Author Archive

Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Myriam Merlet

Part IV of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

Myriam Merlet

Myriam Merlet was considered one of Haiti’s most prominent leaders and catalysts of the women’s rights movement. Merlet was one of the 300,000 people who perished in the  7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. As part of our series on inspirational and influential women, we take a look at her work as an advocate for gender equality and the rights of women facing sexual violence.

In the 70s, Merlet left Haiti and sought refuge in Canada, where she studied economics, women’s issues, feminist theory, and political sociology. Upon the completion of her studies, Merlet returned to Haiti in the mid 1980s, stating, “While I was abroad I felt the need to find out who I was and where my soul was. I chose to be a Haitian woman. We’re a country in which three-fourths of the people can’t read and don’t eat properly. I’m an integral part of the situation…as a Haitian woman, I must make an effort so that all together we can extricate ourselves from them [the problems].” Upon returning to Haiti, Merlet used her education to lead grassroots advocacy to promote the rights of Haitian women and worked with others to change the culturally accepted norm of gender-based violence.

Merlet was involved in an array of organizations seeking to create and enforce gender equality. In Merlet’s early advocacy years, she founded EnfoFanm, an organization that sought to raise global awareness about the challenges Haitian women face, namely the history and continued use of sexual assault by government soldiers, police, and criminal gangs as means of controlling and oppressing women. EnfoFanm also led a campaign to name streets in Port-au-Prince after famous Haitian women to celebrate and commemorate their work as well as elevate the status of women within Haitian culture. Later in 2006, Merlet took part in creating the Coordination Nationale pour le Plaidoyer des Femmes [National Coordination for Women’s Advocacy] and served as a spokesperson for the organization to fight against sexism within the public sector.

One of Merlet’s greatest accomplishments was leading the efforts to reclassify rape. Prior to 2005, rape was considered a “crime of passion” or an “offense against morals” in Haiti. Rape victims and their families seldom received monetary compensation from the perpetrators, and had no hope for a legal sentencing or justice for the victim. In large part thanks to the work of Merlet and many other women activists, rape has been reclassified as a criminal offense. However, there remains a lack of a precise definition of rape as well as strong judicial system to uphold and enforce the criminalization of rape. As a result, many rapes continue to be overlooked by authorities and there is a stark lack of rape prosecutions, leaving victims vulnerable and susceptible to further gender-based violence.

From 2006 to 2008 Merlet acted as the Chief of Staff to Haiti’s Ministry for Gender and the Rights of Women. There, she continued to promote equal rights and end gender discrimination and violence. Though in a government position, Merlet continued to participate in grassroots advocacy and worked closely with the Minister for the Coordination of Women and Women’s Rights, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassegue. Together, Merlet and Lassegue opened the first Haiti Sorority Safe House and V-Day Safe House, both of which act as safe houses for women who are victims of domestic violence. At both of these safe houses women can access medical, legal, and psychological aid as well as gain life skills through the business and computer training courses offered. There continues to be an overwhelming lack of safe houses and aid offered to victims of domestic and gender-based violence. Merlet and Lassegue’s work is carried on by organizations like Fanm Deside, but more needs to be done.

The earthquake served as a reminder of how crucial the work in which Merlet was involved continues to be. A report by Amnesty International stated, “the displacements and living conditions in the displaced persons camps have increased the risk of facing gender-based violence for women and girls, while the destruction of police stations and court houses during the 2010 earthquake further weakened that state’s ability to provided adequate protection.” Women and girls living in the camps with poor lighting at night, unsecure tents, and limited police presence continue to be increasingly susceptible to rape and gender-based violence. Furthermore, the child sex ring run by United Nations Peacekeepers exacerbated the sexual abuse women and girls faced in the camps in Port-au-Prince.

The work Merlet started for the promotion, empowerment, and protection of Haitian women’s rights at the grassroots level remains imperative. The UN’s debacle illustrates why women and local leaders must be involved in the disaster relief process and the need to bring female issues to the forefront of government policy in the hopes of strengthening the justice system to deter rape and gender-based violence as well as provided justice for female victims.

Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Sister Pauline Quinn coming April 20th

 

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United Nations Conference on the Status of Women: The Need for Gender Parity within Human Rights Bodies

For an introduction to the Conference on the Status of Women read here 

Uruguay, Sweden, Liechtenstein, and The Gambia sponsored a panel entitled Closing the Gender Gap: Achieving Gender Parity in UN Human Rights Bodies at the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women (CSW), which examined the continuation of historical male domination within international human rights bodies through an intercultural feminist view point. Female inclusion within the UN, as well as other international human rights bodies is crucial because these entities must accurately represent humanity if they are to be considered legitimate and effective. There is a current lack of considering gender as a critical issue when discussing human rights. This creates a problem when analyzing human rights violations such as sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, and modern slavery – all of which disproportionately affect women and girls due to global, cultural, and societal norms.

The Gqual Campaign was created to accurately report female representation within international human rights bodies as well as to promote female nominations after they found that, “women are underrepresented in virtually all international bodies for monitoring and developing international law, human rights, and international relations.” In 2015, Gqual conducted a study illuminating the stark lack of female representation in positions of power within international human rights bodies. Women occupied a mere 17% of all positions within regional and international tribunals. For example, within the five international tribunals, only 13 of the 72 judges were female. The lack of women nominated to international tribunals and monitoring bodies stems from historic exclusion of women based on cultural and societal norms.  

2016: the International Criminal Court, 2 Women 8 Men

Traditionally, women are secluded to the private sphere as caregivers, homemakers, domestic workers, etc., while men dominate the public sphere in government, trade, work abroad, etc. affording males the opportunity to exchange ideas, become confident in their abilities, and achieve economic independence. Through the continued enforcement of traditional roles, females are shut out from society and sequestered into ‘female only spaces.’ This practice dampens women’s experience, confidence, and voices, leaving women without the ability or confidence to enter male dominated spaces in order to participate in discussions and decision-making. Without female participation at a local level, there is little hope that women will gain the skills and experience required to sit on international human rights bodies in the future.

2015: the Inter-American Court of Humans Rights, 2 Women 4 Men

Furthermore, the continued trend of minimal or no female education exacerbates women’s inability to be nominated to international human rights bodies. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducted a study on women living in the rural mountains of Nepal, finding that a lack of formal education for girls resulted in a disproportionate number of women unable to speak the national language. Instead, the majority of mountain women solely spoke local dialects. This phenomenon is replicated in rural communities throughout the world. Lack of female education not only prohibits women from gaining the expertise needed to sit on international human rights bodies, but also bars them from participating in local decision-making meetings held in the national language, further silencing them and excluding them from important discussions.

All international human rights bodies must adopt a gender sensitive participatory approach in order to enhance women’s empowerment and inclusion in decision-making entities. ICIMOD indicates that the enforcement of traditional gender norms silences women, making them uncomfortable and unwilling to participate in male dominated decision-making bodies. The first step to achieve a gender participatory approach in international human rights entities is to create local female groups that allow women to freely discuss ideas and experiences and to propose solutions affording women the opportunity to gain experience in decision-making entities and gain confidence in their abilities. Next, women must be integrated into the existing international human rights bodies with the understanding that women offer unique and valid experiences, viewpoints, and solutions; and therefore must be viewed as equal members.  

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The United Nations Conference on the Status of Women: the Unequal Effects of Climate Change on Rural Women

This year, the United Nations held the 62nd annual Conference on the Status of Women (CSW) in order to gather the international community to discuss the importance and necessity for inclusion and empowerment of women on a global level and to propose strategies to enact positive change. The first CSW was held in 1947, two years after the inception of the United Nations, with the purpose of creating international conventions and standards to change existing discriminatory male-oriented legislation as well as to foster global awareness on the legitimacy of women’s issues.

http://www.op.org/en/content/csw-62-empowering-rural-women-and-girls

Each year CSW adopts a theme based on the current global realities of women. The theme this year was Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. As the name suggests, there is an array of issues that affect rural women and girls. This post focuses on a particular panel of interest: Harnessing Women’s Rights to Natural Resources to Advance the Status of Rural Women

Many assume that climate change affects people equally or affects them based on geographic location; however, this is not the case. Women are disproportionately impacted by climate change across the globe. This is often easier to see and understand in rural areas. Like in urban areas, rural women typically act as the primary caregivers and providers for the household. Rural women face unique challenges in this role in regards to collecting water and food. Due to the increased regularity and length of droughts, women are forced to travel further distances to gather water. Irregular weather patterns caused by climate change can lead to crop and livestock failure, forcing women to find alternative sources of nutrition. Both of these activities have physical tolls on women’s bodies and reduce their ability to actively participate in the formal economy.

In contrast, though urban women often act as the primary caregivers within homes as well, they do not face the same challenges rural women do when gathering necessary household resources. The unequal affect of climate change on urban women is better understood when examining the intersectionality between the lack of socioeconomic empowerment and female participation in the environmental decision making process. Globally, women are more likely than men to experience poverty, often rendering them reliant on community networks and social services. This makes it difficult for women to recover from natural disasters that affect the infrastructure, job market, and housing.

Mother and Child Post Hurricane Harvey

Along with the primary impacts of natural disasters (i.e. lack of shelter, food, water, etc.), women face more secondary impacts, including sexual and gender-based violence, loss or reduction of economic opportunities, and an increased workload. A prime example of this is their susceptibility to human trafficking post-natural disaster due to an increased vulnerability, need for economic stability, and lack of options. Further contributing to female economic disadvantages, the UN Women found that the female unpaid workload is more likely to increase following natural disasters because women are most likely to be tasked with caring for the ill or injured while the men continue to work, further limiting their economic opportunities. Girls were also more likely than boys to be taken out of school to aid with the domestic chores after a disaster, resulting in a lack of universal primary education and further disadvantaging females.

Given the unequal impact of climate change on women, there is an obvious need to include them in climate change decision-making bodies. However, the average representation of females in national and global climate negotiating bodies is currently less than 30%. Women, especially in rural areas, are more knowledgeable about local water systems and crop growth and are regularly forced to find alternative solutions to increase water and food availability by finding new areas to drill wells, using of modified seeds, etc., highlighting their ability to actively contribute to disaster planning and recovery. Furthermore, women account for 50% of the world’s population, and the bodies responsible for climate change response should therefore more accurately represent humanity.

In order to increase female representation in climate change decision-making, governmental and intergovernmental institutions must codify regulations enforcing gender equality in not only the environmental ministries but also gender and economic ministries. This will ensure equal representation, create a shift in cultural and societal norms that portray women as victims as opposed to equals, and create intersectionality between government efforts to address climate change and to empower women in order to make the link between climate change and gender.

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Nora Astorga

Part I of the Inspirational and Influential Women of the World Blog Series

“The great advantage in representing Nicaragua is that this is a revolution with principles and it bases its foreign policy on its principles” – Nora Astorga 

Nora Astorga was born in 1949, to a wealthy Nicaraguan family, who supported the Somoza dictatorship. In her youth, Astorga attended Catholic school under the instruction of St. Theresa of Avila, in Managua, where she was first introduced to the complex realities of the world that surrounded her. During the time of her schooling Nicaragua was plagued with a corrupt government, social unrest, and pervasive violence. Upon completion of high school, her parents sent her to Catholic University, in Washington, DC, to escape the harsh realities Nicaragua faced.

Astorga was in DC when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. From this moment Astorga recounts, “…a political consciousness was born in me”, and returned to Nicaragua to partake in the struggle to overthrow Somoza. Upon her return, she enrolled in Central American University to study law. There, she was introduced to the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] by a fellow student, and shortly thereafter joined the Front in 1996, to partake in the fight to end the political corruption and inequality perpetuated by the Somoza dictatorship. Initially, Astorga’s role consisted of operating safe houses for the leaders of the FSLN.

In her late 20s, Astorga became a cooperate lawyer for a Nicaraguan construction company. While there, she saw an opportunity to further her involvement in FSLN. Through her position she met General Reynaldo Pérez Vega, nicknamed ‘El Perro’, a high up member of the National Guard under Somoza known to rape, torture, and kill political prisoners, as well as a notorious womanizer. Astorga used her wit and charm to lure El Perro to her house, on March 8, 1978. The plan was for her FSLN comrades to hide in her house and kidnap the general to exchange him for political prisoners; however, there was a struggle resulting in the killing of El Perro.

After Astorga was implicated in the death of El Perro she fled to the mountains to become a guerilla fighter. In an interview, Astorga recounts, “I finally understood that armed struggle was the only solution, that a rifle cannot be met with a flower… For me it was a moment of conviction: either I took up arms or I wasn’t going to change anything”. While fighting, Astorga acted as the political leader for four squads as well as studied the political reality of Nicaragua to further understand the in-country conditions. 

Photo provided by Liberation News

Astorga training new recruits

Following the overthrow of Somoza in 1976, Astorga’s legal background provided her with the qualifications to become the Chief Special Persecutor in special war tribunals for Somoza war criminals. Upon completion of trying 7,500 members of Somoza’s National Guard, Astorga was appointed Nicaragua’s Deputy Foreign Mister for four years, and then became Nicaragua’s Ambassador to the United Nations. While at the U.N. Astorga was one of four women to act as representatives of their countries. In the male dominated U.N. Astorga worked tirelessly to challenge the United States’ policies of supporting the Contras, blockading trade and cutting off international organizations’ assistance to the Sandinista government. While speaking to U.N. delegates she stated, “the United States treats undeveloped countries like little children… Their attitude is, ‘If you behave, I’ll give you some candy. If not, I’ll spank you.’ ’”. Astorga was recognized by colleagues for the strength of her diplomatic efforts, including her work to encourage Security Council recognition of the landmark World Court case that declared U.S. efforts to topple the Sandinista government illegal.

Astorga at the United Nations

Astorga’s work continues to have importance and impact today. There is a continued need to promote and include non-Western voices within the international community in order to inform as well as guide policies affecting non-Western countries. The United States, and many other Western countries, continues to enter inter-governmental spaces promoting their own agenda, without regard of the potentially detrimental impact on the countries they view as ‘lesser’, such as developing countries. This can be seen through the policies and tactics Nikki Haley utilizes at the U.N., which include the deployment of threats to force other countries to support American ill-informed global policies. The inclusion of non-Western voices in inter-governmental diplomacy will allow for the creation well informed policy based on moral and democratic ground, rather than the self-interests of the strong and wealthy countries.

Up Next: Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Wangari Maathai, coming March 9th

 

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Operation Streamline: Fast Tracking Deportation

In November, I traveled to the School of the Americas’ (SOA) Encuentro Watch to learn more about immigration and the demilitarization of the US-Mexico border. Upon arrival, I was picked up from the Tucson airport and driven to US District Court Pro SE Office in Tucson, Arizona. This courthouse is noteworthy, because it is one of the three courts in the country that utilizes Operation Streamline.

Before arriving in Tucson I knew nothing about Operation Streamline, but assumed it was some system to speed-up immigration. Well, I was kind of right, but it is much more about deportation and far worse than I had imagined.

Quick Overview

Operation Streamline is a joint effort by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice initiated in 2005 in an effort to impose zero-tolerance immigration enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. Prior to Operation Streamline, most apprehended undocumented immigrants faced civil deportation proceedings in court while criminal charges were typically reserved for undocumented immigrants with prior criminal records or repeat entrants. Under Operation Streamline, all unauthorized immigrants are charged with criminal violations of the federal law and face prosecution for ‘illegal entry’ or ‘illegal re-entry’.

En Masse Hearings

Under Operation Streamline, defendants are tried in en masse hearings, meaning that up to 80 individuals can be tried simultaneously. Upon apprehension, undocumented immigrants are detained for 1-12 days before their hearing. Typically, defendants receive court-appointed attorneys or public defenders, who represent dozens of defendants at once (sometimes during the same trial).  Defendants are not given time prior to their hearing to meet with their attorney. As a result, the defendants have little or no time to understand the charges against them, consider plea offers, or discuss legal relief options. This hinders legitimate claims for immigration relief, such as asylum. Most en masse hearings are condensed into one day.

Due to the rapid and dehumanizing nature of en masse hearings, due process is not observed, and important distinctions are lost or ignored. For example, public defenders have reported being appointed to represent U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, as a result of Operation Streamline.

Once convicted of illegal entry or re-entry, the defendant is sent to a detention center or private prison to serve their jail time, and upon completion of the sentence is deported. With a criminal record, it is extremely difficult to pursue legal entry or immigration options to the United States.

Prison Time

Private prisons have greatly profited from Operation Streamline due to the constant flow of new prisoners. Repeat offenders typically receive a sentence of 30-180 days, with a maximum of 20 years. In Tucson alone, incarceration costs are estimated at $63 billion annually, in addition to the legal costs.

Operation Streamline was created to further deter unauthorized entry into the United States through Mexico. However, there is no statistical evidence indicating that Operation Streamline is correlated with such a decrease. Instead, it has become more dangerous to cross into the U.S., resulting in the loss of many lives.

Many Americans are unaware of Operation Streamline and how it has been used to create a whole new class of people labeled as “criminals,” even though they have not violated any criminal law. While standing outside of the Federal Court in the searing Tucson sun, I listened to the stories of those directly affected by Operation Streamline. These stories had much in common, insofar as they were told by upstanding members of society attempting to take hold of the American Dream, but forcibly removed from the place they call home.

The first step to combat Operation Streamline is knowledge. Americans need to know that their tax dollars are being used to fund the criminalization and deportation of thousands of children, women, and men seeking a better life. We have developed a fact sheet to boil down this issue.

Various faith groups and humanitarian organizations urged former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to shutdown Operation Streamline and continue to pressure Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Join their efforts by calling your legislator or Jeff Sessions to let them know you do not condone Operation Streamline and would like to see it ended.

Here is how you can find and contact your elected officials.

You can contact Jeff Sessions through the DOJ.

If you’d like a more condensed version, we also have a one-page Operation Streamline Factsheet you can share. 

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Country Highlights: Yemen & Syria

Part VII of a series on TPS

Missed the last blog?

There is a renewed hope for those in the United States under Temporary Protected Status. There are three acts proposed in congress, the Dream Act, the SECURE Act of 2017, and the Temporary Protected Status Reform Act of 2017, all of which aim to create a more stable permanent solution to TPS.

Yemen and Syria are the most recent countries granted TPS, and receive it due to armed conflict in both regions. Though TPS for Yemen and Syria are not set to expire soon, it is nevertheless important to understand why they continue to receive TPS and recognize the intricacies and uniqueness of the man-made crises each country faces.

 

Yemen

2016 Statistics*

  • 24 million Yemenis are food insecure
  • 8 million live in areas directly affected by conflict
  • 1 million are in need of humanitarian assistance
  • 8 million are forcibly internally displaced

 Overview

The Yemen Civil War stems from popular anti-government uprisings during the Arab Spring in 2011. Amid the uprisings President Saleh was forced to sign his powers over to Vice President Hadi, due to mounting pressure from the US, UK, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to step down after he led violent crackdowns on the demonstrations. The transition of leadership was meant to bring stability to Yemen. However, this was hindered due to government corruption, high unemployment, food insecurity, military officers remaining loyal to Saleh, and attacks by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The Houthi Movement took advantage of the Hadi government’s weakness, and seized large portion of Yemen, forcing Hadi to flee the country in March of 2015.

Foreign powers led by Saudi Arabia launched offensive interventions to support the Hadi government against the Houthi Rebel Movement, who aligned with Saleh’s loyalists. In the midst of infighting, the Islamic State (ISIS) entered Yemen and fought for control over regions. The civilian population has suffered immensely from direct violence carried out by all sides.

Since the violence broke out in 2015, several UN-led peace talked and cease fires have failed to halt the civil war. The war has resulted in one of the largest man-made humanitarian crises in the world.

 

 Syria

2016 Statistics*

  • 470,000 dead from conflict
  • 1 million internally displaced
  • 8 million seeing refuge abroad
  • 1 million people living in besieged areas without access to humanitarian aid

Overview

Like Yemen, Syria’s conflict stems from the Arab Spring when school children were arrested for drawing anti-government graffiti on a school in Daraa. The arrests resulted in huge anti-government demonstrations. The Assad government used deadly force to crackdown on the demonstrations, resulting in the death of dozens and triggering nationwide protests.

As the uprising continued, Assad’s crackdown intensified, resulting in flagrant human rights violations. The mounting opposition began to take up arms throughout the country to both defend themselves, and to expel government security forces from their region. The violence quickly escalated, resulting in a civil war, which left a power vacuum allowing the ISIS to gain territory and power in Syria.

Assad government forces, ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other non-state armed groups are responsible for systematic and wide-spread violations of human rights, including targeting civilian with artillery, kidnapping, executions, use of child soldiers, torture, rape, and unlawful blocking of humanitarian aid. This war has created the largest refugee crisis since World War II and has torn apart the region.

Humanitarian aid is increasingly inaccessible in both Syria and Yemen, due to the volatility in the region as conditions continue to worsen. It is vital to continue to provide an escape from the violence for Yemenis and Syrians here under TPS. Please call your legislators to encourage them to sign on to an act to create a permanent solution for TPS.

 

*Most recent statistics available, likely to change

Up Next:

Country Highlight: Nepal – coming January 12th 

 

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Country Highlights: Somalia & South Sudan

Part VI of a series on TPS

Missed the last blog?

The Trump Administration is proving ruthless in their mission to limit immigration to the United States. Within the last two months, the Department of Homeland Security has ended TPS for two out of the 10 TPS-designated countries. However, there is a glimmer of hope for the remaining countries; DHS extended TPS for Sudan in September, showing some leniency and willingness to continue the program.

Between Somalia and South Sudan, 320 individuals are in the U.S. under the protection of TPS due to civil war and extreme violence in both countries. Though there are few TPS recipients from Somalia and South Sudan, compared to other TPS designated countries, we must remember they had a long and likely treacherous journey to reach the United States, and the number of recipients is no measure of their relative importance or the gravity of the conditions they left behind.

 

South Sudan

South Sudan received a freedom in the world score of 5/100 from Freedom House due to a lack of political rights, an inoperative government, an absence of civil liberties, and ineffective rule of law. South Sudan gained independence in 2011, and it has been at civil war since 2013, after President Salva Kiir (a Dinka) fired Vice President Riek Machar (a Nuer), deepening the division between the ethnic groups.

Violence was centered in Juba, the capital, but has since spread throughout the country. The UN and the African Union have reported government forces and armed ethnic militias directly targeting civilians, for murder, rape and torture. As of 2016, 1.9 million South Sudanese were internally displaced; there were 1.5 million refugees in neighboring countries; death toll estimates were in the tens of thousands; and ethnic cleansing was underway in parts of the country.

 

Somalia

This year Somalia received a 5/100 freedom in the world score from Freedom House due to grave human rights abuses, a lack of a free or stable government, and judiciary rife with impunity, among other things. The country is divided between three major actors: the internationally-supported national government, the separatist government, and al-Shabaab – all of which are fighting for legitimacy, power, and territory. This infighting has resulted in the loss of thousands of civilian lives, internally displaced persons, and loss of infrastructure.

According to reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as of 2016, 1.1 million Somalis were internally displaced; an additional 1.1 million Somalis refugees were in other countries; and over 50,000 civilians had been killed. Al-Shabaab routinely carries out guerilla-style assaults, public beheadings, bombings, and targeted attacks against civilians and civilian structures, such as schools and hotels. Al-Shabaab is not the only group responsible for violence against civilians. Reports from the UN confirm that both the Somali Federal Government (SFG) and the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) are responsible for human rights and international law violations, including rape and indiscriminately killing citizens.

It is feared that the return of Somalis and South Sudanese from abroad will further exacerbate the crisis in both countries. The sheer amount of violence alone has made the return of citizens from abroad impossible. Coupled with the lack of economic opportunity and sustainable infrastructure, the return of South Sudanese and Somalis migrants appears unfathomable.

Please continue to call and write your legislators to fight for the renewal of TPS and to support the SECURE Act, which would create a pathway to permanent residency for TPS holders.

 

Up Next:

Country Highlights: Yemen and Syria – coming December 15th

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Country Highlights: Central America

Part V of a series on TPS

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On November 6th the Department of Homeland Security announced the end of TPS for Nicaraguan migrants. Following this news, 2,550 Nicaraguans were given notice to prepare for deportation in 12 months. Hondurans were given some respite; the Department of Homeland Security announced an extension of six months for TPS holders in order to further assess the living conditions in Honduras. Salvadorans will likely hear in January if they have been granted an extension for TPS.

Taken together, 252,000 TPS recipients from Honduras and El Salvador have lived in the United States for over two decades. With the current administration debating their TPS renewal, thousands nervously await their fate in an uneasy limbo.

Both El Salvador and Honduras began receiving TPS after Hurricane Mitch caused widespread destruction in 1998. The countries continue to receive TPS due to rampant violence.

The U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning in January for Honduras stating, “With one of the highest murder rates in the world and criminals operating with a high degree of impunity, U.S. citizens are reminded to remain alert at all times when traveling in Honduras”. A similar warning for El Salvador was issued in February declaring, “El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault and robbery are common”.

We must question, if the U.S. government acknowledges the extreme violence in these countries, then why do they want to deport thousands of people to return to these dangerous conditions?

TPS was designed to protect people from living amidst extreme violence.

Honduras faces major corruption and impunity problems within the government and armed forces. During the 2015 presidential election, over 12 opposition candidates and activists were killed, and President Juan Orlando Hernández was linked to a social security embezzlement scheme. The police and army are known to be involved in drug trafficking and extortion. Fewer than 4% of homicides result in conviction, leaving very little hope for protection or justice for Hondurans. Journalists, human rights workers, land activists, and LGBQT persons are at highest risk of violence from gangs and authorities.

The rampant violence in El Salvador is chiefly due to the two of the largest gangs, MS-13 and 18th Street (both exported from Los Angeles). In the 2014 presidential election, the two major political parties, ARENA and FMLN were caught making deals with gang leaders in exchange for votes, highlighting the gangs’ political influence. Gangs have gained control over large portions of the country, and as a result tens of thousands of children have fled north, often unaccompanied, in order to avoid forced gang induction and violence. Police are attempting to crack down on gang-induced violence, causing an increase of lethal armed conflict and an upsurge of gang member and civilian deaths.

Unfortunately, we cannot reverse DHS’s decision to end TPS for Nicaragua, but there is still time and hope for the renewal of TPS for Honduras and El Salvador! Be proactive and call your legislators to urge them to support the renewal of TPS.

 

Up Next:

Country Highlight: Somalia and South Sudan – coming December 1st

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Country Highlight: Haiti

Part IV of a series on TPS

Missed the last blog?

 

The lives of 50,000 Haitians rest in the hands of the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Elaine Duke. Duke is responsible for granting the renewal of TPS for Haiti in January 2018. Her predecessor, John Kelly, clearly warned Haitians here under TPS to prepare to return home next year due to what he describes as the improving conditions in Haiti since the major earthquake in 2010.

We are here to ask, in light of subsequent natural disasters, a weak economy, and political instability, have the living conditions in Haiti actually improved enough to support the return of 50,000 citizens?.

Due to Haiti’s location in the Caribbean, it is extremely susceptible to natural disasters, which have repeatedly devastated the island, making for difficult living conditions. The World Bank estimates that 90% of the population is vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.

Here is a brief chronology of natural disasters in Haiti, as reported in the New York Times:

May 2004: Heavy rain and excessive flooding displaced tens of thousands around the country and washed away villages.

September 2004: Hurricane Jeanne killed 3,000 and leveled the city of Gonaïves.

August & September 2008: Tropical storms Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike killed 800, and destroyed 60% of the country’s harvest.

January 2010: Two earthquakes (magnitude 7 and magnitude 6) killed 300,000, destroyed most of Port-au-Prince, and devastated the whole country.

October 2016: Hurricane Matthew killed 1,000, and left over 35,000 homeless.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, which makes it increasingly difficult to rebuild after such repeated natural disasters. Roughly 80% of the population is living under the poverty line, and participate in the informal economy where they sell crops and livestock. These agricultural resources have been devastated almost routinely, due to natural disasters, resulting in huge economic losses for peasant farmers and forcing the country to become more reliant on imported food.

In addition to the natural and environmental challenges, the current political upheaval has not helped the grave economic situation. Jovenel Moïse faces weekly protest in Port-au-Prince and throughout the country in response to his proposed budget, which increases taxes and fees. The government has banned the protests led by civilians and has employed violence and intimidation in the hopes of crushing the demonstrations. Police were seen in Port-au-Prince firing tear gas, water cannons, and bullets into crowds of peaceful protesters. Armed civilians have taken to the streets to intimidate protesters in Pétion-Ville, just outside the capital. These protests have been occurring since mid-September, and show no signs of slowing down.

Up Next:

Highlight: Central America (Nicaragua, Honduras & El Salvador) – coming November 17th

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Should TPS Be Extended?

Part III of a series on TPS

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President Trump was elected in part due to his hardline stance on immigration, such as promising the creation of a border wall and a crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration. Given this context, the Trump Administration’s proposal to end TPS is unsurprising.

This installment of the TPS series serves to layout the chief arguments for and against the TPS program.

 

Arguments to End TPS + Rebuttal

1. It is not so ‘temporary’:

Argument: Critics have pointed out that some TPS recipients have remained in the United States for over 20 years, and argue that their protection from deportation is no longer temporary. Such critics are under the impression that the U.S. government routinely and blindly renews TPS applications, regardless of the designated country’s current conditions.

Rebuttal: It is true that TPS recipients, particularly the ones who have been here for an extended period, often have built lives for themselves in the United States. Many have jobs, friends, and families – including children born here. TPS recipients do not necessarily have a home or economic opportunity to which to return, due to continued deteriorating conditions that make their home country unsafe to live in. The Department of Homeland Security regularly reviews living conditions in TPS-designated countries before extending TPS.

 

2. Conditions in designated countries have improved:

Argument: Americans argue that countries such as Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, who received TPS due to natural disasters anywhere from 20 plus years ago have had ample time to recover and allow for the return of TPS individuals from the United States.

Rebuttal: Contrary to critics’ beliefs, most countries that have been receiving TPS for years are still not safe to return to. The Secretary of Homeland Security examines all possible reasons for TPS extension, including: a subsequent natural disaster, prolonged violence causing a power vacuum and political chaos, a health epidemic, etc. All of these conditions weaken the designated country’s economy making it impossible to adequately handle the return of TPS recipients.

 

3. TPS recipients hurt the U.S. economy:

Argument: TPS critics rally around steadfast anti-immigration claims, blaming TPS recipients for the United States’ economic woes, claiming that they take jobs from Americans and exploit America’s social service programs.

Rebuttal: In actuality, TPS recipients aid the U.S. economy. TPS recipients often hold jobs – meaning they pay federal, state, and local taxes, and spend their income at U.S. based businesses. Taken jointly, these factors mean that TPS recipients increase tax revenue and stimulate the economy.

 

While awaiting the Trump Administration’s decision on whether or not to extend TPS on a country-by-country basis, thousands feel as if they are stuck in limbo, and wonder where they will be in a few short months. To the question of whether TPS should be extended, compassion, reasonableness and sound judgment should guide this decision rather than bias and fear.

 

Up Next:

Country highlight: Haiti — coming November 3rd

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

Direction to office:

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

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

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