Haiti Update: Vote on New Government?, PetroCaribe, and Immigrants Arrested in Bolivia

Update: Jean Henry Céant was confirmed as Haiti’s new Prime Minister following votes in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies on Saturday, September 16. 

In July, widespread protests in Haiti following an announced cut in fuel subsidies led to the resignation of Prime Minister Guy Jack Lafontant and dissolution of the cabinet. Since the resignation, Haiti has been without a functioning government. President Moïse nominated Jean Henry Céant to the post of Prime Minister on August 7, but his confirmation in Parliament has been delayed. Last week, with a scheduled recess looming, Céant formally presented his list of proposed ministers to Parliament.

The slate of ministers has proved to be controversial. Of the 18 ministers proposed, 6 were part of Lafontant’s government, and 3 have had their eligibility challenged. One of the nominees, Osner Richard named Minister of the Environment, has already been forced to step down on the basis of his holding dual citizenship (with the United States). Additionally, of the 4 appointed Secretaries of State, 3 were part of the previous government. The selections have led to widespread criticism that Moïse is controlling the selection process in an effort to keep the government under the control of his Haitian Tèt Kale Party (PHTK), despite opposition concerns about the government that led to the resignation of Lafontant back in July.  The PHTK holds the largest bloc of seats in both houses, but is far from a majority in either, and thus must hold together a coalition to get the slate of ministers passed. At this point, the votes do not seem to be there.

Deputy Jerry Tardieu, who represents Pétion-Ville as a member of the Verité party, has been among the outspoken critics of Moïse role in the selection process. From Haiti Libre:

I…recommend that the Executive reconsider the formation of the Government as soon as possible, leaving the designated Prime Minister free to choose leading figures who can inspire confidence in society and give the government a serious image. This indiscriminate insistence on imposing personalities stamped PHTK, even when they are competent, is contrary to the wishes of the living forces of the nation who had opted for the establishment of a government of openness that soothes and builds confidence. It proves that President Jovenel Moïse has still not taken the right measure of the events of July 6 and 7, 2018, does not understand the stakes of the hour and even less the risks for tomorrow.

To the [designated] Prime Minister Céant, I hope that he has the courage to resign if he can not have the free hand, that is to say the freedom to choose credible and competent personalities to form a Government capable of providing solutions immediately.

There was no vote before deputies recessed Monday. However, President Moïse ordered a special session of parliament, calling members back to Port-au-Prince to hold a vote on the new government. We’ll update when we hear the results of the special session.

PetroCaribe

Hanging over the process of selecting a new government is ongoing outrage over embezzlement of money through the PetroCaribe fund. PetroCaribe was a regional effort put forth by the Venezuelan government in 2006, that allowed governments to purchase oil at a discount in order to use funds for development projects. Under PetroCaribe’s agreement, the government purchases oil from Venezuela, paying back 60% of the purchase price within 90 days. The extra funds are to be paid back over 25 years at 1% interest. In theory, the extra funds are to be used to develop infrastructure, at rates below what multilateral lenders would provide.

In October last year a senate committee led by Evallière Beauplan (Northwest Department) released a scathing audit that showed misappropriation of funds through the awarding of $1.7 billion in non-bid contracts for reconstruction projects between 2008 and 2016. The beneficiaries of the contracts included people closely associated with former president Martelly (also of the PHTK) and his prime minister Laurent Lamothe. Some of the accused are part of the current government, like Wilson Laleau, who is Moïse’s chief of staff. Public anger over the corruption, which has left Haiti with over $2 billion in debt to Venezuela with little to show for it, continues to grow and played a significant role in animating the protests in July.

Some examples of the waste include (via the Miami Herald):

[C]onstruction overages that include the ministry of public works paying for 10 miles of road that actually measured 6.5 miles; the signing of a contract between the ministry of public health and a deceased person; large disbursements by government ministers with no documents to support the expenditures, and tens of millions of dollars paid to Dominican and Haitian firms for post-earthquake roads, housing and government ministries that never materialized or weren’t completed.

One of the most blatant allegations involved the reconstruction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, one of 40 government buildings that crumbled during the earthquake. The Dominican firm Hadom was awarded a $14.7 million contract, and paid $10 million up front, to construct the building that remains unbuilt. Hadom’s lucrative Haiti contract is among several given to Dominican firms after the quake that became the subject of separate probes in Haiti and in neighboring Dominican Republic, where Hadom owner and Dominican Senator Félix Bautista was accused of embezzlement. The Bautista case was eventually dropped by the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court.

As the economic situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate – projected growth this year was lowered to 1.2% by the IMF – frustration with the government only increases. A campaign asking Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a (“Where did the Petro Caribe money go?”) has launched on social media, and protests continue in the streets. The situation remains volatile. It is hard to know how much hinges on the new government, or what space it will have to operate within the confines of the neo-liberal policy constraints Haiti is forced to operate under, but if the new government returns many of the same players back to power, it will only fuel the opposition.

100 Haitians Arrested in Bolivia

Last week we reported on the increasing challenges faced by people who have migrated out of Haiti looking for new opportunities. Earlier this week, over 100 Haitians were arrested in Bolivia as they traveled through the country from Brazil and Chile – two countries where many Haitians have resettled since the earthquake in 2010.

The arrests also included two Haitians and five Bolivians (the four drivers of the buses and a woman who processed tickets), all charged with trafficking.

 

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Migration: From the Dominican Republic to Chile and the U.S., Haitians face increasing barriers

Haiti Update, September 10, 2018

Looming Crisis in the Dominican Republic

August 25 was the deadline for immigrants to present required documentation to regularize their status under the Dominican Republic’s controversial National Plan for the Regularization of Foreigners (PNRE). Close to 98% of the people impacted are from Haiti. Under the provisions of the PNRE, 230,000 people of Haitian descent had registered with the government of the Dominican Republic by an earlier deadline in 2015. However, formalizing their status requires them to present documents to the Dominican Republic’s government (birth certificates and passports being crucial). Very few Haitians have been able to secure these documents from the government of Haiti despite repeated promises that they would be issued.

To highlight the dilemma now faced by over 200,000 Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, cane cutters protested at Haiti’s embassy in Santo Domingo this week to demand that documents be produced. Over 4,000 cane cutters from Haiti had paid 1000 pesos each in 2015 to secure documentation from Haiti’s government, and these documents have not been provided.

Meanwhile, Sonia Vásquez, the National Representative of the United Nations Population Fund, implored the government of the Dominican Republic to not begin mass deportations in response to the crisis, arguing that doing so would have a dramatic impact on many sectors of the Dominican Republic’s economy and society.

Tensions along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic remain high.  Back in March thousands of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic fled across the border at Anse-à-Pitres. A Dominican man had been killed and wife assaulted in Pedernales  – Dominican authorities accused three Haitian men for the crime. As a result, attacks and threats against Haitians increased. Such incidents happen periodically, with the government of the Dominican Republic stereotyping Haitians as criminals and using the tensions for political purposes.

The International Office of Migration has been monitoring the border at regular and irregular crossing points since the earlier 2015 deadline passed, and have documented a large number of border crossings – over 240,000 from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The majority have been “voluntary” returns – but nearly a quarter have been official deportations.

Wave of Anti-Immigration Policies

Migration out of Haiti remains a high, but options of places to go have been reduced. Following the earthquake in 2010, Brazil opened immigration to Haitians. Close to 65,000 Haitians moved to Brazil looking for work in the years since, only to see the economy there collapse and their options narrowed. Many began a long trek to the United States – traversing 7,000 miles and 11 countries, a journey covered at length in an investigative report by the Miami Herald in 2016.

One of the danger spots for Haitians is Nicaragua, which has ramped up security along the border with Costa Rica since 2015, austensibly for reasons related to the drug war. Nicaragua’s recent political crisis has overtaken these issues – but as recently as February 2018 Haitian migrants and others were still routinely blocked from crossing through Nicaraguan territory.

Over the last several years, Over 100,000 Haitians have moved to Chile (equivalent to 1% of Haiti’s population). However, as was the case in Brazil, many have found work opportunities to be scant, and prospects further diminished by the increase in migration to Chile from people fleeing economic collapse in Venezuela. Then in April, newly elected right-wing President Sebastián Piñera eliminated the temporary visas that allowed Haitians to go from tourists to regular migrants once they obtained a job, a status that had allowed them to then bring their families from Haiti.

Here in the United States, the Trump administration refused to renew Temporary Protective Status for Haitians, put in place following the 2010 earthquake. Which means 59,000 Haitians in the United States face expulsion in July 2019.

Meanwhile, international banks and multilateral lenders continue to bleed Haiti’s economy, while corruption scandals among Haiti’s U.S. protected elite, most recently questions about former president Martelly’s “management” of $3.8 billion in PetroCaribe Funds (which must be paid back to Venezuela), are ongoing. All of which is a reminder that foreign policy is immigration policy – even though we refuse to acknowledge that. The people of Haiti, like many others from Central America, the Middle East and Africa, are caught in the middle: Dislocated by war and greed, and increasingly unable to find safe haven elsewhere.

 

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Daily Dispatch 8/25/18

A new series in which we (will aspire to) offer a sampling of today’s headlines on immigration, race, and related stories.

August 25, 2018

Saturday Edition

 

Top Story:

Trump administration officials are meeting weekly at CBP headquarters in DC to draft new plans for separating families and/or detaining them indefinitely – but in a way that avoids the recent PR disaster at the border. “We need to be smarter if we want to implement something on this scale,” is the attitude of officials, implying that it was not the policy itself but the incompetence of the roll-out that caused the public backlash. Because these are preliminary, officials have been instructed to disregard current laws and protections (yikes) as they develop proposals. Asked if the negative public reaction to this summer’s round of family separations surprised them, one current official said:

“The expectation was that the kids would go to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, that the parents would get deported, and that no one would care” (… yikes).

 

The Churches:

A New Yorker profile of a Pakistani family offered sanctuary in a Connecticut church, living in the church basement for 159 days now in an effort to avoid deportation.

TIME profiles Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Humanitarian Respite Center, an organization in McAllen Texas that helps asylum families that have been released from ICE detention centers.

 

The Courts:

American Muslim woman files suit against CBP for seizing her iPhone and keeping it for 130 days without explanation.

Trump administration appeals Judge Sabraw’s injunction against family separation.

Emails reveal conflicts between federal agencies during intense debate over the terminations of Temporary Protected Status programs. The emails were obtained as part of a lawsuit to halt the termination of TPS for Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, and Sudan.

 

The Policies:

A deeper dive on the proposed controversial rule-change that would expand the definition of “public charge” for determining eligibility of legal immigrants for citizenship.

 

The Talking Heads:

Bump corrects the record after FOX News host Tucker Carlson’s misleading rhetoric on immigration, crime, and federal prisons.

Conservatives have been quick to politicize the recent murder of an Iowa college student, with FOX News leading the charge. But even FOX’s own Geraldo Rivera is chastising the network for its coverage. “This is a murder story, not an immigration story,” Rivera demanded, adding “I’m begging you to have compassion and not brand this entire population by the deeds of this one person.”

 

 

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Haiti Update: Jean Henry Céant is nominated as new prime minister

Jean Henry Ceant (right) with president Jovenel Moise

On July 14, 2018 Haiti’s prime minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned following widespread demonstrations sparked by fuel prices increases. Lafontant was blamed for the poor execution of the plan’s roll-out – particularly by the business community, which criticized Lafontant for lack of preparation regarding security. Seven people died in the demonstrations. The fuel price increases were suspended – but the pressure behind those increases remain. The International Monetary Fund had required a steep reduction of Haiti’s fuel subsidy program – which led to the price increases. The IMF is still hovering.

Lafontant may well have been the fall guy – as the thousands of people in the street were actually calling for president Jovenel Moise to resign. Lafontant’s resignation seems to have bought Moise some time.

The search for a replacement – for what is going to be a very difficult job – has led to the nomination of Jean Henry Céant. Céant ran for president twice (2010 and 2016) as the head of the Renmen Ayiti (Love Haiti) Party. As of now, Céant has deposited his papers with parliamentary leadership and is awaiting a confirmation vote.

Jean Henry Céant has a controversial background.  In a profile by Kim Ives, Henriot Dorcent, a Haitian political analyst who speaks on the weekly Truth Serum/Haiti on the Airwaves, summarized Céant’s career as follows.

Céant is a consummate opportunist…Under the dictatorship of Gen. Prosper Avril, he worked closely with lawyer Réné Julien, who was Céant’s mentor and Avril’s cousin. But when the political winds shifted, he joined Aristide and the Lavalas, acting as Aristide’s notaire and getting jobs for his wife as Aristide’s private secretary and his brother in CONATEL. Then he jumped into the Martelly camp, where he headed the project to remove people from their homes in downtown Port-au-Prince after the earthquake without compensating them. When Jovenel came to power, there was a scathing report by Haiti’s anti-corruption unit UCREF detailing Jovenel’s money-laundering through his business Agritrans. Who was the first to jump to Jovenel’s defense, saying the excellent report was a fabrication? Jean-Henry Céant!

Because of Céant’s particularly unsavory role in removing people from housing following the earthquake in 2010, his nomination is not a popular choice. Indeed, in the same profile by Kim Ives, Fanmi Lavalas activist Farah Juste explains why Céant’s nomination may be doomed:

First, the people despise him for the way he made money off of uprooting them from their homes in downtown Port-au-Prince under Martelly and [his Prime Minister Laurent] Lamothe. Second, the opposition doesn’t like him and doesn’t trust him. Thirdly, Jovenel would never let him run things, the same way Jovenel completely controlled Lafontant.

Juste speculates that Céant is cannon fodder, and that Moise’s real choice will come next. We’ll have to wait and see. Whoever becomes prime minister, the country will remain squeezed by the International Monetary Fund and U.S. policy makers from outside, and by the business-controlled neo-duvaliast alliance represented by Moise inside the country. One suspects the policy output will be the same no matter who gets the nod, it’s just a matter of finding someone who can sell the program. On that count Céant seems an unlikely candidate.

 

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Dolly Pomerleau Part II

Dolly Pomerleau was one of the pioneers who founded the Quixote Center in 1975. She and Bill Callahan launched this justice work with a strong commitment to social justice in both civil society and within the Catholic Church. In both arenas, that justice included changing structures to establish the equality of women and men. Dolly was utterly committed to that and all the other projects and ideals to which the Center committed itself over the years. 

She was a Co-Director of the Center from the start… shaping the vision and helping launch many different projects. From the beginning, she advocated feminist ideals and full gender equality, making sure these values were a part of every aspect of life at the Center. 

And in 1975, she was one of the pioneering women who founded the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), the organization that has been a leader in the quest for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church for more than 40 years. The Quixote Center has long worked in coalition with WOC.  

Over the years, Dolly worked on a variety of projects at the Quixote Center, including Catholics Speak Out, which emphasized the crying need for gender equality and an expanded role for lay decision-making in the Church.

Photo from The Catholic Connection, October 1976.

She is a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and was one of several women who chained themselves to the front door of the Republican National Committee when that party took the ERA out of its platform. The group was there for a full day in the hot sun, attracting a wide range of onlookers, including Republican women inside the building, many of whom were at their windows, pointedly expressing support for the action with hand signals, flag waving, and the like. 

Dolly is also committed to rectifying injustices of any kind where her actions might make a difference. She protested US attempts to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980’s, helping to establish the Quest for Peace project, which raised hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid for Nicaragua over the years. This meant filling many cargo containers of aid that were shipped to that country regularly and sent to the Center’s partner organization, the Institute of John XXIII in Managua. The Institute then distributed the aid to the neediest parts of Nicaragua.  

Several times, Dolly visited that country and travelled with Ketxu Amezua of the Institute to see the many and impressive projects that were underway as a result of help from the Quixote Center. Her fluency in Spanish was an enormous help in all this work. 

In the United States, Dolly was never shy about protesting US policy in Nicaragua, and one time was arrested in the rotunda of the US Capitol as part of a group that was kneeling to pray for an end to US actions against the Nicaraguan government. 

She also advocated for justice in Haiti when Aristide was the duly elected President, and she helped establish a new project at the Center called Haiti Reborn. 

Her values were broad. When some new staff people at the Quixote Center – Jane Henderson and Shari Silberstein – suggested a project aimed at ending the death penalty, Dolly (and the staff) endorsed it heartily. This project eventually spun off from the Center to become Equal Justice USA. 

And oh yes… Dolly is a native of the state of Maine – northern Maine near the Canadian border. Thus she is tri-lingual: English, French, and Spanish.   

Dolly has been a strong and fearless advocate for justice in both church and civil society. She may be retiring from the Quixote Center, but her words and her spirit will never retire! She will always be there! 

Maureen Fiedler

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Haiti News Update: Prime Minister Resigns and Update on Cholera Campaign

On Saturday, Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jack Guy Lafontant, resigned to avoid a formal vote of no-confidence. His resignation followed a week of conflict over proposed increases in fuel prices that had led to widespread protests. The price increases, cancelled following a day of protest in which three people were killed, would have been the direct result of the government removing subsidies for gasoline, diesel and kerosine. This step had been demanded by the International Monetary Fund before additional funds would be released to the government of Haiti.

Initial protests had called for the President Moises to step down. However, early last week the Private Sector Economic Forum, a coalition of major business interests, issued a call for the prime minister to step down instead. Taking on the tone of friends of the people of Haiti (to which one might be forgiven an eye roll or two), or is it simply friends of those who own property (it is not clear) their statement reads (reproduced from Haiti Libre summary here):

“The Economic Forum wishes to express its sincere sympathies to the victims of these acts of barbarism, detrimental to the social climate, the national image and our ability to attract private investment generating sustainable employment and economic prosperity.”

The Forum wishes to underline its conviction that “these acts largely reflect the high degree of frustration, even disarray” of the majority of our fellow citizens, faced the deterioration of their living conditions for many years. While deploring the fact, he considers, however, “that such frustration, however justified, can not excuse such an increase of violence, destruction and violation of the fundamental rights of the entire population.”

In addition, the Economic Forum “is astonished at the inaction characterized of the forces of order face this new and unacceptable overflow of delinquency, contrary to their mission of maintaining order and protecting lives and property.” He estimates that “this situation results above all from a lack of leadership by the highest authorities of the Haitian State, including the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and his Government. This is evidenced, among other things, by the apparent lack of planning of security measures that would logically precede the adoption of the drastic price adjustment measure for petroleum products decreed by the Government on 6 July 2018.

While taking note of the recent decision to withdraw this measure taken by the Executive Authority, “the Economic Forum is of the opinion that the President of the Republic should draw the logical conclusions of this deplorable situation and ask the Prime Minister to submit without delay his resignation and that of his Government, in order to offer a way out to the current political impasse.”

The Economic Forum was not the only entity seeking to boost its moral standing by, well, standing on the backs of the people who protested. As we noted in an earlier article, the underlying frustrations that spilled out into the streets run deeper than fuel prices – some at least aimed at the International Monetary Fund. At the United Nations, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, noted that the IMF demands were guaranteed to lead to conflict:

The fund has consistently underestimated the importance of calibrating their recommendations to the specific political context, not taking into account the extent to which recommendations are politically viable and socially sustainable.

Strong words, and very true (we have also been writing about the crisis in Nicaragua, which is very different in scope, but was also sparked by the government’s effort to implement fiscal reforms demanded by the IMF). We applaud Alston’s insights. But we also hope Mr. Alston will also walk down the hall to speak to some of his other colleagues.

The United Nations is itself struggling (or at least being made to struggle) to come to terms with its own responsibility for the costs and consequences of the cholera epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers in 2010. The Quixote Center signed onto a letter this week demanding the UN abide by the commitments it has made. From the press release:

Cholera was introduced to Haiti in 2010 through reckless waste management on a UN peacekeeping base. In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and immense public pressure, the UN finally acknowledged its role in the outbreak in 2016 and launched a $400-million-dollar plan – the “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti” – that aims to eradicate the epidemic and provide a victim assistance package. The UN pledged that its assistance package would represent “a concrete and sincere expression of the Organization’s regret” and presented two potential approaches to justice for victims: individual payments to affected households, and community projects, which would be decided upon through a process of victim consultation. Eighteen months on, under Secretary-General Guterres, the UN has increasingly retreated from these promises.

We are joining with the Institute of Justice and Democracy in Haiti, who has led this campaign in partnership with the Bureau of International Attorneys in Port au Prince, to raise awareness about the impact of the cholera epidemic and the UN’s obligation to make restitution.

 

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Haiti’s Protests: It’s More than Gas Prices

Update: Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned today (Saturday, July 14). Details here.

 

On Thursday, the government in Haiti announced a roll back of fuel subsidies that would result in increases of 31% to 50% of the cost of gasoline, diesel, and kerosene.  Gas prices are already extremely high in Haiti, but with the increases, a liter of gas was projected to cost $5 (for perspective, that is almost $19 a gallon!).

The announcement led to protests throughout the country, in which 3 people were killed on Friday, business were looted and buildings set on fire. On Saturday President Moïse cancelled the rollback of subsidies, and yet protests continued, with people calling for Moïse to step down.

It is too early to know where this is heading. But a few points are important to provide context for what is happening.

The first, is that the announcement came as the government is under increasing pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the fuel subsidies program as part of a broader set of market reforms the IMF is requiring of Haiti if the country is to be able to access additional funding. Haiti has been under the scrutiny of international financial institutions for decades, with access to funding continually tied to structural reforms aimed at reducing government expenditures. Though Haiti had qualified for debt reduction under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative some years back, the reductions were highly conditioned, and benchmarks impossible to meet, given political instability, four hurricanes and the 2010 earthquake. The resulting hollowing out of state capacity to deliver social services makes it difficult for the government to meet the demands of the people, and leaves the country dependent on non-governmental and church organizations for the provision of health and education services. Actual debt cancellation is still required – as most of the Haiti’s multilateral debts have been accrued under un-elected governments.

A second point is that the Haiti’s participation in PetroCaribe has not provided the hoped for benefits, with political leadership using the funds for investments into business ventures that had no impact on poverty reduction. PetroCaribe is a program launched by Venezuela. Under the provisions of the program, a country may pay back a portion of the bill for oil sales at a very low rate of interest over an extended period of time. In Haiti’s case, 40% of the revenue from the sale of oil could be held and used for social services, with the payback of the balance over a 25-year period at 1% interest.

Earlier this year, an audit of the program as administered under former presidents Preval and Martelly  showed a number of problems. Questions arose, particularly, around Martelly’s prime minister, Laurent Lamothe’s facilitation of projects geared toward tourism. An example:

In another case, the Dominican corporation Ingeniería ESTRELLA was given a contract of nearly US$20 million by the Martelly/Lamothe government to build an airport on Ile-à-Vache, which it was trying to develop as a resort for rich tourists. Le Nouvelliste visited the island recently and found that, although the company had pocketed more than $5.2 million in revenue, work on the project ended more than two years ago and left behind an unpaved landing strip half the size contracted for. No planes have been able to land on it.

The release of the audit back in January of this year led to much anger at the government – including the current government of President Moïse, who is from the same party as President Martelly, and has done little to confront these past abuses. Given past anger, Moïse clearly did not have the political capital and legitimacy with the people required to make the controversial announcement about steep increases in fuel costs.

Finally, the question of legitimacy is not a small one. In 2011, the United States intervened in elections in Haiti, demanding that Martelly be included in a runoff for which he did not qualify, according to Haiti’s electoral council (Martelly had come in third in first-round voting that year). The government eventually gave in under enormous pressure, and Martelly won the elections with a very low voter turnout. The United States seemed to embrace Martelly – the first president to win an election outside of the Lavalas movement or Preval’s Lespwa, a political coalition that included many former Lavalas members. Such a victory, long sought by U.S. policy makers, was not greeted warmly by the people of Haiti. This cloud hangs over President Moïse who has struggled to build a coalition within the context of PetroCaribe corruption scandal, controversies over re-establishing the army, and ongoing economic hardship. It doesn’t help Moïse’s case that there are reports that the U.S. State Department indicated he may be on the way out.

As one might expect, people are not simply burning tires and buildings over gas prices. The demonstrations have deeper roots, and thus it is not surprising that they have continued even after the cancellation of the increases.

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Take Action: Tell Homeland Security to Stop Using Children As Bait

Since publicly announcing the tactic of separating children from their parents when detained by ICE (including asylum seekers), the government has seen an increase in the number of unaccompanied children they need to house. 

Now, the Department of Homeland Security has issued a public system of records notice (SORN) detailing its intent to modify its system to allow greater sharing between DHS and Health and Human Services, which oversees the placement of unaccompanied children into foster care. Frequently, relatives come forward as sponsors but this measure will discourage family members from doing so. This seemingly dull and bureaucratic measure masks the intention of serving as an immigration check on the sponsor and all members of the sponsor’s household.

Let’s say Johnny has an aunt in the U.S. who is a citizen, but she lives with her sister who is undocumented. Johnny’s aunt knows that if she comes forward as a sponsor for her nephew, her sister will likely be detained and deported. She therefore chooses not to come forward and Johnny remains in a group home…or on a military base.

In short, DHS, HHS, and ICE are using children as bait.

The public comment period on this notice will remain open until June 7. We urge you to comment on the notice and perhaps to politely tell DHS where to shove it.  

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This Week in Immigration

Just to give a sense of the unrelenting and multi-pronged attack on immigrants being led by the executive branch and likeminded members of Congress, we decided to bring together some stories just from the past few days. It’s dizzying, so I tried to keep commentary to a minimum and let the volume of stories speak for itself.

Monday/Weekend

Jeff Sessions ruled that immigration judges can no longer close cases, opening the door to re-opening 350,000 closed cases, which could “result in the imprisonment and deportation of immigrants who now have a clear path toward legal immigration status,” says Dan Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Steve King (R-IA, the pride of my home state of Iowa) has introduced a Bill to jail sanctuary cities officials (HR 5884) called the Libby Schaaf Act, named after the mayor of Oakland who alerted residents to pending ICE raids.

California is considering extending Medicaid to all adults regardless of immigration status, further flouting Trump’s ongoing attacks against sanctuary cities.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will allow the ban on sanctuary cities to become law without his signature (despite law enforcement’s opposition to the bill), saying “it’s time to move on.”

Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn) proposed a bill to crowdfund the border wall (Border Wall Trust Fund Act).

 

Tuesday

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, was asked in a hearing with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce whether teachers should report undocumented students. Devos responded with a resounding “I think that’s a school decision,” leading civil rights groups to say, “um… no.”

The House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held a hearing they called Stopping the Daily Border Caravan: Time to Build a Policy Wall. The policy in question was asylum, which Republican lawmakers described as a “loophole.” Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) complained that asylum seekers get all the breaks but frequently fail to appear at their asylum hearings “most likely because their claim was unfounded in the first place” (not because they never received their Notice to Appear, or they’re afraid of deportation, or they reunited with family members elsewhere in the country…). Echoing Trump, she characterized minors as “vulnerable to gang recruitment.” Capitol Police were called on to remove peaceful protestors from the room. You can learn more by clicking the link, where you’ll find full video and transcripts.

 

Wednesday

The Senate Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration held a hearing called TVPRA (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act) and Exploited Loopholes Affecting Unaccompanied Alien Children. This hearing also addressed MS-13 gang recruitment. Video and transcripts are available here.

The House voted on a prison reform bill cooked up by Jared Kushner, which threatens to make prison slave labor the norm, but prohibits pregnant women from being shackled, unless guards determine that they really, really need to be. 

Trump talked immigration on Long Island, doubling down on his use of the word “animals” to describe MS-13 gang members and suggesting that foreign aid be denied to those countries that allow criminal immigrants to come here (a policy that would likely make worse some of the problems that cause people to leave). In this same photo-op, Trump said the following about children crossing the border: “They look so innocent. They are not innocent.”

Also, in a post-game interview with FOX, Trump seemed to suggest that NFL players who kneeled during the anthem be deported…? Or leave voluntarily? It wasn’t clear.

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Climate Change Refugees and Haiti

Environmental changes have always been a driving force for migration. From natural disasters to drought and flooding, changes in the environment impact lives and livelihoods, forcing people to abandon their homes. Over the last 40 years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people forced to migrate as a result of environmental factors. Catastrophic storms are more common, areas suffering from prolonged drought have tripled in the last 40 years, and rising sea levels put coastal communities at risk. By 2050, the International Office of Migration estimates that as many as 250 million people could be displaced as the result of environmental impacts. Unlike those displaced by war or systemic violence, people forcibly displaced as the result of environmental change are rarely recognized as refugees when they cross borders.

Forced migration due to effects of climate change will impact all countries. The United States could see 13 million people internally displaced as a result of rising sea levels by 2045, especially along the east and gulf coasts. The majority of the communities facing permanent inundation are socioeconomically vulnerable communities. Around the globe, drought has already led to displacement and related social tensions as rural communities are forced to move to urban areas. The origins of social conflict and violence are certainly complex, but as climate change forces the movement of people, tensions increase. In Syria, for example, “record drought and massive crop failure beginning in 2006 led to the mass migration of predominately Sunni farmers to Alawi-dominated cities, increasing sectarian tensions and generating conflicts over diminished resources.” Rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, from drought and increased transportation costs, led to protests across the globe, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The UN estimates 144 million people were driven into poverty by the increase in food prices by 2011. In Niger alone, 5.1 million people became food “insecure.”

In Haiti the intersection of environmental degradation, climate change and forced migration is apparent. At the root of this crisis is the transformation of the rural economy that began under the U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1934. Haiti’s economy was re-engineered as an export platform to feed U.S. interests, from agriculture to banking. By the mid-20th century deforestation, soil erosion, insecure land tenure and population growth was driving an exodus from rural areas to cities. However, in the last 30 years these trends have accelerated. Under pressure to lower tariffs for imports from the United States, Haiti saw the local market for staple crops such as rice collapse. De-forestation accelerated, leading to a situation today where only 3% of Haiti’s tree canopy remains. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced, forced into urban areas not equipped to handle the influx of people. Today, less than half of Port-au-Prince’s population was born there. Areas like Cite Soleil, with over 400,000 people, are overcrowded and under-resourced. The rapid growth of insecure building and overcrowding is the reason that the 2010 earthquake was so deadly, killing up to 300,000 people.

People migrating to major cities like Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, and Cap-Haitien are in effect moving to coastal areas. Here rising seas, more intense storms, and areas of extreme drought combine to create a recipe for recurrent disasters. Mudslides in 2004 killed tens of thousands of people near Gonaives, as treeless hillsides collapsed on the city. Every new storm brings with it the risk of crop failure, flooding and further soil erosion. Overcrowding has also increased the risks of disease. When UN troops introduced cholera in to Haiti in 2010, the disease spread rapidly, killing 9,400 individuals and infecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Interconnected with the process of internal displacement is outward migration. Nearly one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, primarily seeking work on sugar plantations and other agricultural positions. Tensions have resurfaced in recent years leading to mass expulsions of Haitians from the Dominican Republic, whose government denied citizenship to people of Haitian descent. Over the last thirty years, the United States has been the primary destination for Haitians with 650,000 people moving to the U.S. since 1986. However, tensions have mounted within the U.S. over immigration – leading to the suspension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which covered over 50,000 Haitian migrants. Meanwhile, other countries with less restrictive policies are becoming a destination. It is estimated that close to 105,000 Haitians, equivalent to 1% of the population, moved to Chile alone last year.

The confluence of environmental degradation, climate change, and forced migration in Haiti is part of a global process driving people into insecure situations; exacerbating political conflicts and violence. There is no easy solution. Clearly, binding agreements to reduce emissions and move the planet away from a fossil fuel based economy is necessary. Even if this is acheived, the process must be inclusive. Alternative fuels are no panacea if accompanied by the expansion of extractive industries and agricultural practices that further drive forced migration. In the interim, people are already being forced to migrate.

International law is behind the times

The Refugee Convention of 1951 defines a refugee as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. The Convention does not cover people who are forced to migrate due to environmental reasons when they cross borders. The result is a variety of short-term measures, such as TPS in the United States, that affords very little protection to people whose status can change overnight. Within the United States, at least, there needs to be more effort to craft lasting solutions, that offer people who previously migrated an opportunity to seek permanent residency.

Currently there are efforts to recraft refugee and migrant laws. For example, the United Nations’ International Office of Migration is overseeing the creation of A Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The draft compact should be completed this year. However, enforcement mechanisms will be limited. In the United States and Europe in particular, migration is re-crafted as a crisis for the receiving country and thus there is resistance to any kind of binding obligations to accept more people. Given the current political environment it is not surprising that Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Compact negotiating process in December last year.

Until there are binding protections afforded to migrants as well as binding agreements to ameliorate the worst impacts of climate change, the world will face increasing migration, accompanied by ongoing political conflict. The current zero-sum, nationalistic orientation of so many, who view migrants as a threat rather than as fellow human beings in need of solidarity, continues to infect any effort for change. We must be better than this.

 

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