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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Trump Unhinged

Over the last few days Trump has been tweeting and fuming over a caravan of migrants crossing through Mexico. Some, not all, may try to gain access to the United States, seeking asylum from economic marginalization and political violence in Central America. Nearly 80% of the 1,200 caravan participants are from Honduras.

Caravans have been common in recent years, as people travel in larger groups to avoid trouble with gangs in Central America and Mexico. Until this year, these caravans gained little notice in the United States. But Trump is in trouble with scandals and desperate for a legislative victory. In this environment, he seems to be turning to what got him to the White House: Exaggerate, mislead, and outright lie about some facet of immigration law, or immigrants themselves, to rally support. Referencing the caravan, Trump is renewing calls for border wall funding, and has declared there will be no deal on DACA. In a tweet Sunday, Trump declared:

Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. “Caravans” coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!

Yesterday, Trump went even further, declaring that the U.S. would begin using the military to police the border. Quoted in the New York Times, Trump said:

We have very bad laws for our border, and we are going to be doing some things — I’ve been speaking with General Mattis — we’re going to be doing things militarily…Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.

Trump’s latest tirade is political theater of the sort we’ve come to expect. Bombastic declarations that clutter the political space for compromise, all with the aim of getting a “deal.”  Withdrawing the U.S. from NAFTA, sending troops to the border, and refusing to bargain on DACA – when it was just a few weeks ago he encouraged such a bargain in exchange for funding for the wall and other reductions in immigration – are all on the surface losing propositions. Clearly he is trying to shake things up to force the hands of congress, while giving red meat to his Fox-News-watching supporters.

Along the southern border, crossings are at a near 40 year low. The last four administrations have built a legal framework on immigration that has granted enormous authority to ICE to arrest, detain, and deport millions of people. Far from being hamstrung, ICE has been given near free rein along the border. Federal prosecutors and judges are now forced to spend half of their caseloads prosecuting illegal entry and reentry violations, in an unnecessary dragnet that violates the most basic tenets of due process.

The only crisis in immigration right now is the inhumane treatment being meted out against people fleeing violence and economic collapse. While Trump’s rhetoric is theatrical, the results of his ongoing war on migrants is very real. We are facing a human rights crisis in this country of enormous proportions. Trump wants to make it worse. Congress will likely go along in some measure. We need to stop them.

 

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Farmworker Awareness Week Day Seven, Support UFW’s’ Push for Overtime Pay

“Life here is very hard when we harvest fruits and vegetables. The sun burns so much and we get weak, and you get irritated from so much heat. And despite that we have to work all day putting up with the fatigue, dehydration and hunger. I’ll also tell you that it’s very sad to be far from our land which is Mexico… and our loved ones like my parents, my wife and my son. But we’re here working hard so that we can support our family… and well, it’s very hard to be a farmworker, and sad because you work from sun up to sundown in the fields.”

Farmworker Awareness Week is an effort to educate people about the conditions under which farmworkers labor and the economic forces the lead so many to do this work away from family members. In supporting this year’s Farmworker Awareness Week we have been taking the lead from Student Action with Farmworkers. Student Action posts daily actions for the week, with quotes like the one above from farmworkers to offer reflection.

The action for today is to support the United Farm Workers efforts for legislation to ensure that farm workers receive overtime pay. UFW is working on a proposal that would, “remedy the discriminatory denial of overtime pay and the minimum wage to all farm workers under current law. Farm workers deserve basic minimum wage and overtime protections like any other US worker. Workers in agriculture would be entitled to time-and-a-half pay for working more than 40 hours in a week. It would phase in overtime pay over a period of 4 years beginning in 2019”

The campaign for national regulation follows on UFW’s successful campaign for reform in California:

The farm worker movement is determined to address Jim Crow era discrimination against farm workers like the UFW’s huge 2016 victory in California that ensures the implementation of more inclusive regulations for farm workers starting in 2019. In California, overtime law for farm workers ensures farm workers will have an equal right to overtime pay and continues the process of reducing discrimination in employment laws against agricultural workers. The change started in California it is time to set this standard for the entire nation.

You can read more about this effort and sign the pledge to support the effort and hold legislators accountable here.

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Farmworker Awareness Week, Day 6: Sign Petition to Support VUSE Boycott

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee has been organizing with farmworkers in tobacco giant Reynolds American’s supply chain for years. For Day Six of Farmworker Awareness Week we are asking you to join with FLOC and sign a petition supporting a boycott of VUSE, an e-cigarette sold by Reynolds. From FLOC’s page:

For ten years, FLOC has been challenging Reynolds American to work with FLOC to end abuses and human rights violations in their tobacco supply chain by guaranteeing a process that would protect freedom of association on their contract farms. After five years of refusing to meet, Reynolds began meeting with FLOC in 2012, but these talks have not led to an actual mechanism that would allow farmworkers a voice on the job and the ability to negotiate better working conditions. Last year, FLOC members voted to boycott VUSE, an e-cigarette brand made by Reynolds, until Reynolds signs an agreement with FLOC that guarantees farmworkers freedom of association.

The VUSE e-cigarette brand is Reynolds’ hallmark product and is sold at most convenience stores. 36% of tobacco sales are via convenience stores. FLOC and its allies have made significant efforts to communicate with the corporate officers of 7-11, Couche Tard (Circle K and Kangaroo), and WAWA convenience store chains, but the chains have not responded to repeated letters and emails.

We need you to stand with farmworkers by boycotting VUSE and demanding that convenience stores stop selling this product until Reynolds agrees to give farmworkers a voice and a practical mechanism that they can use to negotiate better working and living conditions without fear of retaliation!

To sign the petition go here.

For more information on FLOC’s work check out their website here.

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Farmworker Awareness Week, Day Five: Support Community, Student Action with Farmworkers

“I’m away from my family for eight months to come work in this country. Work here is very hard because we have to work ten to twelve hours a day. The work helps me support my family, but I am happy because I’m reaching my goal of having a house of my own.”

Farmworker Awareness Week is an effort to educate people about the conditions under which farmworkers labor and the economic forces that lead so many to do this work away from family members. In supporting this year’s Farmworker Awareness Week we have been taking the lead from Student Action with Farmworkers. Student Action posts daily actions for the week, with quotes like the one above from farmworkers to offer reflection. Student Action offers the following explanation for why they do the work:

Farmworkers feed the world– 85% of our fruits and vegetables are handpicked. There are an estimated 2-3 million men, women, and children work in the fields in the United States. Farms are in every state, including yours, yet farmworkers remain largely invisible and continue to live and work in horrific conditions.  We demand dignity for farmworkers!

Farm work is the third most dangerous job in the United States. The people who plant and harvest our fruits and vegetables suffer from the highest rate of toxic chemical injuries of any other workers in the nation and have higher incidences of heat stress, dermatitis, urinary tract infections, parasitic infections, and tuberculosis than other wage-earners.  We demand safe working conditions for farmworkers!

Farmworkers are treated differently under the law. Overtime, unemployment insurance, and even protection when joining a union are not guaranteed under federal law. Farmworkers were excluded from almost all major federal laws passed in the 1930s. The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended in 1978 to mandate minimum wage for farmworkers on large farms only and it still has not made provisions for overtime.  We demand just living and working conditions for farmworkers and an end to unfair treatment under the law.

The actvity Student Action with Farmworkers encourage today is to get out into the community and support Latinx restaurants and other businesses. We would encourage this, as well as support for organizations doing the work of raising awareness, like Student Action with Farmworkers. Get involved! Get Connected! Make a difference.

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Farmworker Awareness Week, Day Four: Pledge to Boycott Wendy’s

Bioparques workers who spoke to Times reporter Richard Marosi for an investigation published December 10, 2014, described subhuman conditions, with workers forced to work without pay, trapped for months at a time in scorpion-infested camps, often without beds, fed on scraps, and beaten when they tried to quit. (Harper’s Magazine, 2016)

We are quite happy with the quality and taste of the tomatoes we are sourcing from Mexico. (Wendy’s spokesperson, 2016)

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been organizing since 1993 to improve labor conditions for farmworkers. In 1998 CIW won its first major victory:

Combining three community-wide work stoppages with intense public pressure – including an unprecedented month-long hunger strike by six members in 1998 and an historic 234-mile march from Ft. Myers to Orlando in 2000 – the CIW’s early organizing ended over twenty years of declining wages in the tomato industry.

By 1998, farmworkers had won industry-wide raises of 13-25% (translating into several million dollars annually for the community in increased wages) and a new-found political and social respect from the outside world. Those raises brought the tomato picking piece rate back to pre-1980 levels (the piece rate had fallen below those levels over the course of the intervening two decades), but wages remained below poverty level and continuing improvement was slow in coming.

In the early 2000’s CIW brought its creative energy to campaigns for corporate responsibility. The strategy was to pressure companies directly for wage increases and improvements in work conditions, aligning CIW’s labor membership with consumers around the country.  In 2001 CIW launched a national boycott of Taco Bell. After four years, Taco Bell reached an agreement with CIW touching on all of the boycott demands.

The next step for CIW was launching the Fair Food Program, a monitoring organization that brings workers, farm producer company, and retail companies together through commitments to support core labor standards. There are currently 14 major retailers, including fast food giants, McDonalds, Burger King, Yum Brands, and Subway.

CIW began targeting Wendy’s to join the FFP in 2005 as well. Wendy’s response was to stop buying in Florida – shifting its production chain to Mexico where labor conditions and wages are even worse. CIW has called a boycott of Wendy’s until it agrees to adopt FFP standards.

Read more here, and pledge to join the boycott today!

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Farmworker Awareness Week Day Three: Take Action to Ban Chlorpyrifos

“We started around four [4:00] to four thirty [4:30] in the morning,” one worker reported. “I heard someone say ‘it’s raining,’ I didn’t feel anything but I could smell it. I could smell a chemical smell like a garden product. I heard a plane or helicopter I never saw it but I heard it. I did have symptoms, my head was hurting, and my eyes were itchy and really watery.”

Farmworkers, like the man quoted above in this Mother Jones report, are routinely exposed to pesticides. In the incident above, men working a field were hit with doses of chlorpyrifos from a crop-duster spraying an adjoining field and Vapam, which had been injected in heavy doses at a nearby potato farm that produces for Tasteful Selections. As a result of this incident, Tasteful Selections and the pesticide company that sprayed chlorpyrifos were both fined for failing to disclose the presence of the pesticides. Pat Trowers of the Pesticide Action Network, is quoted in the Mother Jones story, saying “The fines levied against these companies amount to little more than pocket change for large-scale growers….It’s simple—the punishment should fit the crime. Higher fines and larger no-spray zones around workers would be a much more effective deterrent to pesticide drift problems.”

Today is Day Three of Farmworker Awareness Week. The theme for the day is Life, and the action is to call on Congress to institute a ban on chlorpyrifos. You can join in the action by connecting to the Pesticide Action Network here.

As reported in the Guardian last May:

Chlorpyrifos is widely used in US agriculture, sprayed on crops such as corn, wheat and citrus. However, growing evidence of its impact upon human health led the EPA to agree with the chemical industry more than a decade ago that the product should not be used indoors to get rid of household bugs.

The pesticide has been linked to developmental problems in children such as lower birth weight, reduced IQ and attention disorders. Large doses of the chemical can cause convulsions and sometimes even death. People are exposed through spray drift, residues on food and water contamination.

Chlorpyrifos, which is produced by Dow Chemicals, can still be used for agricultural purposes but after a legal challenge by environmental groups, EPA scientists stated that the pesticide was not safe for any use and proposed widening the ban.

A subsequent ban of chlorpyrifos was rejected, however, under the new Trump administration. Scott Pruitt, administrator of the EPA, said he denied the ban to provide “regulatory certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos”. The EPA said there were “serious scientific concerns and substantive process gaps” in the plan to banish chlorpyrifos. The next review of the chemical isn’t scheduled until 2022.

Farmworkers cannot wait until 2022. Join the call to action! Contact your legislators!

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Forced Labor, Big Profits: One Dollar a Day in Detention Facilities

Last year people held at at a private immigration detention facility in Aurora, Colorado filed suit against the owner, The GEO Group, claiming that the company required them to work in the facility “Volunteer Work Program” and threatened solitary confinement to those who refused. The GEO Group receives contracts from the federal government to construct, manage, and/or provide other services related to the incarceration of people in federal prisons and immigrant detention facilities. Approximately 70% of migrant detainees are held in private run or owned facilities. Two companies, the GEO Group and CoreCivic, receive the lion’s share of these contracts – in 2015 housing nearly 80% of those detained in private facilities.

Under Federal Law, people held in immigrant detention may work to help maintain the facility and earn a small remuneration. The current rate was set in 1978 at a maximum of $1.00 a day (the Federal minimum wage in 1978 was $2.60 an hour). At the time, the daily average number of migrants held in detention was less than 4,000 people and none were housed in private facilities (CoreCivic – then known as the Corrections Corporation of America – received the first contract for a private detention facility in 1983, the Houston Processing Center).  Times have changed, but not the pay rate.

The GEO Corp, CoreCivic and other private companies use detainee labor to keep facilities clean, do maintenance and provide other services. By using detainee labor at the 1978 pay rate, the companies pad their profit margin significantly. GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez told Daily Beast, “the volunteer work program at immigration facilities as well as the wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government.” The company argues, they are not required to pay more – indeed Federal contracts only reimburse work done through the Voluntary Work Program at the $1.00 a day rate; if they pay more they lose money. If they have to bring in cleaning services, paying at least the federal minimum wage, they would lose significantly more. That a maximum daily wage of $1.00, paid to people held behind bars who were threatened into “volunteering,” is basically slave labor is beside the point – shareholders come first.

In the current environment nothing is more surprising than members of Congress defending forced labor in the name of corporate profit (pitched as tax savings). On March 7th of this year, eighteen Republican members of Congress wrote to the offices of the Attorney General and Secretaries of the Department of Labor and Immigrant and Custom Enforcement encouraging them to submit amicus briefs in defense of The GEO Group and other private prison companies. The letter is illuminating concerning the values animating federal immigration enforcement:

It would provide an unnecessary windfall to the detainees, and drain the federal government of limited taxpayer resources, to require contractors to pay these detainees anywhere between 800% – 1500% above what is currently required by law. These costs will simply be passed on to the taxpayers either through a required higher rate of contractual reimbursement or through increased detention costs generally.

It is worth parsing this section. “800%-1,500%” more than current law, means remuneration of $8 to $15 dollars A DAY. One wonders how a company cannot afford such wages, or the Federal government for that matter, to keep a facility clean!?!? Arguing that people in detention – who, it bears repeating, are in most cases simply waiting decisions on their status – would see one dollar an hour as a “windfall,” indeed such a windfall that they would want to stay in detention, is absurd.

If Federal immigrant enforcement measures are draining “limited taxpayer resources,” it is because the Federal government has chosen to adopt draconian measures that are unnecessary, and in some cases illegal, in order to expand detention to the current rate of 41,000 people a night, at a cost of $134 a day per detainee. This detention budget came to $2.6 billion in 2017, a large portion paid out to private companies. Trump wants the capacity expanded to 50,000 a night – a 25% increase. The GEO Group and CoreCivic gave Trump’s inauguration committee $250,000 each. The return on this investment promises to be huge.

In April of 2017, The GEO Group posted in BusinessWire:

GEO expects to design, finance, build, and operate the company-owned Facility [in Conroe, Texas] under a ten-year contract with ICE, inclusive of renewal option periods. The 1,000-bed Facility is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018 and is expected to generate approximately $44 million in annualized revenues and returns on investment consistent with GEO’s company-owned facilities.

The press release went on to add: “We are very appreciative of the continued confidence placed in our company by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said George C. Zoley, GEO’s Chairman and CEO.

Very appreciative indeed. Trading in the lives of human beings makes these companies a lot of money. And with members of Congress trying to shield them from having to actually pay some of the people who labor in these facilities, profits are booming.

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Fear as Strategy: Trump Administration Using Cruelty as Deterrence

Several articles in the past week have focused on the ways the Trump administration is employing fear tactics as means to punish migrants. To some degree deterrence has always been a part of U.S. policies aimed at limiting migration. Yet, the current administration seems intent on reaching a new level of cruelty that is both immoral—and illegal. By targeting asylum seekers, separating children and families, and using enforcement in a campaign to silence dissent among immigration activists, Trump’s team is reaching new lows.

Julianne Hing, writing for the Nation, underscores the ways Trump is using the exagerated threat of gang violence from Central America to justify crackdowns:

Without needing to change any laws, the White House has used the threat of gang violence and the need to protect national security as pretexts for draconian immigration policies. Yet the real aim has always been something else: to inflict maximum suffering as a means of pushing out unwanted newcomers as well as those whose extended presence in the country may threaten white supremacy.

She also notes the escalating attacks on immigrant rights activists:

In addition to ICE agents staking out courthouses, school drop-off corners, and even hospitals—violating the agency’s own guidelines about not making arrests in “sensitive locations”—agents have also arrested or deported at least four outspoken immigrant-rights leaders in what activists call a calculated stroke of political retaliation. Recently, ICE arrested another, activist Alejandra Pablos, at a regular Tucson, Arizona, check-in on March 7.

John Burnett of NPR has also covered the increasing arrests of activists:

Activists across the country say they are being targeted by federal immigration authorities for speaking out at protests and accusing the government of heavy-handed tactics. The Trump administration has warned that anyone in the country illegally could be arrested and deported under tough new enforcement rules. And federal officials deny allegations of retaliation. But the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups say they have documented two dozen cases of immigrant activists and volunteers who say they have been arrested or face fines for their work. They say many of the activists who are undocumented don’t have criminal records and only came to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement because of their activism.

The ACLU, Human Rights First, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies have filed a suit against the Department of Homeland Security regarding the Administration’s use of a deterrence strategy targeting asylum seekers and other. The practices violate U.S. law. From their filing on deterrence strategy:

Detaining asylum seekers to deter others, without even considering whether individuals are flight risks or dangers to the community, violates the Parole Directive (which generally bars the detention of asylum seekers who pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community), the Immigration and Naturalization Act (“INA”), regulations promulgated thereunder, and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Indeed, even if DHS’s current parole policy were not based on deterrence, it would be unlawful for DHS to engage in virtually blanket detention of asylum seekers without individualized determinations of flight risk or danger to the community. The fact that the Policy is based on general deterrence—which cannot be a basis for civil detention—makes it even clearer that the Policy is unlawful. See R.I.L-R., 80 F. Supp. at 189.

Read the full articles:

Julienne Hing, “For Trump, Cruelty is the Point” The Nation, March 15, 2018

John Burnett, “Immigration Advocates Warn ICE is Retaliating for Activism”, NPR, March 16, 2018

Class Action Suit Against DHS filed by the ACLU, Human Rights First, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

You can also read our recent blog, Torture by Another Name: Immigrant Detention in the United States evaluating abusive tactics employed by the administration in violation of international human rights.

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The Cycle of Criminalization in U.S. Immigration Policy

Last week, visitors from the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) joined us at the Quixote Center for a conversation on migrant detention and the prison-industrial complex. We discussed the brutality of ICE, the injustice of Operation Streamline, and the expansion of private prisons. But there was one topic we kept coming back to: the cycle of criminalization.

The narrative we have heard from the current administration portrays Central American immigrants as violent gang members who bring crime to our country and must be deported. In his State of the Union address, Trump called on Congress “to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminal gangs to break into our country.” His scare tactics are designed to stoke racist, anti-immigrant sentiment. His claims are also wildly misleading.

MS-13 is not a foreign threat and it is not a major danger to the United States. The gang began in Los Angeles in the 1980s, with the early group of teenagers looking for community, not violence. Many of them were the children of immigrants from El Salvador, a country that had been rocked by unrest and a civil war heavily funded by the U.S. government. But the Los Angeles police force launched massive “anti-gang” operations during that time that put many of these teens into the prison system.

As The Washington Post put it, “those sweeps, part of a militaristic zero-tolerance response to the nation’s social problems, failed to acknowledge that such problems were the direct result of underfunded social programs and systemic marginalization. Instead of serving as a deterrent, they further weakened social ties and increased exclusion, and thus facilitated the transformation and consolidation of MS-13 into a serious criminal enterprise.”

The situation was worsened by the Clinton administration, whose immigration policy deported thousands and sent the gang members back to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Once there, they faced similarly harsh policing and few opportunities outside of their gang. Their violence now drives many to the U.S. as a means of escape and the cycle continues.

MS-13 was not just formed in the United States, it exists precisely because of the United States. A U.S. funded war gave rise to their displacement. A militarized police force branded them criminals. The prison system gave them few options. Deportation gave them fewer.

But this story of criminalization is not limited to MS-13 members. Our current system treats all but a certain elite category of immigrants as criminals. ICE sends undocumented people to detention centers where they can be held indefinitely in high-security facilities. When they are deported back to their country of origin, stigma often follows. Many assume that detention and deportation in the U.S. are indicative of criminal behavior. It may be harder for the deported person to get a job or regain community trust when they have been seen as a criminal, so they may end up in prison again.

By criminalizing immigration, we are not just being inhumane, we are also participating in a cycle where the most severe consequences fall outside our borders. Despite political rhetoric, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the U.S. born population. Meanwhile, violence increases in the Northern Triangle, with El Salvador becoming the world’s most violent country not at war. Our prison-industrial complex is not just a failed response to crime, it is a breeding ground for it. When immigrant populations flee violence that we helped to create it is our duty to provide sanctuary, not jail cells. But the path we walk now is an endless loop of violence. 

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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)