do anything and they put me on a plane back to Haiti…. Anywhere in the world it’s known that a woman cannot go two days without bathing. I spent 11 days there without any access to clean myself with a 4-month-old baby. When I got wipes for the baby, I had to use the wipes to wash my private parts. The baby had pooped on the clothes. I asked if I could change the baby’s clothes and I had to put the dirty clothes in a plastic bag, and they said they had no clothes for me. I wanted to get access to our stuff to get clean clothes but they didn’t allow me so I had to put the clothes with the poop on the baby again, and those are the clothes the baby wore on the plane…. I had in- fection when I returned to Haiti because I spent the whole time without bathing.

Roselyn’s case is not unique. While difficult to confirm with DHS, we estimate that Haitian families make up at least half of these expulsions. Advocates working to halt removals have encountered full expulsion flights of all family units, including dozens of young children. The optics of expelling children, some just months old to Haiti are not great for the administration. However, the optics of treating them decently seems to scare Biden more. So, while there is often buzz about this or that deal on Title 42, the only public gesture Biden’s administration has made regarding Haiti immigration is the U.S. Embassy posting warnings to Twitter, telling people not to come to the United States.

Meanwhile, the conditions in Haiti that people are being returned to are deteriorating rapidly.

The psychosis of fear

The administration’s observation that people returned to Haiti “may face harm” seems laughably obtuse – except that there is nothing funny about the collapse of governance and rising insecurity in Haiti.

“Practically every Haitian is living in a psychosis of fear,” [Michelle] Obas told the Miami Herald. “Every time you see a vehicle, you jump. Even your child. You are taking them to school and they are afraid. … The country’s traumatizing and we are in a situation that is chaotic with no idea when we will get out of it.” 

The topic on everyone’s mind at the moment is the rise in gang violence. The reality is that gangs are a manifestation of a deep structural crisis involving long-term unemployment, crowded, underserviced cities, and the parallel collapse of state capacity, as public agencies have been gutted by decades of neo-liberal reform. All of this has occurred alongside an utter refusal to stem the flow of weaponry to the country (despite a “weapons embargo” thousands of small arms have entered Haiti since 2004/5, most from the United States and the Dominican Republic).  

The result is that gang violence has been steadily on the rise over the past few years, and shows no sign of abating. While the refrain that the government is “behind the gangs” is probably not true across the board, there have been multiple reports that some armed groups, such as the federation G-9 under the control of Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, are backed by – or at least tolerated by – the government in exchange for keeping a lid on opposition activity. 

Just this week the situation in Port-au-Prince exploded again, as Cherizier’s gang attacked the community of Bel Air, burning out families in a rampage that left an untold number of people dead. From the Miami Herald,

They arrived unannounced, brandishing heavy artillery as they scaled the rooftops of houses, firing shots and setting homes ablaze.

While some residents managed to escape amid the billows of black smoke and tear gas, others became trapped and died inside their burning houses. The Thursday assault on residents inside the poor, pro-opposition neighborhood of Bel Air in Haiti’s capital was the third large attack in less than two years.

It occurred within walking distance of Haiti’s presidential palace and was perpetrated by gang members affiliated with Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a fired policeman-turned-powerful gang chief who is wanted in several massacres, including the slaughter of dozens of men, women and children in a 2018 attack in Port-au-Prince’s La Saline slum.

Cherizier does not deny attacking Bel Air, but claims he was defending his neighborhood (Delmas) against attacks from rival gangs in Bel Air. Cherizier argues that Haiti’s opposition is “supplying guns and cash to Bel Air so residents could attack his alliance.”

Human rights leaders said it had nothing to do with gang rivalry, but “was to break the resistance of Bel Air, which is considered an opposition stronghold, and to prevent residents from taking to the streets in anti-government protests, which have increased in recent weeks. . . . The attack is also the result of the impunity that Chérizier and his fellow gang members have come to enjoy under the administration of President Jovenel Moïse, Gilles added.” 

It is worth noting that days before the attack, people mobilized in large demonstrations against the government.

While the motivations and alliances underlying the gang phenomenon are multi-faceted, and vary in different parts of the country, one thing that should be abundantly clear to the U.S. Embassy and thus the Biden administration is that gang violence in Haiti right now, whatever criminal activity accompanies it, is political violence. Period. People who are fleeing this situation are as much refugees as people fleeing a war zone. 

For the time being, however, Biden’s team keeps sending people back into the heart of the conflict. And, to be clear, not just sending them back, but doing so without even allowing them a chance to make a claim for humanitarian relief. It is infuriating to watch, and it must stop. What political calamity does Biden fear so much that he is willing to send families back to Haiti without even pausing to ask them why they fled? 

What can be done?

Among the recommendations we make in our report, the big ticket items are 1. Rescind Title 42 policies, 2. Re-designate temporary protected status (TPS) for Haiti, and 3. Halt all expulsions and deportations to Haiti.

Title 42 is just lousy policy. When implemented it was widely viewed as a political stunt by Steven Miller, Trump’s anti-immigration advisor, to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an end around federal courts, which had blocked several Trump efforts to shut down asylum. Title 42 also bypasses Congress altogether.  Public health experts have repeatedly bashed the CDC order as unnecessary, and have offered multiple sets of recommendations that could replace it and actually provide enhanced public health measures at the border without closing off asylum claims.

Biden has agreed to review the policy – and the CDC order will have to be revoked eventually, one would think. For now, every day thousands of people are being expelled with no due process by the president who promised to rebuild asylum. He needs more time, he says, and blames the whole situation on Trump. We don’t think this is good enough.

The message to Biden: Revoke Title 42, and replace it with real public health protections and expanded asylum processing.

Second, re-designate TPS for Haiti. Temporary Protected Status is a designation that the president can make that protects most people currently in the United States from a specific country from removal. People who are unauthorized, or unable to return home, can get permission to work for some period of time, rather than be deported. Haiti was granted TPS following the earthquake in 2010, and it was redesignated in 2011 (meaning anyone from Haiti living in the United States as of July 23, 2011 was protected from removal). 

Trump tried to kill TPS for Haiti by refusing to renew it in 2018. This set off a court battle that is still underway.

The demand being made now is that Biden re-designate TPS for Haiti. This would end the uncertainty Haitians previously designated have been living with since Trump starting dismantling TPS, and it would also protect others currently in the United State who are more recent arrivals.

Politically speaking, there is no reason not to do this! Members of the Senate, including Republican Marco Rubio, have called for redesignating TPS for Haiti.This week, House leadership on the foreign relations committee joined in the call for a redesignation of TPS for Haiti. This seems to be the most likely remedy. 

Unfortunately redesignation does nothing about the Title 42 expulsions. Anyone from Haiti arriving after the re-designation date, will still be expelled. At the same time, halting Title 42 expulsions, while reducing the number of people being removed, does not mean people get to stay unless Haitian asylum claims are taken more seriously.

So, we support all of the above. But the simplest demand is to stop the expulsion of Haitians! No more removals until the political situation stabilizes. 

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A “State of Emergency” Declared in Haiti

On Monday, March 15, Jovenel Moise declared a “state of emergency” in Haiti in a decree endorsed by his Council of Ministers. According to news reports,

A decree adopted by the Council of Ministers said:  “The state of emergency is instituted in gangsterized areas for one month, during which certain rights can be suspended in neighborhoods concerned, in order to allow the PNH (National Police of Haiti) to regain control of the situation.”

The decree defines the state of emergency as “a situation in which a regime applies restricting certain fundamental freedoms and exceptional powers of the executive which are justified by a situation of proven or imminent national disaster, terrorist attack or serious breach of public order challenging the police and endangering national security and requiring the adoption of urgent measures.”

Though a “State of Emergency” is defined legislatively, the Council of Ministers amended legislative provisions in order “to give the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) the means to combat banditry and crime, and to empower the PNH and the Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH) to work in synergy to combat.” 

Specific areas named in the decree include: Village de Dieu, Grand-Ravine, Delmas 2, and Savien (in the Artibonite). However, the decree allows for the emergency declaration to be applied in other areas defined by the Council, so enforcement could ultimately reach anywhere.

With declaration in hand, Moise met with officials at the Organization of American States on Monday, and the United Nations on Tuesday to ask for “technical and logistical” support for police activity. 

Meanwhile, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, restated U.S. qualified support for Moise during hearings last week. Blinken’s statement was shared on Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Monday: “I share concern about some of the authoritarian and undemocratic actions that we’ve seen. Decrees need to be limited to essential functions. We need to see the Haitians organize, with international support, genuinely free and fair elections this year.”

The moves this week all point toward Moise attempting to consolidate his grip on power in the wake of the bloody and disastrous police invasion of Village de Dieu last Friday. The police effort to take control of Village de Dieu, reportedly a location where many kidnapping victims are held, and under the control of the “5 Seconds” gang, ended in disaster. Armed groups in the area seized one of the police’s armed vehicles, burned another, and killed four police officers, while wounding another eight – three of whom required emergency surgeries. Gang members shot video of the violence, including desecration of the bodies of the police officers; videos were shared widely on social media.

The whole episode has magnified criticism of the government – including, now, from members of the police force. For over a year, some members of the national police have been organizing periodic protests against the government in disputes over pay and dismissals. Formally, demands for better pay and treatment have come from the Syndicat de la Police Nationale d’Haiti (SPNH17). Informally, some members of the police have mobilized under the banner of Phantom 509, which has ridden through sectors of Port-au-Prince on motorcycles and burned vehicles during various protests over the past year.

This week, Phantom 509 issued an ultimatum to the gangs in Village de Dieu to hand over the bodies of police officers killed in the operation last Friday. Then on Thursday, Phantom 509 marched again with other police officers. Under the auspices of SPNH17 some police officers issued a call for the resignation of Chief of Police Leon Charles. Members of Phantom 509 also invaded a police station to set free members arrested in other actions.

Where does this all lead? If one interprets the police operation in Village de Dieu last Friday as an effort to establish credibility on Moise’s part, it clearly backfired – massively. Moise is now seen as even more inept, with calls for his removal widening even further (see #FreeHaiti). Among rank and file police officers Friday’s disastrous attack has only widened divisions further.

So, now Moise is retreating to where he always has – seeking support from international bodies and the U.S. government. 

Over the weekend the U.S. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere stated, “The vile murder of Haitian National Police officers in Village de Dieu highlights the broader insecurity challenges in Haiti. We call on the Haitian government to provide the police with the resources it needs to protect the Haitian people from gangs.” (emphasis added). Moise has taken this “advice” to heart with the declaration of a State of Emergency, providing expanded powers to the police, alongside the prospect of joint operations with the Armed Forces of Haiti (presumed to be loyal to Moise). 

Biden may well tire of standing with Moise, as the situation continues to unravel. Of course, Moise would not be in power were it not for the machinations of the last administration of which Biden was a part. Obama’s team at the State Department under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped put the PHTK in power back in 2010-2011, and U.S. pressure helped put Moise himself in power. Accountability for such interventions being foreign to the United States, I don’t expect Biden to actually change course now. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Haitians are left to reap what the elite and their allies in D.C. have sown.

 

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More people removed to Haiti in last 4 weeks than all of FY2020

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From February 1 to 26, 2021 the Biden administration removed 981 people to Haiti, including at least 270 children.  In all of FY2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), the Trump administration removed 895 people to Haiti through ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. Trump did expel an additional 700 Haitians at the beginning of FY 2021, yet even then, the pace of removals was not as high as we are seeing now.

What is going on? The short answer is that the Biden administration is continuing to enforce an order by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shuts off asylum processing at the border. The CDC order was issued in March of 2020, and has provided the justification for the Department of Homeland Security denying people access to asylum processing or other relief. Claiming authority under “Title 42” of the U.S. code, the CDC order directs border agents to expel people as quickly as possible to the last country of transit, or, if that is not possible, to take people into custody briefly until they can be expelled to their home (or third) country. Under this order, 460,000 people have been expelled since March 20, 2020 (as of January 31, 2021). 

For people from Haiti, immediate removal to Mexico is not supposed to occur – though it has. Which means most Title 42 removals to Haiti are done by plane. We do not know how many Haitians the Trump administration summarily expelled to Mexico, nor do we know how many have been expelled this way since Biden took office. But we do know it happens – on February 3, for example, 76 Haitians (in additions to number above) were expelled by Border Patrol into Ciudad Juarez, most without papers and their belongings, all wearing the sandals they were issued at a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility prior to their expulsion.

There are many layers to this. One is that Haitians have always been treated poorly by immigration authorities in the United States. The determination of the Reagan administration to detain asylum seekers from Haiti, rather than parole them out as was typically done for other people seeking protection, led to the birth of our modern immigrant detention system. Bush and Clinton interdicted tens of thousands of Haitains at sea, most returned immediately to Haiti, others held at Guantanamo until they could be removed. The Obama administration launched a metering system at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 2015 to slow the entrance of Haitian asylum seekers, while relaunching deportations to Haiti (suspended after the earthquake in 2010) in order to deter more Haitians from trying to come. The list goes on.

Each of these steps eventually led to an erosion of rights for everyone seeking protection at our borders. Metering, for example, was expanded by Trump, and in a twisted turn, underlay the logic of the Migrant Protection Protocols which forced 72,000 people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.  

The fact that Haitians are typically treated more harshly is a by-product of the idea that deterrence is an important framework for immigration enforcement measures. In various ways, deterrence has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy for decades. Certainly, jailing Haitians seeking asylum was intended to discourage others from trying. The same “logic” was used by Obama to justify the metering system and expanded deportations. 

Of course, deterrence ultimately targets everyone. Trump detained all asylum seekers, to deter more from coming, and his administration explicitly cited deterrence as the reason for the child separation policy employed in 2018. The Migration Protection Protocol was followed by the Transit Ban, which denied people access to asylum if they crossed a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border without first applying for asylum there. The message all around: Don’t bother trying to come here, you won’t get in at all.

This is sadly the same message Biden is currently sending. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday: “To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is:  Don’t do it.  We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures.  The border is closed to irregular migration.”  The Secretary of Homeland Security is offering a similar message. From the NY Times:

Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the United States continued to rely, for now, on a measure at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach: a public health rule that requires border agents to quickly deport border crossers to Mexico without a chance to request asylum. “They need to wait,” Mr. Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers. “It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch.”

For the Biden team, this message is justified by two things: 1. COVID-19 is still a threat and thus the CDC order must remain in place. 2. Biden is committed to reforming border policy but, he notes, it will “take time.” In the interim, his administration is afraid that liberalizing rules too quickly will lead to a “surge” of immigration.

There are a number of problems with these arguments. The CDC order was a political stunt from the beginning, not a serious public health measure. A surge in the number of people seeking entry is certainly possible, as a result of the ongoing deterioration of conditions in the countries people are fleeing rather than a misreading Biden’s generosity. The idea that treating people humanely makes for bad politics is a strange notion indeed. 

But none of these arguments mean much for folk from Haiti. Haitians apprehended are mostly placed in detention until they can be removed, which means they can be tested, are in effect being quarantined, and so on. There is no reason to then deny them due process, certainly not a public health argument. The deterrent argument, generally flawed to begin with, makes no sense for Haitians either – most of whom left Haiti years ago, and are arriving now via Brazil, Chile and Peru. They no doubt try to read the situation at the border the best they can, so they can decide when it is best to try and cross. But deterrence has little impact on their decision to travel thousands of miles to begin with.  

Considering all of the above, and given the ongoing political crisis in Haiti, the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitians at this rate is unconscionable. There are many ongoing efforts to halt the expulsions to Haiti (latest letter here), as well as efforts to end Title 42 enforcement, and deportations more generally. As with Trump’s DHS team, Biden’s folk seem unmoved by these efforts. Congressional outrage, editorials from the New York Times and Washington Post, and even simple reason seem to not matter much – there was another removal flight to Haiti on March 2. Meanwhile, Biden’s administration does seem to fear the daily scorchings they are receiving on Fox News. If Obama’s presidency holds any lessons for Biden, it is that they will be scorched on Fox News no matter what they do – so why not do something bold? Or in this case, do what is right: Halt removals to Haiti! 

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Haiti update, and call to stop removals!

On February 7, Jovenel Moise refused to step down from the presidency of Haiti. As we reported last week, there has been a flurry of activity since, as Moise has sought to secure his position and attack opponents. On the morning of February 7th, Moise had 20-23 people arrested, including a supreme court justice and police inspector, on charges that they were plotting to kill him and take control of the government. The coup narrative, reported widely around the world that day, served its purpose of deflecting attention away from the source of the crisis (Moise’s refusal to step down) but has mostly been met with skepticism since. 

Later that evening a segment of the opposition selected another supreme court justice, Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis , to serve as a provisional president. The next day, police officers surrounded the Supreme Court building, and Moise, later “retired” three more justices. The retirements were likely not legal, and neither was Moise’s appointment of three replacements on Friday. With the Supreme Court recast in his image, and Parliament defunct, Moise has contained any institutional opposition to his continued rule. 

Not surprisingly, of course, over the past week there have been demonstrations against the government. In several of these demonstrations police very clearly targeted journalists, two of whom were shot. Mobilization from popular neighborhoods in the capital are dangerous, as many of these neighborhoods are under the control of gangs aligned with the government. The biggest demonstration of the week came on Sunday, February 14.

Moise is still holding the executive office, and is pressing ahead with plans for a referendum on a package of constitutional reforms to be held in April (though when or if this happens is still an open question). The reconstitution of the Supreme Court takes on increased relevance here, as the referendum itself is likely unconstitutional. If Moise proceeds, he is likely to use the new court to approve the various measures he is attempting to roll out.

The “opposition”

While many people have rallied behind Justice Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis  as a provisional president, he is hardly a consensus choice. This underscores an important point for all of us reading the crisis from abroad: The opposition is not a singular entity. In March of 2019 Commune published an article by the Kolektif Anakawona that provides background on different facets of the opposition, a rubric that is still largely applicable and worth a review.

There is, of course, a “partisan” opposition, made up of current and former parliamentarians. These folks were the focal point of attention when parliament was still in session, but many of them struggle with legitimacy among grassroots and popular organizations. Youri Latortue, for example, led the charge in investigations of abuse of PetroCaribe funds, yet has himself been the target of corruption investigations. If one focuses solely on the disputes between opposition members of parliament and Moise, it gives the appearance that the crisis is rooted in partisan wrangling. That is certainly how the White House under Trump and now Biden has viewed it. This would be a gross oversimplification.

People have been mobilizing not for a change of party but for structural change. What this means might vary group to group, but ultimately it is a demand for a more inclusive society – not simply better elections. Nou Pap Domi, a grassroots organization that grew out of the PetroCaribe protests, for example, issued a “Message to the Nation” on February 6, 2021 that said, “NOUPAPDÒMI does not recognize the legitimacy of the rest of the senators in parliament, nor some civil society actors as well as some politicians who were involved in all the wasteful negotiations and initiatives that got us into this crisis, to organize any dialogue or play any role in the country’s governance after the presidential term ends. There will be a RUPTURE from all the people, all the groups that never worked for the well-being of the people, who are up to their elbows in everything that got us into this state of turmoil today.”   

Though there is a diversity in the long and medium term vision of where Haiti needs to go – from politicians seeking new elections and new positions in a newly reformed government, to youth organizations seeking a rupture with the past and reconstitution of political and economic forces – there is near unanimity that Moise’s term has expired and a transition must begin immediately. Again, reading the crisis from the United States, we are confronted with the fact that our government’s position stands against the vast majority of Haiti’s political organizations and civil society. That said, we must keep in mind that no one group “speaks for the people of Haiti,” an obvious fact that somehow gets glossed over. From the U.S. then, we should demand that Biden’s State Department drop its support for Moise’s mandate extending to February 7, 2022 – but not argue about who gets to take charge, or how. Under no circumstance should we demand that the U.S. play any role in removing Moise. 

As we’ve said many times, the U.S. needs to get out of the way of a solution rather than promote the one that seems most conducive to U.S. interests. By simply saying, some variation of “the United States supports the people of Haiti in deciding the way forward…,” the Biden administration would make a solution far more likely. Currently, however, what we see is a stream of patronizing platitudes raining down on Haiti from the U.S., O.A.S., and U.N. that endorse Moise’s tenure. The expressions of concern, cautions about constitutionality and the expressed need for dialog all become pretty vacuous when enjoined with, “and we think Moise’s mandate ends February 7, 2022.” 

Biden has removed more people to Haiti in three weeks than Trump did in all of FY2020

Yes that is true. The Biden administration is expelling people to Haiti at an insane rate. And they continue to, After flying people out nearly every day (there were three expulsions flights to Haiti in one day last week!), this week there was a short break due to the weather – not principle – with transportation and energy infrastructure in Texas largely shut down. That said, there were still removal flights to Haiti on Monday and Friday.

According to ICE’s recently released annual report for FY 2020 (which runs from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), 895 people were removed to Haiti during that year – which includes Title 42 removals from March to September. While precise numbers on the flights this month are not known (flight manifests are not public) there have been 13 flights since February 2, some full with 135 people, others with fewer. But estimates are that at least 900 people have been removed so far this month, most of whom have been part of family units. Including infants.

So, Biden’s ICE isn’t any nicer than Trump’s. Amidst the current crisis in Haiti, this level of removal is unconscionable. 

What you can do?

For now, we are very much focused on ending the expulsion of people to Haiti. There are a number of petitions and statements circulating that you can join onto. While these actions do not address the roots of the crisis in Haiti, they are directed at one of the inhumane responses of our government to that crisis – continuing to expel people.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance is circulating a letter calling for a halt to removals to Haiti. It is a strong letter and open to organizations and individuals. You can view the letter hereand sign here.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is circulating a sign-on letter for congregations and other organizations, calling for end to removals. You can sign your group on here.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is also circulating a letter for individual faith leaders to sign. View that here

Faith in Action is also circulating a statement to end removals to Haiti in the context of the political crisis. You can sign that here.

There is a growing movement to press Biden to revoke Title 42 sooner rather than later. The Latin America Working Group has launched a petition to the effect which you can sign here.

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Title 42 must be revoked, Expulsions to Haiti ended

Over the last few days the Biden administration has increased the removal of people from Haiti dramatically. Most of these removals appear to be Title 42 expulsions. What we’ve seen this week:

  • On Monday deportation flight of 103 people to Haiti, all Title 42 removals
  • On Tuesday deportation flight of 64 people to Haiti, 60 were Title 42 removals
  • On Wednesday Border Patrol expelled dozens of Haitians into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, citing Title 42
  • On Thursday two deportation flights of 135 people and 126 people to Haiti, almost all Title 42 removals. The second flight seems to have been all family units.

There are another 1,400 people from Haiti expected to be expelled over the next 10 days, mostly all from border facilities where they are being temporarily held awaiting removal under Title 42. Thanks to the work of advocates putting pressure on the administration, as of Friday morning (February 5) we are hearing that flights are temporarily suspended to Haiti. 

Back in October there was a similar flurry of flights to Haiti. Then as now, this was the result of a spike of border apprehensions, including many Haitians. That earlier round of expulsions involved about half the number currently facing immediate removal. Almost all summarily expelled without due process under Title 42. 

What is Title 42?

On March 20, 2020 the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) issued the Order Suspending Introduction of Certain Persons from Countries Where a Communicable Disease Exists. This order claimed authority given to the CDC under Title 42 of the U.S. Legal Code to block entry of people into the United States as a response to a public health crisis, COVID-19 in this case. The original order was replaced by the Order Suspending the Right to Introduce Certain Persons from Countries where a Quarantinable Communicable Disease Exists on October 13, 2020. These orders are identical except that the October version includes summary evidence of the impact of the original March declaration. Referred to as “Title 42” these orders provide the basis for Customs and Border Protection to summarily expel anyone they encounter, with no access to asylum or other relief.

Since issued, “Title 42” has been the primary grounds by which migrants are removed from the United States. From March 20 through the end of December, 400,000 people were expelled under this order. The numbers are increasing now. From October to December of 2020 the number of people expelled under Title 42 averaged 2,000 a day. January numbers have not been released yet by Customs and Border Protection, but will almost certainly go up. Border Patrol agents interviewed by U.S. News and World Report indicated removals have increased since Biden took office. 

The vast majority of Title 42 expulsions involve people from Mexico and Central America. People are arrested at the border and sent back across almost immediately – at one point the Border Patrol director bragged that 90% of Title 42 expulsions happened within two hours of first encounter. People have no opportunity to request asylum or other relief, except under a very limited provision whereby someone who self-declares a fear of torture is interviewed by an agent from USCIS, who then makes a decision on the spot whether the fear is credible. None of these decisions are reviewable.

The situation for people from Haiti is somewhat different than most expelled under the order, though, like everyone, they are denied due process. When Title 42 began the government of Mexico indicated that it was only willing to receive Mexican nationals, as well as people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This meant that people from other countries would have to be detained briefly until they could be flown out of the United States. So, even though the rationale for Title 42 was the lack of capacity to detain and test people at the border, people are being detained anyway, and if put on a flight, some (not all) are tested. Which means, that in the case of people from Haiti (as well as Cuba, Venezuela, India, Pakistan, Cameroon and others who attempt entry at a border, but who cannot be immediately removed to Mexico) the basis for denying them asylum under Title 42 should be void. It is important to note as well, that though Haitians are not supposed to be sent back into Mexico, the expulsions this week to Ciudad Juarez mentioned above are not the first time this has happened. The Guardian reported this week concerning mothers from Haiti and elsewhere, who were expelled to Mexico under Title 42 after giving birth to children in the United States; expelled without birth certificates for their children. 

Haitians need relief from removal NOW

That said, Haitians are being expelled in large numbers now, and this must stop. To put this in perspective, “normal” deportation flights to Haiti happen about 2 times a month and include anywhere from 30 to 100 people, with the numbers mostly declining over the last 6 months (except for the last round of Title 42 exuplsions in October). The expulsion of 1,800 people to Haiti over a two week period is incredibly cruel. Though currently suspended expulsions could restarted at any point.

Haiti is in the midst of worsening political crisis, one that is likely to come to a head in the next week as the current president, Jovenal Moise, insists on staying in office, even as many legal scholars and advocates argue his term ends this Sunday, February 7. With no acting parliament, Moise had been ruling by decree since January of 2020. He intends to press a constitutional referendum in April, followed by elections in the fall. However, none of this is constitutional. Moise’s resignation has been the rallying cry for repeated protests since summer of 2018. In response, the government has increasingly employed violence against demonstrations and in November issued an executive decree increasing penalties for protest, and establishing a new intelligence service. The political situation is very tense, and could devolve quickly over the next week as the fight over Moise’s term moves once again to the streets.

Beyond the political crisis, is an ongoing economic crisis, ever present threat of mass hunger, and constant insecurity from gang activity including a large number of kidnappings. Anger over kidnappings led to a national transportation strike this week. Haiti’s institutions are failing. Now is not the time for mass expulsions.

Finally, there is this thing called the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, the pandemic is the reason for Title 42 to begin with. The problem is that, by the time people are removed to Haiti, they’ve been detained, and that means detained in a facility where exposure to COVID-19 is highly likely. Why? Immigration and Customs Enforcement has done a horrible job of implementing protocols to protect people in its custody. One result is that people testing positive for COVID-19 have been repeatedly deported all around the world. The last thing Haiti needs now, on top of everything else, is a resurgence of COVID-19 from thoughtless removals.

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Biden and immigration so far…

President Biden has been in office for three days now, and he’s been busy.  On the immigration front, Biden has followed through on his promise to rescind many of Trump’s orders and rules. His administration is also working with congressional leaders on a wide-reaching immigration reform bill to be introduced very soon. Below I summarize actions taken thus far, including:

  • Department of Homeland Security memorandum issued January 20, 2021
  • Department of Homeland Security suspension of Migrant Protection Protocol, January 20, 2021
  • Six different Executive Orders issued on January 20, 2021
  • And the Citizenship Act of 2021, to be introduced any day now

While the list is impressive, it largely involves upending some of Trump’s most unpopular or controversial programs. There is much work left to be done, of course, on protecting asylum, ending immigrant detention, and halting summary expulsions at the border. But not a bad first week!

Department of Homeland Security orders 100-day moratorium on deportations

Department of Homeland Security acting director, David Pekoske, signed a memorandum implementing a 100 day moratorium on most deportations. The moratorium goes into effect today (January 22). During the 100 day moratorium DHS is supposed to engage in a review of its practices and develop recommendations, “to address aspects of immigration enforcement, including policies for prioritizing the use of enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal assets; policies governing the exercise of prosecutorial discretion; policies governing detention; and policies regarding interaction with state and local law enforcement.”

Importantly, the order applies only to people who have a final removal order, and there are further exceptions to this, including empowering DHS general counsel to make individualized assessments to remove people any way. Perhaps more important, at least in terms of numbers, is that people currently being expelled under the March CDC order (“Title 42” expulsions) are not covered by this order. Biden may well issue a subsequent order halting Title 42 expulsions, but I would not expect that soon.

Finally, DHS is instructed to reduce enforcement operations to a few priority areas. From the memorandum:

    1. National security. Individuals who have engaged in or are suspected of terrorism or espionage, or whose apprehension, arrest and/or custody is otherwise necessary to protect the national security of the United States.
    1. Border security. Individuals apprehended at the border or ports of entry while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States on or after November 1, 2020, or who were not physically present in the United States before November 1, 2020.
    1. Public safety. Individuals incarcerated within federal, state, and local prisons and jails released on or after the issuance of this memorandum who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony,” as that term is defined in section 101(a) (43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act at the time of conviction, and are determined to pose a threat to public safety.

Department of Homeland Security suspends Migrant Protection Protocols.

DHS separately suspended new enrollments in the MPP program (or Remain in Mexico program). Under MPP, people seeking asylum in the United States are redirected to await in Mexico for immigration hearings on their cases. The program was a huge debacle, leading to 55,000 people or more sent back into Mexico over the last year or more to wait for a hearing. 

From DHS, “[starting January 21] the Department will cease adding individuals into the program.  However, current COVID-19 non-essential travel restrictions, both at the border and in the region, remain in place at this time.  All current MPP participants should remain where they are, pending further official information from U.S. government officials.”

To be clear, MPP has not ended yet! What the announcement means is that while more people will not be enrolled in MPP for now, no one currently waiting in Mexico is allowed in either pending a hearing. Further, the CDC order effectively blocking asylum claims at the border since March 2020 is still operative. So, asylum is still on hold for most people at the border. All of this will likely change. 

We all expect MPP to be ended – but the administration is clearly waiting until a process can be put into place the manage pending MPP cases, alongside any new asylum claims.

Executive Orders

“Preserving and Fortifying” Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Executive Order

This order directs departments to take measures necessary to protect and fully implement DACA – which protects from deportation many [not all!] people who were brought into the United States in an unauthorized manner as children. Trump tried to end DACA throughout his president, but was slowed from doing so in the courts. Ultimately it is up to Congress to create a permanent solution and path to permanent residency and citizenship.

Reinstatement of Deferred Enforced Departure for people from Liberia: Executive Order

Deferred Enforced Departure is not the same as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), but in this case operates in a similar way. E.g., given the human rights situation in Liberia, most people currently in the U.S. are protected from deportation proceedings. The DED program was actually put into place after TPS for Liberians was suspended in 2007.

“Proclamation on the Termination Of Emergency With Respect To The Southern Border Of The United States And Redirection Of Funds Diverted To Border Wall Construction” Executive Order

As is clear from the title, with this order Biden is declaring an end to the National Emergency Trump used as a justification to reprogram funds for the construction of the border wall. The order also directs a review of the legality of Trump’s use of re-apportioned funds for wall construction.

“Executive Order on Ensuring a Lawful and Accurate Enumeration and Apportionment Pursuant to the Decennial Census” Executive Order

This order requires all residents of a state to be included in the census count, for the purposes of reapportionment of congressional seats, regardless of citizenship status. 

“Executive Order on the Revision of Civil Immigration Enforcement Policies and Priorities” Executive Order

One of Trump’s first executive orders in January of 2017 expanded immigration enforcement priorities and eliminated administrative restrictions on enforcement actions at schools, hospitals, and places of worship. While the order did not “legislate” new authority, it presented the broadest possible interpretation of authority for ICE enforcement, and essentially placed all unauthorized persons within the United States on an equal footing for removal.

Biden’s order revokes Trump’s earlier executive order, and directs all agencies to review and reassess any new guidance that had been issued under Trump’s order.

“Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to The United States” Executive Order

What this does, from New York Times: “In a blow to one of his predecessor’s earliest actions to limit immigration, Mr. Biden has also ended the so-called Muslim ban, which blocked travel to the United States from several predominantly Muslim and African countries. Mr. Biden has directed the State Department to restart visa processing for individuals from the affected countries and to develop ways to address the harm caused to those who were prevented from coming to the United States because of the ban.”

The Citizenship Act of 2021

The Citizenship Act is the Biden administration and Demcratic leadership’s effort toward a comprehensive immigration bill, and, if passed, would mark a huge change for millions of people. The bill includes provisions impacting unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States and revises laws governing authorized immigration. There are also provisions on enforcement and border security, and additional funds to address the root causes of migration in Central America. A 4-page summary of the bill distributed by Biden’s transition team is available here. Vox has done an excellent summary of its various provisions here.

The feature of the bill getting the most attention is the creation of a path to citizenship for those people currently unauthorized to be in the United States. The process would take 8 years for most unauthorized immigrants – faster for DACA and TPS holders. From a bill summary provided to the media by the incoming administration:

The bill allows undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes. Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation. After three years, all green card holders who pass additional background checks and demonstrate knowledge of English and U.S. civics can apply to become citizens. Applicants must be physically present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may waive the presence requirement for those deported on or after January 20, 2017 who were physically present for at least three years prior to removal for family unity and other humanitarian purposes. Lastly, the bill further recognizes America as a nation of immigrants by changing the word “alien” to “noncitizen” in our immigration laws.

Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will be introducing this legislation into the Senate soon (possibly by the time you read this). Once the legislation is introduced and we have time to read through the devilish details, we will provide a more comprehensive summary of key provisions.

 

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Franciscan Network News

The Quixote Center works with, and is the fiscal sponsor in the United States for the Franciscam Network on Migration. The network coordinates the activity of shelters in Central America, Mexico and the United States that serve migrant communities – principally, though not exclusively, from Central America. Our work with the Franciscan Network has also brought us into coalition work with Franciscans International and other groups that address multilateral issues concerning migration as well. Below we offer a few updates from this work.

Assistance for shelters in Honduras

Following hurricanes Eta and Iota, which both struck Honduras (and Nicaragua) within two weeks of each other, and followed nearly identical paths, Franciscan shelters in Tegucigalpa began offering services to people who were suffering from trauma. This led to a more formal program to mobilize therapists, and therapy students from universities in the country to provide therapy services to children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and related anxiety. 

In December, the Quixote Center facilitated delivery of $4,500 to support this effort. If you would like to offer support to the Network for this and projects like it, you can do that here. Having funds available to meet critical needs is one of the key ways we can support migrants and mitigate the conditions that often give rise to migration in the first place.

Volunteers needed

https://redfranciscana.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/RFM-Voluntariado-2021.pdf

The Franciscan Network is looking for volunteers to help staff shelters and other sites in Mexico (Frontera Digna in Piedras Negras and La 72 in Tenosique), Honduras (Tegucigalpa) and the United States (Migrant Center in New York City). Since Spanish is necessary for nearly all of the sites, the application form and information are only available in Spanish. For several opportunities (including NYC), room and board is not provided, so one must either be local or have access to room and board in the area.

You can find out more information, and application details here.

Mexican Franciscans offer online course on migration

The Committee on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation of the Order of Friars Minor in Mexico is sponsoring a nine-part course on both theoretical and practical concerns related to the situation of migrants. The course will be offered entirely in Spanish on Wednesday nights from January 20-March 17, from 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET. If you are interested, more details are available here and you can register here.

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Update on Hurricane Iota

Hurricane Iota makes landfall Image:NASA

On Monday, November 16, Hurricane Iota struck Nicaragua about 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta made landfall 13 days prior.   

As with Eta, the government mobilized the army and police forces to evacuate people from the coast prior to Iota – tens of thousands of people. This no doubt saved many lives. However, wind and rain took its toll, as rivers overflowed and hillsides collapsed.  Four people died in a mudslide in the Los Roques sector of the municipality of El Tuma-La Dalia. Another six people died in flooding in Carazo and Wiwili. Alliance for Global Justice’s NicaNotes has more detail here.  In total, the government reports 21 deaths from Hurricane Iota.

Among the clear immediate and longer term effects of the storms is food insecurity. Crop loss in areas around the country is enormous. For example, the Humboldt Center estimates

  • In the municipalities of Bilwi, Prinzapolka and the Mining Triangle, there were average losses of 90% in the crops of rice, beans, musaceae (bananas and plantains) and tubers, among others. 
  • In the departments of Matagalpa, Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Estelí: Major losses are reported for beans, rice, vegetables, citrus fruits, tobacco and coffee. In the production of basic grains, losses are estimated between 60% and 90%; a 20% loss in coffee production. 
  • In the municipality of San Juan del Sur in Rivas, the estimate is that 100% of corn, beans and rice crops were lost due to floods and strong gusts of winds. 

Preliminary estimates from Nicaragua’s government are that “the total cost of damages from Hurricanes Eta and Iota could amount to USD $400 million, approximately 3% to 4% of  national GDP. Assessments from Hurricane Eta alone indicated USD $178m worth of damage  to homes, public services, infrastructure, businesses, agriculture, fishing and more, and Iota had a greater radius and intensity. Treasury Minister, Iván Acosta, said that the  government’s priority now is protecting the lives and wellbeing of the citizens, but a full  evaluation will be carried out as soon as possible.”  

Current Responses 

Over the coming months we will be focused on providing support for emergency response and longer-term reconstruction assistance. We will also be asking people to speak out on areas of U.S. policy that can have an impact in Nicaragua and other countries in Central America. This is what we are focused on now: 

Funding: The Quixote Center will be coordinating emergency response with our long time partner, the Institute of John XXIII. Over the next few weeks our focus is on the purchase of food and hygiene kits and delivery of these items to the coast. 

FOOD PACKAGE CONTENT – US $ 34.00

  • Rice 5 KG
  • Beans 5 KG
  • Oil 2 Ltr.
  • Sugar 2.5 KG
  • Oats 4 Bag of 1 Lbr.
  • Maseca 2 Bags of 1 Lbr.
  • Maggi Soup 4 Bags
  • Spaghetti 4 Bags

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – US $ 20.00

  • Face masks
  • Liquid soap
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Gloves

Advocacy: The U.S. government must immediately halt all deportations to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The only country where there has been a halt in deportations is Honduras, and only because the airport in San Pedro Sula is literally under water.  

Representative Nydia Valezquez (D-NY) has introduced legislation to extend Temporary Protected Status to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Hurricane Eta Relief Act of 2020 would suspend most deportations to these three countries – though clearly this faces an uphill battle with the current Senate and President. You can call the Congressional switchboard and ask your member of the House to support this legislation: 202- 224-3121. 

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Updates from the Franciscan Network on Migration Shelters

The Quixote Center serves as the fiscal sponsor for the Franciscan Network on Migration’s fundraising activities in the United States. We participate in the Network’s discussions on advocacy and work closely with Network coordinator Lori Winther to craft strategies concerning communications about network activities. Below are updates directly from the shelters in Mexico. If you are able to support this work you can make a secure, tax- deductible donation to the Franciscan Network on Migration here.

La 72, House for Migrants
Tenosique, Tabasco, Mexico

During the first months of the pandemic, La 72 had institutionalized various health and protection measures for migrants, staff and volunteers. Since mid-October, the shelter has coordinated a re-opening with certain precautionary measures to ensure the protection of the people inside.

With the collaborating organization Medicos Sin Fronteras, they have determined that they can have up to 150 people in the shelter at a time. They monitor the count of people entering (20-30 a day) and those leaving the shelter. In special cases, they receive more than the 150 limit but try to keep the number consistent. 

Everyone has to wear masks, and there are new guidelines for grooming, hand washing, and the use of antibacterial gel. People who want to go out can only do so twice a week to go shopping, to eat, to the doctor, etc. Those who go to work can do it daily with permission. They check every person who passes through the gate for temperature. Any suspected cases are transferred to what is normally the juvenile module for quarantine and COVID testing. To date, they have had one verified COVID case and 3 suspected cases.

There are also 200-250 people living on the court next to the house. They do not want to enter the shelter due to movement restrictions. La 72 offers them support for their migration cases as refugees or for suffering human rights violations, etc. and 100-150 can enter to sleep in the chapel between 8:30 pm until 6:30 am. 

One of the changes that has affected migration the most is that the train, sometimes called “La Bestia,” stopped operating since the end of August due to the conversion of the routes for the new tourist “Mayan Train.” People now come walking or hitchhike in cars. They have established new routes from Petén, through Salto de Agua and Palenque (there is more information in the Casa Betania report on this below). UNICEF is carrying out a study on the impact of the construction of the routes for the Mayan Train, and has interviewed local and indigenous communities, and the different houses and shelters. They are seeing a lack of respect for indigenous people as well as environmental and social impacts.

Other impediments: At the moment it is also impossible to go through Veracruz or Monterrey on foot. There are many INM (National Institute of Migration) checkpoints there and people are deported. They are not seeing many people traveling south either, because Mexico is deporting them. What you see is the perseverance and tenacity of the people. They need to migrate and the obstacles don’t matter. However, more people every day are seeing that Mexico will be their destination. They end up staying as refugees in the big cities of northern Mexico.

Casa Betania
Santa Martha, Salto de Agua, Chiapas, Mexico

The parish of San Fernando de Guadalupe has been cared for by the Missionaries of the Divine Word (SVD) for 33 years. Currently, in the Casa Betania-Santa Martha Project, five SVDs of five different nationalities work alongside four Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary (FMM) currently from Congo, the Philippines, and Mexico. The house is in the middle of Palenque and Villahermosa; the municipal seat is Salto de Agua. Normally, the border closest to the house is called “La Técnica.” About 70% of the migrants crossed this border nearby. 

Right now the train, “La Bestia”, has stopped circulating on this route, people are entering more through El Ceibo and El Naranjo. Before, people came and got on the train between these borders and Tenosique, now they have to walk the long distance between these points, and Casa Betania is on the route. As a result the shelter has experienced a huge increase in numbers. Since August it has been increasing again, and now they are receiving around 100 people a day. The majority of the population are Hondurans (85%), Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, a few Cubans and Venezuelans. Some Africans have arrived.

The pandemic caused them many challenges; they heard that many houses were closing due to the pandemic. But seeing the migrants, the faces, hearing the stories, the team decided to keep the house open. 10 or 15 people arrived a day during the first phase of the epidemic. Most are male, but a variety of groups are arriving – women, children, unaccompanied minors, whole families, single girls, etc. 

People can stay for 3 days. But they always try to personalize the situation of each one, for example if they have a disease or need a procedure, they can stay longer. Right now they have a family that was robbed asking for shelter and they are also being given additional time.

The relationship between the people has been, above all, positive. At first there were comments on social networks questioning the authorities about why they kept letting the migrants stay, always blaming the migrants for any bad that happens. But there were more people supporting them. Right now there is no formal opposition blocking their passage. The health authorities set rules for them, for example, once the migrants enter the shelter, that they do not leave, that they are not entering and leaving the shelter. Migrants, above all, do not believe in COVID, or it is a denial above all the complex situation they live, their dreams, their struggles to migrate. Well, it makes them live this denial. And so there is a bit of resistance facing the requirements, the use of the mask, the hand washing, the gel. They try to disinfect cutlery, tables, surfaces very well, and there are people who do not accept the value of these measures. But it is explained to people, raising awareness, and little by little they accept that this is the new normal. 

About contagion, each person who arrives takes their temperature. If they suspect a contagion, there is an area reserved for quarantine. Currently there is a person who is positive. A couple arrived, and the young man had a fever. They were immediately taken to the hospital for an exam, and the boy tested positive. The two are isolated.

One of the sisters speaks to the women about violence on the road and hospital care for migrants who have been raped on the road.

A great challenge is that in this municipality, the authorities are not very competent to help migrants. When they need paperwork, they have to move to Palenque. It implies a day of work for the transfer. 

Casa Betania Needs: They critically need volunteers. With only 4 or 5 people they are serving 100+ per day. Volunteers are available to live within the limitations they have there. There is a room in the house of a woman from the town, and the women volunteers stay in this house. The men are in a space in the shelter. They have to be of legal age, willing to work with migrants, who can follow the general rules of no drugs, no alcohol, no violence. 

Materially, they especially need flip-flops for the bathroom. 

Comedor San Francisco de Asís
Mazatlán, Mexico

In the dining room that they operated in the parish before the pandemic, they still offer showers, distribute food (water, whey, fruit, tuna, etc.) in bags, and in special cases migrants can sleep there or they can serve lunches, as before, according to the health code.

The flow of migrants is increasing again to 9 to 10 migrants per day, some to the north, others deported. Most of the migrants continue north. They are a mix of Venezuelans and Central Americans, but very few Haitians and others at this time. They still cannot fully open with volunteers, for the safety of the volunteers.

The migrants stay under a bridge near the train tracks. Or they just eat, bathe, and leave. The INM sometimes asks for support from the parish or the DIF (National System for Integral Family Development), for people with physical disabilities, etc.

Pre-pandemic, a woman in the community offered to donate a house to better host the migrants. However, the house is not suitable for the men who make up the majority of the migrants who pass this route. The house is far from the parish and would be without an administrator on-site. There is not much space and everyone would be too crowded. There is no patio, it is completely enclosed. Sometimes there are arguments or problems. There is a lot of drug trafficking in the area, too, and they don’t have room for movement. People cannot be easily separated when tensions arise.

For these reasons, the friars plan to use the house to serve families or perhaps women, perhaps for two or three families at a time. Maybe use the house for medical care. In terms of legal paperwork, they already have right of use, but are awaiting deeds.

In other space, they plan to separate a section of the patio of their church, mainly to provide shade with a canopy (tin) roof and a large tree. There they could place cots, hammocks or mats for the men to sleep. There are two gates to the street. With a wall they will divide the areas between the parishioners and the migrants. This would give them more space for the migrants to relax and as Franciscans already live here, they would also be better supervised and supported. 

They are presenting this plan for approval to their provincial government of the Franciscans at a meeting in Tijuana this month. If the plan is approved, a plan that involves blocking part of the entrance to the sanctuary from their worship space, they would need money to make these more basic plans. It would be better than what they have had, but not as good as what was originally proposed. The opportunity to buy the land where they hoped to build is no longer available. 

The funds they obtained from the Central Mission of the Franciscans in Germany have been spent to cover food costs in recent months and they are running out of supplies. They are thinking of initiating a local campaign to collect more supplies.

Frontera Digna
Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico

The Frontera Digna shelter is an institution that welcomes vulnerable migrants, refugees, and deportees. Due to the insecure situations that migrants experience, they arrive with an immense burden of incidents and cruelty that they have had to experience on the road and this shelter offers them relief: water so they can bathe, food, clothing, medicine. They receive spiritual support and care, nutritional assistance, and other accompaniment when required. We respond to the situations that each of them have, maintaining hope and strengthening.

In early 2020, staff at Frontera Digna were preparing a new “Compartiendo Esperanza” shelter exclusively for up to 80 women and children. In April, immigration authorities requested the use of the new shelter for 160 people in deportation proceedings from Mexico. You can read more about what happened here.

As we are very close to the border, people sometimes try to cross several times. There are helicopters, drones, dogs, sensors that detect movements, migrants even believe that when they turn on their phone, the sensors can detect them. However, they can cross and walk 3-6 days until the North American migration authorities capture and detain them, sometimes until they have lost everything along the way. We always hear, “I almost made it.” They try many times. 

When they arrive with us, the deportees ask for food, clothes (sometimes they arrive in their prison suit or pajamas, flip flops). They ask to bathe and come very hungry. Sometimes they arrive dehydrated, in poor health, with traumas related to encounters with criminals, kidnappings, extortion, etc.

Temporarily closed for lodging, Frontera Digna served an average of 100 migrants every day before the COVID pandemic. Currently, they are providing pantry service, food and cleaning products and soaps, and follow up with pregnant women who are living in rented rooms. They also offered migrants the right to enter, rest a few hours and shower, but the municipality ordered them to only distribute food, bring clothes to wash, prohibiting others from entering the shelter.

There are migrants who are waiting for their asylum appointments in Nuevo Laredo, and many are arriving in Piedras Negras. They rent tiny rooms, now that the shelters are closed due to COVID. The person in charge of the INM who keeps the list to request asylum, reports that in the Piedras Negras detention center, around 160 deportees, are processed daily.

About the rented rooms, the police recently raided some buildings because the owners did not have the proper permits. The migrants were taken to detention even though some were awaiting asylum and had legal status in Mexico. They deported those who did not have papers to stay. They are constantly deporting people. 

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What is it going to take? Abolish ICE and FreeThemAll

Three weeks ago Dawn Wooten, formerly a nurse at Irwin County Detention Center, came forward with accusations that a doctor had performed medically unnecessary hysterectomies on many women who were at the Irwin Center under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Irwin is run by a private, for-profit company, LaSalle Corrections. From a story in Vice, “In interviews with Project South, a Georgia nonprofit, multiple women said that hysterectomies were stunningly frequent among immigrants detained at the facility. ‘When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp,’ said one woman, who said she’d met five women who’d had hysterectomies after being detained between October and December 2019. The woman said that immigrants at Irwin are often sent to see one particular gynecologist outside of the facility. ‘It was like they’re experimenting with their bodies.’” The Associated Press did a follow up investigation after these reports surfaced. They were not able to confirm all of Dawn Wooten’s accusations, but did find a pattern of issues including a lack of consent for surgeries and medical procedures performed by Dr. Mahendra Amin: An Associated Press review of medical records for four women and interviews with lawyers revealed growing allegations that Amin performed surgeries and other procedures on detained immigrants that they never sought or didn’t fully understand. Although some procedures could be justified based on problems documented in the records, the women’s lack of consent or knowledge raises severe legal and ethical issues, lawyers and medical experts said. Pramila Jayapal, Representative from Seattle, led a letter to the Department of Homeland Security signed by 170 members of Congress that demanded an investigation into these reports.  In covering this story, The Guardian recalled the history of forced sterilizations in the United States – something that is not exactly ancient history. “In the 1960s and 70s an increase in federal funding for reproductive health procedures combined with racist and anti-immigration sentiment led to “tens of thousands” of women of colour being sterilized, including Native Americans…And by the 1970s, a third of all women in Puerto Rico had undergone sterilization procedures, the majority of which were involuntary, as part of US attempts at ‘population control’….In California prisons, between 1997 and 2013 about 1,400 people were sterilized.” Alexandra Minna Stern, professor of history at the University of Michigan and director of the Sterilization and Social Justice Lab told The Guardian, “Anyone who’s studied the history of sterilization abuse would look at this detention center and say this is the kind of place where sterilization abuse is likely to occur because all of the conditions that enable such medical malfeasance and reproductive oppression, they’re all in place.” The allegations have brought all eyes onto the Irwin County Detention Center and LaSalle Corrections. However, the issue of medical neglect in ICE custody is a systemic issue. Two weeks ago two different House committee reports on ICE detention practices made this point. Both reports included damning evidence of a history of neglect and malpractice.  The first report came from the House Committee on Homeland Security.  Noting that “ICE appears to prioritize obtaining bed space over the wellbeing of detainees in its custody”, the Committee “discovered a concerning pattern of ICE contracting with facilities that are poorly equipped to meet ICE’s own detention standards. This includes facilities, particularly in Louisiana [home of LaSalle Corrections], that had a well-publicized history of abuses prior to contracting with ICE. It also includes those facilities that have had longstanding contracts with ICE but have demonstrated an inability to comply with standards that affect the health and safety of detainees even after being repeatedly called out for violating those standards by DHS’s own inspection processes.” The primary findings of the committee was that ICE’s oversight of private contractors was inadequate. Oversight was poorly conceived, advance warning was given of inspections, the contractors hired to do inspections were ill prepared, problems, when found, went uncorrected and contracts continued to be extended regardless of patterns of abuse. On medical neglect in particular,  The Committee repeatedly heard from detainees that their medical complaints were frequently dismissed. The most common complaint was that, whatever the issue, detainees would be given common pain relievers unless the symptoms were emergent. At LaSalle, migrants described a system that depended on non-medically trained people to make health care decisions. For example, if a person was experiencing pain, the guard in the housing unit might tell them to wait to go to the doctor until the morning. Even if they made it to see health professionals, migrants at LaSalle described medical personnel making fun of their complaints. Migrants held at Otay Mesa also recalled being told to prioritize “one problem at a time” and not raise multiple concerns when visiting health professional. And they had to wait days for a trip to the hospital for treatment or examinations. Sixty Migrants at Adelanto similarly complained about having to wait months to receive medical care for medical issues.  The second report came from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. This report contained more recent developments, particularly regarding ICE’s medical neglect as it applies to COVID-19 prevention. The findings, however, were largely the same. ICE facilities fail to provide adequate medical services, and yet ICE continues to contract with the same companies. Commenting on a review of audits of detainee deaths, the Committee notes, “[t]hese documents reveal serious and widespread violations of ICE’s health and safety standards, negligent medical care, unsanitary living conditions, understaffing, poor record keeping, and critically delayed emergency care.” In relation to infectious diseases, the track record is truly damning:  For example, in 2018 and 2019, an outbreak of the mumps infected nearly 900 detainees in 57 ICE detention facilities across 19 states. Documents also contain examples of improper treatment for tuberculosis, HIV, and in one case, an allegation of “grossly negligent” medical care when an ICE detainee died of meningitis in 2018. These persistent deficiencies could aggravate the spread of coronavirus in DHS facilities. ICE has confirmed more than 6,000 detainees and 45 ICE staff have been infected with coronavirus at over 95 detention facilities. Information obtained by the Committee shows that as of mid-July 2020, more than 600 GEO Group and CoreCivic employees working in at least 29 facilities also tested positive. Many ICE facilities, including those that house children, have had repeated sanitation problems, including dirty and moldy bathrooms, insufficient clean clothing, unsanitized dishes, dirty food preparation and service areas, and a lack of soap, toilet paper, paper towels, clean razors, and other hygiene items. During fiscal year 2020, twenty-one people have died in ICE custody. Eight of the eleven people who have died since May have died of COVID-19. Now what? So, over the last two weeks we’ve witnessed a damning whistleblower report on an ICE facility, alongside several follow up investigations supporting parts of this report, while exposing even more abuses. We’ve also seen two congressional committee reports that detail repeatedly how ICE is negligent in the care it provides. Further, the negligence in medical care has led to deaths, and the explosion of COVID-19 in its facilities. The reports this last week note that ICE private contractors are not held accountable. Indeed, the oversight regime in place now is a complete failure.  I have no idea what it will take to move members of Congress to actually act. There is a bill circulating in the House, unlikely to make it out of committee within the time span left to this Congress. The Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act. The bill calls for minimizing the use of detention overall, phasing out of the use of contractors (private and governmental) in order to keep all detention facilities under one clear authority that is then tightly monitored based on a comprehensive set of standards. It was introduced last year. If not this bill, then something at least as comprehensive must be moved in the next Congress. This is not something that really needs to be studied any more. Detention is unnecessary, and private detention facilities are brutal. Period. We have known this for years. Enough is enough.
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