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Liberian Deferred Enforced Departure, Colonialism, and White Supremacy

Given the pace of anti-immigration news over the past several months, the termination of another immigration initiative should hardly come as a surprise, but the announced wind-down over the next year of the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians hardly made a blip on the radar of national news. This change is further evidence of the current administration’s wanton disregard for the lives of those who come to the United States to carry on their lives with dignity and hope. 

Rewire.News supplies answers to many questions in an excellent piece from last week titled: “What is Deferred Enforced Departure? It’s Complicated.”  Here are a few answers to a couple of basic questions from that piece:

How do you receive DED status?

According to an official from USCIS, eligibility requirements for DED are up to the discretion of the president and any relevant requirements established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Applicants for immigration benefits are subject to criminal and national security background checks, but DED differs from other benefits in that there is no formal application process.

“There is no form associated with DED. This means they do not apply for DED but are instead covered by DED,” a USCIS official said in an emailed statement to Rewire.News.

How many Liberian DED beneficiaries are there?

Because there is no application or registration for DED, the official number of Liberian DED recipients is unknown. According to USCIS, the maximum number of Liberians covered by DED would be approximately 3,600, the number of Liberians who held TPS when it was terminated in 2007. Roughly 840 Liberian DED recipients who applied for and currently have work authorization will be affected by Trump’s decision to end DED for Liberia.

The relatively small number of Liberian DED recipients means that the impact on the national level is minimal, but we must think about the context in order to understand why this case matters.

To begin with, Liberian history is directly linked to the U.S. institutions of slavery and colonialism dating to the pre-Civil War era. In the face of a growing population of freed black slaves in the abolitionist northern region of the United States, the American Colonization Society proposed to create a nation in Africa where freed slaves could live. This process of colonial settlement of a diverse population of freed slaves started in 1820 and resulted in conflict between a new ruling class of Americo-Liberians and the indigenous peoples of the region. The government was led by Americo-Liberians from the nation’s founding in 1847 until 1980. The other 95% of the population, descended from local ethnic groups rather than the descendants of settlers from the United States, was totally excluded from power.

A coup d’etat in 1980 marked a shift in political power. The resulting instability and struggle would lead to two civil wars and death of 250,000 people.

Although the country has been in a process of recovery for the past 15 years or so, an Ebola outbreak in 2014 created further pressure for people to leave. Economic restructuring has led Liberia to have one of the highest levels of foreign investment as a percentage of GDP in the world. The resulting growth of concessions to foreign extractive industries since 2006 has displaced tens of thousands of people. As a result of the wars and crises that have followed, many people have been traumatized and can hardly be blamed for seeking new beginnings elsewhere.

Since the political consequences of this U.S. colonial enterprise continue to affect Liberia even today, the United States should accept its responsibility to provide – if not reparations – at least a welcoming policy for any Liberian who seeks life in the United States.

Moreover, apart from the particular gravity of the Liberian case, there is another important pattern to observe in the immigration decisions made by this administration. All of the immigration program suspensions and wind-downs that have been announced in the past year – Central American Minors, TPS for many countries, DED for Liberia – share a common feature: they target immigrants who come from places other than Europe. #45, who has been married to two women from Eastern Europe, seems to be unconcerned about European migration to the United States and has even reportedly suggested that he would be happy with fewer people arriving from Haiti and Africa, and more from places like Norway. (DACA represents a minor deviation from this general practice, since 0.7% of Dreamers were born in Europe.)

Finally, if the President actually had any level of concern about a vulnerable population from a particular place, it would be within the power of the office to allow them to remain in the U.S. legally under DED. Any statement he makes to blame others for the brutal and inhumane immigration policies of his administration is simply empty rhetoric. And ending DED for Liberia serves as one more example of a pattern of abuse of some of the most resilient – yet vulnerable – among us. Our place is to stand alongside these neighbors and not to allow them to be forgotten when the next Tweet comes along.  

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Program Update: Haiti Reborn

Last week, I visited Haiti for the first time. Since Haiti Reborn, the Quixote Center’s program is related largely to reforestation and agroecology, I knew I would hear about and visit trees and gardens. What I knew best was that there would be a thriving forest, where once there had been barren land – and I hiked up the mountain that houses that verdant space on the third day of my visit.

To my surprise, however, I also spent nearly the entire time talking about waste. No, not the kind where a program went over budget or funds were misused. I mean the kind of waste that we all produce or leave behind in a regular day. In Haiti, in contrast with the United States, municipal and private waste removal is practically nonexistent in most areas. What this means is that the people of Haiti are confronted with the reality of disposing of their waste with little institutional support.

My first meeting with a partner was with Marcel Garçon, a leader in the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and a licensed agronomist who manages Grepen Center. While he talked a bit about his work in agronomy, his concern last week was with Styrofoam. I had just eaten a meal out of a Styrofoam container the evening before, so I had seen that it was readily available. He explained that the problem is these containers usually end up tossed into ditches and eventually wash into waterways, where they are carried to larger bodies of water, destined for the Caribbean coast. He had decided that the La Chandeleur parish festival last week would reduce this sort of waste by serving food on metal plates rather than Styrofoam – a culture shift he wanted to implement in his community for the common good.

When I visited the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center – commonly called Grepen Center – later that day, I met two technicians who were gathering brown and green plant waste as stock for the compost piles. They use both open composting and two different kinds of worm composting to manage plant waste, combined with either animal or kitchen waste.

At the satellite agricultural center in Boukan Richard, the staff showcased a mat made with the strong fiber of banana leaves.

Fr. Charles, administrator of the Grepen Center, explained that he wanted to purchase equipment to make jellies or juices from the mangos during harvest time, starting this May. This region, well known for its abundant mango production, often ends up seeing ripe mangos rot on the ground. He pointed out that this is not just lost opportunity, but also attracts mosquitoes, which spread disease.

Sister Pat Dillon, RJM, spoke with excitement of an experimental corn crop yield doubling when urine was added to the soil, due to the additional nitrogen in the waste. She is looking for a way to separate out liquid waste to increase yields on a larger scale. 

In Port-au-Prince, Daniel Tillias, executive director of Pax Christi Haiti and founder of Sakala Center, spoke too of waste. Situated in Cité Soleil, a neighborhood known for the massive canals literally overflowing with the waste of the capital city, Sakala is a community center for youth, designed to showcase the real possibilities of creating a garden amidst the rubble of abandoned factories that once filled this landscape.

In reflecting on Haiti Reborn. I’ve wondered what rebirth really means. In a material sense, perhaps it really just means figuring out how to find and nourish new life from that which seems to have become obsolete. If that is the case, my encounters with the people I met in Haiti suggest that they have a compelling commitment to rebirth as an ongoing process.

This year marks the Quixote Center’s 19th year of partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center. We continue to learn from and be inspired by the creativity of our partners. We invite you to walk with us on this journey of rebirth. 

— John Marchese 
Executive Director
Quixote Center

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Action and Prayer for a More Inclusive Citizenship

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution, a document that became the key founding text of the United States of America. The “Blessings of Liberty” described in the preamble, however, were not truly intended for all people in that newborn nation.

It must not be forgotten that the Constitution defined slaves – regardless of the land of their birth – as three-fifths persons for representation purposes and gave them no voting rights. Just a few years later, the Naturalization Act of 1790 specified that only “a free white person” who had resided in the United States of America for two years and any offspring over the age of 21 could become eligible for citizenship. It is a long story of how other populations fought for their public recognition as full citizens with voting rights.

This federal observation was first proclaimed in 1940, when Congress passed a resolution authorizing the President to proclaim “I Am An American Day” on the third Sunday of May each year to recognize those who had attained citizenship. This observance was rebranded in 1952 as Constitution Day and moved to September 17, along with an instruction to political units at all levels to supply instruction to citizens. The same date was rebranded in 2004 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, adding requirements that every federal agency supply employees with educational and training materials on the Constitution and requiring schools that receive federal funds to also provide programming related to the Constitution.

Today, just as throughout the history of this nation, many people struggle for recognition. It seems clear that the notion of citizenship can be used as a tool to restrict rights and exclude people from equal treatment.

As you reflect on what it means to be a citizen today, consider joining with others to read our Prayer for an Inclusive Citizenship or take one or more of the suggested Actions Toward a More Inclusive Citizenship on page 2 of the same document. Both documents are also available in Spanish.

If you can, try to schedule an action or prayer service for Sunday, September 17 or any other day in the following week. We are happy to help and would like to hear about all your solidarity actions. Please let us know if you have any questions or just want to share your own efforts with us by emailing us at cso@quixote.org.

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Defend DACA Today!

Join us TODAY (Thursday, Aug 31) for a national call in day to tell our elected leaders to keep the DACA program intact!

CALL CONGRESS AND THE WHITE HOUSE
Representatives: 1-888-496-3502
Senators: 1-888-410-0619
*Please call your 1 Representative and then your 2 Senators
Sample Script to Representative/Senators: “Hi, my name is X and I’m calling from City, State and my zip code is X. I am a person of faith. I’m deeply concerned about the reports that President Trump could end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this week. I support the program and strongly oppose any attempt to terminate or alter it. I urge the Senator/Representative to do everything in his/her power to protect 800,000 DACA-recipients from deportation and support their right to work and study in this country. There are three things I’m hoping your office will do right now. Can the Senator/Representative (1) appeal directly to the President to keep this program in place, (2) issue a public statement of support for DACA recipients, and (3) support a clean passage of S.1615/H.R.3440, the Dream Act of 2017?

 

CALL PRESIDENT TRUMP: (202) 456-1111 (please leave a message)

Sample Script for President Trump: “I’m from [City, State]. I am a person of faith and I support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and strongly oppose any attempt to terminate it or phase it out. DACA has provided nearly 800,000 young people the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I urge you to defend the DACA program well beyond September 5, protect DACA recipients from deportation and detention, and work with Congress toward a permanent solution.

Both President Trump and Members of Congress must hear that communities of faith demand DACA remain in place until the Dream Act passes, and that there be be no gap between DACA ending and Dream passing! Also, DACA recipients should not be used a political bargaining chip to increase a deportation force and tear apart families and communities.

You can also join our social media day of action TODAY (Thursday, Aug 31)!

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Racism As a Social Sin: Excerpts from “Brothers and Sisters to Us”

“Brothers and Sisters to Us” is a pastoral letter on the topic of racism issued by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops in 1979. Some sections of the document may now feel dated, rooted as they were in the language and the context in which they were prepared. But many passages bear the same prophetic weight today as they did in the year they were composed. Below are a few passages that seem timely, relevant, and continue to challenge the Catholic Church even today. Think of all the work these words suggest and how much of that work remains to be done.

– We do not deny that changes have been made, that laws have been passed, that policies have been implemented. We do not deny that the ugly external features of racism which marred our society have in part been eliminated. But neither can it be denied that too often what has happened has only been a covering over, not a fundamental change.

– Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father.

– The sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices. As our recent pastoral letter on moral values states: “The absence of personal fault for an evil does not absolve one of all responsibility. We must seek to resist and undo injustices we have not ceased, least we become bystanders who tacitly endorse evil and so share in guilt in it.”

– At times, protestations claiming that all persons should be treated equally reflect the desire to maintain a status quo that favors one race and social group at the expense of the poor and the nonwhite.

– How great, therefore, is that sin of racism which weakens the Church’s witness as the universal sign of unity among all peoples! How great the scandal given by racist Catholics who make the Body of Christ, the Church, a sign of racial oppression! Yet all too often the Church in our country has been for many a “white Church,” a racist institution.

– Each of us as Catholics must acknowledge a share in the mistakes and sins of the past. Many of us have been prisoners of fear and prejudice. We have preached the Gospel while closing our eyes to the racism it condemns. We have allowed conformity to social pressures to replace compliance with social justice.

– Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.

If you would like to read the whole document, you can find it here.

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Mending Our Broken Earth: FEDICAMP in Nicaragua

Even as I write this post, we are waiting to see if the White House will reject the findings in a report on climate change prepared by scientists from 13 federal agencies. This news comes on top of the U.S. official withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change agreement over the weekend.

You might be surprised to learn that Nicaragua never signed the Paris agreement in the first place. Whereas the U.S. withdrew because Trump wanted what he calls a “better deal” for American businesses, Nicaragua did not sign as a protest for the weakness of the Paris agreement, insofar as it lacked an enforcement mechanism. Rather than put their name to a document that only makes greenhouse emission goals optional, Nicaragua chose to take a stand.

Nicaragua may be a small country, but it is doing more than its share to reduce carbon emissions. The World Bank has called Nicaragua a “renewable energy paradise,”in which 58% of energy needs are met by renewable sources. On the front lines of climate change, Nicaragua experiences drought more years than not and the consequences include reduced crop yields and internal and external migration.

Our partners at FEDICAMP, a collaborative of 21 agricultural cooperatives of small farmers in rural Nicaragua, maintain hope that they can respond to these challenges, because they must. The solutions that FEDICAMP engineers and farmers are developing now offer a great hope for Nicaragua, but these strategies will surely need to be duplicated elsewhere in the near future.

In a conversation last month, Miguel Ángel Marín Vásquez, the agricultural engineer who serves as FEDICAMP’s director, made an impassioned plea for support to the Quixote Center. In response to a question I had about how the Campesino a Campesino (Farmer to Farmer) methodology works, he explained that farmers and engineers work together to “combine ancestral knowledge and empirical research” and peers train one another in these techniques to pass them along. Even this very efficient and culturally-grounded method requires both infrastructure and staff support.

Their ambitious plan includes creation of reservoirs to store rainwater and irrigation systems to use water most effectively. They will also expand seed banks and use ditches and barriers to conserve existing soil as well build as a tree-planting initiative to prevent further erosion. By engaging a broad network of farmers in training, they will have the opportunity to test out different methods in a sort of living lab of climate change adaptation strategies. If they can dream this big, we must dream with them.

Here is what we are doing: From November 7-13, we will be visiting Nicaragua and plan to spend a day with our partners at FEDICAMP. If you would like to learn more about how these dynamic individuals resolutely confront the challenges of climate change, get in touch by sending us an email at info@quixote.org to join our delegation or learn more about the trip.

If you are moved by concern for climate change and would like to help to mend our broken planet, you could also make a gift to the Quixote Center, specifying that you want to support FEDICAMP.

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Meet Us in Philly

On September 9, from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m., there will be a Quixote Center Garden Party in Philadelphia. We would love to have you join us!

We will be welcoming the Quixote Center’s new executive director, John Marchese, and you can also get to meet the whole board, including board president Nancy Sulfridge, co-founder Dolly Pomerleau, Frank DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, Brother Frank O’Donnell, SM, and our host Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.

Please contact us at info@quixote.org or by phone at 301-699-0042 if you would like to attend and we’ll make sure you get an invitation.

 

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Soil and New Life

“All of creation has been groaning”…

There is a lot of talk about soil in the bible. If you open up the lectionary for this week, you will see a passage in Isaiah on the rain and snow that fall from the heavens to water the earth, making it fertile and providing bread for food. In Matthew 13, we read about the sower who casts seed on good soil and rocky or thorny areas alike. These readings remind us that the relationship of humans to the soil is a simple fact of life on earth. We depend on soil for human life to thrive.

But the type of soil that is present in a place is not simply a brute fact, a fortunate coincidence or a cruel fate to which people are subject. Turning to Haiti, we know that its once lush countryside has undergone a long process resulting in poor soil and even desertification, largely as a consequence of human action. Plantation monoculture over centuries, coupled with the use of trees to serve as fuel has led to the impoverishment of that nation’s soil, rapid erosion, and consequently very limited access to adequate local food.

In his encyclical Laudato Si [On Care for Our Common Home], Pope Francis describes a planet that “groans in travail” (Romans 8:2) because “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste” is “among the most abandoned and maltreated of the poor.” He finds the cause for this situation not in the random situation of human beings scattered around the planet but in humanity itself. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (LS 2).

If human activity is often a cause of unfavorable growing conditions, it can also present solutions. Again, we hear Francis reminding us of the way that human free will may be turned to responsible practices and positive results. “Agriculture in poorer regions can be improved through investment in rural infrastructures, a better organization of local or national markets, systems of irrigation, and the development of techniques of sustainable agriculture” (LS 180)

At the Quixote Center, we support peasant leadership in the Northwest region of Haiti as they develop innovative local solutions to bring new life to its depleted agricultural landscape. Haiti Reborn continues to support the planting of 100,000 trees per year as part of a reforestation initiative that will create richer soil for its people. The agronomists and workers with the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne and the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center are also breeding worms for compost, promoting greater individual planting of trees, and establishing a seed bank, all to make their own land more fruitful. In this way, we see our work as participating in what Pope Francis calls sustainable and integral development.

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A Wake-up Call in the Vatican

The sexual abuse charges that have been filed against Cardinal George Pell, a high-ranking Vatican official in the Curia, raise many questions and have set off alarms about the effectiveness of Pope Francis’s response to allegations of clergy abuse of minors.

George Pell was ordained a priest in 1966 in the diocese of Ballarat in Australia and became a bishop in 1987. In 1993,  he accompanied his former housemate and fellow priest, Gerard Ridsdale, into court as he faced trial for serial sexual abuse in a show of support. Pell later stated that he regretted this decision because it seemed to show greater concern for the abuser than the survivor of abuse. But it was part of a clear pattern of support for the priests accused of assault and a defensive posture on the part of the Australian Church in responding to such accusations.

Pell has also been accused on several occasions of sexual abuse although he has never stood trial. The  Cardinal did testify on several occasions before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.

But his 2014 appointment to the position of Cardinal-Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in the Vatican struck some in Australia as an attempt to get him off the local scene where he was broadly criticized in media coverage related to claims of a cover-up by the Church.

In August of that year and again in 2016, Cardinal Pell provided testimony before the Commission via video link, citing ill health in the second case.

The 2016 song “Come Home (Cardinal Pell),” written and performed by Australian performer Tim Minchin, criticized Pell for failing to return home to testify. The proceeds of this irreverent tune allowed 15 survivors of abuse to travel to Rome and watch Pell’s testimony in person.

Last July, when asked about the investigation into allegations naming Pell, Pope Francis reserved judgment until the Australian justice system had made a decision regarding the matter. True to his word, Francis is not obstructing this investigation and has granted leave to Cardinal Pell in order to respond to the criminal charges by appearing in court.

The Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, an institution created by Pope Francis in 2014 to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors, was seen as a major step forward in responding more openly to addressing claims of abuse. Yet the two survivors of sexual abuse who served on the commission have departed. When Marie Collins resigned her commission on March 1, she published a letter in the National Catholic Reporter explaining that the Commission had neither adequate independent resources nor the authority to implement even simple changes.

There is some cause for optimism about a shift in the culture of obstructionism and secrecy that has long attended abuse claims against Church officials.  It is not surprising that someone who is a trusted adviser of Pope Francis and part of his inner circle would continue to receive support in the face of as yet unnamed and unproven accusations.

But there remains cause for concern, a lingering fear that our warm and pastoral Pope is still part of a closed system in which patriarchy and privilege have long protected their closed ranks.

Pope Francis must put the full force of his role as pontiff behind the efforts to bring the buried secrets of sexual abuse into the light of day for a just reckoning.

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Solidarity With Migrants From Haiti and Central America

Last Friday, Save TPS Now! (¡Salvemos TPS Ahora!) conference participants and allies met with members of Congress and held a vigil in front of the White House to advocate for the renewal of their Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS allows the Department of Homeland Security to welcome citizens of other nations if their country of origin has become a place where living with human dignity is difficult or impossible due to conflict or natural disaster. The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to extend TPS indefinitely in increments of up to 18 months and affords participants the opportunity to remain legally in the United States with a work visa.

Currently, there are over 300,000 beneficiaries of TPS living in the United States, the majority from our neighbors in Central America and Haiti. TPS was granted to survivors of Hurricane Mitch who fled Nicaragua and Honduras and to survivors of devastating earthquakes in Haiti and El Salvador, provided they made their way to the United States and have remained here continuously since a specified date.

At the Quixote Center, we believe that the current administration should continue to stand with these migrants who have suffered grave harm in their homelands by renewing their TPS status for the full period of 18 months allowed under current law.

Because the situations in their countries of origin remain fragile and their lives are well established in the US, it is inhumane to insist that they leave the US. The case with Haiti is especially complicated by the fact that Haiti suffered the effects of Hurricane Matthew last year. Despite these dire circumstances, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly only agreed to extend Haiti’s current TPS for only 6 months. In threatening to end the TPS status of families and individuals who have lived in the US for many years, Secretary Kelly is targeting people who would be returning to situations that are little improved today over the situations they fled in the past. Indeed, their return would in many cases strain an already heavily taxed system and could result in just the sort of  humanitarian crisis that TPS was designed to address.

We will keep you up to date on this topic as it develops, particularly when there are opportunities to take coordinated action in solidarity with our neighbors in need.

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Contact Us

  • 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)