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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Torture by Another Name: Immigrant Detention in the United States

U.S. immigration enforcement practices violate internationally recognized human rights. They have for years. However, under the Trump administration the scale of violations has grown, with increases in mass arrests that ignore asylum claims, expansion of detention under conditions that are inhumane, and a recent spike in the use of family separation as a tactic to further punish migrants. These practices dehumanize migrants. And in combination, might well constitute torture.

In February an advance copy of a report on migration from Nils Melzer, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, was released. While the report does not name specific states, the multitude of examples of violations of core principles of human rights in the treatment of migrants reads like a summary of U.S. immigration policy.

In response to increasing numbers of…”irregular” migrants arriving at their borders, many States have initiated an escalating cycle of repression and deterrence designed to discourage new arrivals, and involving measures such as the criminalisation and detention of irregular migrants, the separation of family members, inadequate reception conditions and medical care, and the denial or excessive prolongation of status determination or habeas corpus proceedings, including expedited returns in the absence of such proceedings. Many States have even started to physically prevent irregular migrant arrivals, whether through border closures, fences, walls and other physical obstacles, through the externalisation of their borders and procedures, or through extra-territorial “pushback” and “pullback” operations, often in cooperation with other States or even non-State actors. (Melzer 2018, 4)

The United States is a signatory to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and therefore bound by the Covenant’s principles. Article 7 of the ICCPR states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The UN Special Rapporteur’s report on migration makes clear that States that employ punitive measures such as prolonged and arbitrary detention, family separation, and that fail to provide safe conditions for migrants under administrative hold violate this standard. This assessment would include the practices of the United States. Even more so, it is the clear intent of U.S. policy makers to deter people from migrating to the United States and/or seek asylum here; a motivation that calls into question the entire edifice of U.S. immigration enforcement.

The issues here are numerous. For the purposes of this article I will focus on the ways U.S. law and practices concerning immigrant detention violate international human rights through arbitrary detention practices, inhumane conditions, and the breaking up of families.

Arbitrary Detention

Immigrant detention as practiced in the United States violates human rights law through deprivation of liberty, in often unsanitary or unsafe circumstance, for indefinite periods of time, and on an arbitrary basis without reference to individualized assessment. According to Melzer’s review:

Just as any other form of deprivation of liberty, any detention of migrants must be justified for each individual as lawful, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances and, in case of administrative or preventative detention, must be periodically re-assessed as it extends in time.  Provided that these generic conditions are met on an individual basis, “(a)sylum seekers who unlawfully enter a State party’s territory may be detained for a brief initial period in order to document their entry, record their claims and determine their identity if it is in doubt. To detain them further while their claims are being resolved would be arbitrary in the absence of particular reasons specific to the individual, such as an individualized likelihood of absconding, a danger of crimes against others or a risk of acts against national security. The decision must consider relevant factors case by case and not be based on a mandatory rule for a broad category; must take into account less invasive means of achieving the same ends, such as reporting obligations, sureties or other conditions to prevent absconding; and must be subject to periodic re-evaluation and judicial review.”  

Over the last 24 years the United States has consistently increased immigrant detentions – criminalizing irregular border crossings, including by those seeking political asylum. Immigrant detentions have grown nearly 600% between 1994 and 2017 – from daily average detention of 6,785 migrants in 1994 to 41,000 in 2017.  In direct violation of international law, over 70% of detainees are subject to mandatory detention as a class – there is no individualized assessment prior to detention in these cases. Detentions are thus arbitrary, giving no weight to due process. Indeed, just last week the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants may be detained indefinitely with no mandatory periodic review for bail. This is a ruling that denies the most basic due process rights, and thus allows for the further institutionalization of practices that violate international law.

In addition to people held in detention facilities, there are an additional 15,000 migrants being held in federal prisons on any given day after being prosecuted for “illegal entry” violations. A joint report by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies documents violations that emerged from Operation Streamline and related policies that have criminalized migration. They note:

Almost 70,000 migrants — including some who may have had valid asylum claims — were criminally prosecuted at the border, during federal fiscal year 2015. Improper entry and re-entry are now the two top criminal charges being filed in our federal court system; together they comprise 49 percent of the entire number of the cases led for federal prosecution nationwide.

Once released from federal prison, migrants may be transferred to ICE for detention until their asylum cases are reviewed – leading to additional months of incarceration. Criminally prosecuting people who self-identify to border agents as seeking political asylum is a violation of international law. Again there is no individualized discernment.  As Human Rights First has documented:

[Border Patrol] agents in sectors along the border indicated that they refer people for prosecution irrespective of their intention to seek asylum. It appears that prosecutors and judges do not take asylum into account when determining the charges or sentences for illegal entry or illegal reentry. In the four federal court districts Human Rights First visited, not one U.S. Attorney’s Office had a policy of exempting asylum seekers from charges of illegal entry or illegal reentry.

Migrants who attempt to present details of their case for asylum in federal court are told the court has no jurisdiction and that such determinations must wait until AFTER they serve their sentence for illegal entry. Hearings in which migrants are charged en masse are common.  Additionally, Human Rights First found that, “Operation Streamline combines each defendant’s initial appearance, preliminary hearing, plea, and sentencing into one hearing that can last less than one minute.”

Human Rights First reports that the Trump administration’s orders to expand these practices violate international human rights:

These directives subvert U.S. treaty obligations that prohibit the penalization of refugees for unauthorized entry or presence—protections created in the wake of World War II after many nations treated refugees seeking asylum in their countries as “illegal” entrants. As a result, asylum seekers are subjected to a deeply dehumanizing system that punishes them for seeking protection and threatens to return them to countries where they will face persecution—a violation of the Refugee Convention.

Detention Conditions Constitute Inhumane Treatment

Conditions in detention facilities vary. As detentions have expanded, however, there are increasing reports of deplorable conditions. Melzer writes that inhumane conditions in detention are a violation of rights and border on torture.

The Human Rights Committee has repeatedly considered that “the combination of the arbitrary character of the […] detention, its protracted and/or indefinite duration, the refusal to provide information and procedural rights to the [detainees] and the difficult conditions of detention are cumulatively inflicting serious psychological harm upon them, and constitute treatment contrary to article 7 of the Covenant.” Indeed, the experience of being subjected to detention that is neither necessary nor proportionate to serve any legitimate purpose, particularly in conjunction with its prolonged and potentially indefinite duration, and with the absence of any effective legal remedy has been shown to add significant mental and emotional stress to the already extremely vulnerable situation of irregular migrants, with many cases reported of self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

In December of 2017 the Office of Inspector General for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement released its report on detention conditions. The OIG found, “problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” They noted that,

[u]pon entering some facilities, detainees were housed incorrectly based on their criminal history. Further, in violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances. Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation. Finally, we observed potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions.

Humans Rights First also released a report last week on conditions found in detention facilities in New Jersey. The report, Ailing Justice, includes the following general findings:

  • Many asylum seekers and immigrants remain in unnecessary, lengthy, and prolonged detention—some for over a year—due to a lack of access to viable release mechanisms;
  • Detention harms their medical and mental health, creates barriers to access to counsel, and hurts their chances of securing relief from deportation;
  • Asylum seekers and other immigrants languish under harsh and inhumane conditions, conditions essentially identical to those in many criminal correctional facilities. Many detained immigrants, particularly non-English speakers, endure frequent racist comments, harassment, and discrimination from medical and correctional staff;
  • Many detained people report substandard or denial of medical care, long waits to be seen by a medical professional, and a lack of proper medication.

Evidence from other sites make clear there is a pattern of inhuman conditions at facilities throughout the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented violations at facilities throughout the southern United States. An LA Times report similarly found deplorable conditions at facilities in California.

The stress that people are put under in detention centers is enormous, and yet it is unnecessary. Community release programs have proven to be highly effective for ensuring people return for hearings on their status. When it occurs, immigrant detention is supposed to be a temporary administrative hold. Immigrants are not criminals! To treat migrants in such a highly punitive manner is a violation of internationally recognized rights, and has the impact of creating (or exacerbating existing) mental health trauma. There were three suicides at the facilities in New Jersey last year, and in just the last six months, a dozen emergency mental health calls. Almost all those detained exhibit signs of stress. The conditions are poor, they do not know when they will be able to leave, and often have limited or no access to counsel. It is a level of cruelty that is shocking when meted out against people who are simply trying to make a life, and in many cases have already fled incredible violence!

Family Separation and Detention of Children

Among the unnecessary cruelties visited upon some migrants to the United States is the detention of children and/or the removal of children from parents. Melzer argues that:  

the possibility of detaining children as a measure of last resort, which may apply in other contexts such as juvenile criminal justice, is not applicable in immigration proceedings as it would conflict with the principle of the best interests of the child and the right to development. Accordingly, the detention of children based solely on their own or their parents’ irregular migration status has authoritatively been found to be arbitrary.

Nevertheless, the United States routinely detains children and families. The practice of family detention has been widely criticized, and yet seems to be accelerating. The Trump administration’s decision to end “catch and release” programs means that individuals and families detained at the border are no longer released to families or organizations within the U.S. pending a hearing on their immigration status. The practice, like general detention practices, is arbitrary, absent individualized assessments.

The current administration’s efforts to ramp up federal prosecution of migrants who cross the border, under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, leads to an even more tragic situation in which children are removed from their parents’ care. If a family is detained at the border, and parents charged with a federal crime, the parents end up in federal prison awaiting trial. Children are then removed to juvenile detention facilities, often hundreds of miles away. Communication between children and parents is minimal. Parents find themselves in the position of desperately looking for children, even as they are themselves literally behind bars. Even in cases where parents are not being criminally prosecuted, children might be separated.

In December a coalition of organizations including the Immigration Justice Campaign, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, and RAICES, among others, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security over family separation incidents that appear to have increased dramatically over the second half of 2017. The authors of the report argue, “[f]amily unity is recognized as a fundamental human right, enshrined in both domestic and international law. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the right to family unity is ‘perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by [the Supreme] Court.’”  Despite this fundamental right, reporting organizations, “have noticed an alarming increase in instances of family members who arrived together but were intentionally separated by U.S. immigration officials without a clear or reasonable justification, as a means of punishment and/or deterrence and with few to no mechanisms to locate, contact, or reunite with separated family members.”

There are clearly inadequate guidelines in place for managing family separation. As the authors argue:

DHS and its components have consistently demonstrated that they are unable to manage the separation of family members in a legal and ethical manner. Family members are given little to no information on what happens to those from whom they are separated, including how to locate, contact, or reunite with them. DHS and its components continue to lack the ability to track familial relationships of individuals who are transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody or to coordinate mechanisms to work with ORR within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the Department of Justice (DOJ) to facilitate location of, contact with, or release and reunification with separated family members.

The lack of care involved in the treatment of the most vulnerable is shocking. In April of 2017, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Services, KIND, and the Women’s Refugee Commission released a report on family separation practices that demonstrates the lack of coordination across the agencies involved, leading to an inability to track family members and seemingly no concern given to the relationships between children and their parents. Authors argue:

Family unity is important not only to maintain the integrity of the family unit, but also because its destruction has a detrimental impact on liberty, access to justice, and protection. It also negatively impacts emotional and psychological development and well-being, creates security and economic difficulties, and strips the dignity of an individual and their family as a whole.

It is clear that the institutional weaknesses (and seeming lack of concern) have not been addressed, even as the practice of family separation has increased. Though specific motivations for increasing this tactic are not given by DHS, “in early March 2017, then DHS Secretary Kelly stated that the department was formally considering a policy of separating children from their parents at the border in order to deter their migration to the United States.” Though Kelly backed off this threat during later Congressional testimony, current practice suggests the DHS is sending a message: If you try to come to the United States seeking protection, you may lose your children.


The bulk of U.S. immigration law and enforcement practices that target irregular migration violate international law. While the Trump administration is doubling down on some of the worst violations, this administration was also handed an institutional framework for immigration enforcement that was already deeply flawed. Reference to international law rarely moves U.S. policy makers, who by and large view human rights law as an infringement on sovereignty. Indeed, in ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the U.S. congress attached reservations to Article 7 bans on torture and cruel and unusual punishment. However, it is important for us to understand that ongoing U.S. violations have the effect of undermining enforcement of human rights globally.

The Trump administration is requesting a 25% expansion of detention capacity in the coming fiscal year – which will increase average daily detention to 50,000 people! Arrests and criminal prosecutions under federal law are increasing. Family separation as a tactic seems to be increasing based on the assessment of organizations that work with migrant families. The conditions under which migrants are held have been shown to be inadequate, even by the DHS’s own Office of Inspector General. All of these practices violate international human rights law, and in some cases, U.S. law. People have a fundamental right to migrate, to seek asylum, and to live free of inhumane treatment. U.S. immigration policy fails to respect these rights.

The United States war on migration must end. It is clear that it will only end if people mobilize in solidarity with migrants being detained and force policy makers to change tactics. There is limited legal recourse domestically – and the Trump administration seems determined to ignore what standards exist, or press the law to its limit, all in order to score political points by scapegoating migrants. We must all push back against these efforts and demand a fundamental respect for the human rights of migrants.

An immigrant detained in New Jersey told investigators, “I came to the United States because I considered it to be a fortress of human rights, but now I know the opposite.” This is our country today. We must change.

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Sessions’ Power Grab on Immigration Rules

Image Credit: Donkey Hotey

On March 5, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions took the unusual step of vacating a 2014 ruling of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) explains, “In this case, the immigration judge decided that an asylum applicant’s claim did not deserve a merits hearing. Instead of a hearing at which he would have had the opportunity to testify, present witnesses, file evidence, and present legal arguments, the immigration judge simply denied the case on the written application alone. The case was appealed and the BIA concluded that all asylum applicants have a right to a hearing, and remanded the case back to the immigration judge for that purpose.”

The Board of Immigration Appeals serves as the appellate court for immigration proceedings, which operate parallel to the federal court system. The Attorney General has the authority to review BIA decisions, and in doing so Sessions seems intent on pressing his authority to the limit. As Tal Kotan, writing for CNN, notes, “The attorney general has the authority to refer any Board of Immigration Appeals decision to his or her office for review, and can single-handedly overturn decisions and set interpretations of immigration law that become precedent followed by the immigration courts.” The danger is obvious. Sessions has repeatedly shown himself willing to use his office to limit the rights of immigrants, especially those who seek asylum.

In addition to the above mentioned case, Sessions is also reviewing another asylum case involving the rights of women seeking asylum as they flee situations of domestic abuse.  Sessions has requested interested parties to submit briefs on the questions, “Whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable ‘particular social group’ for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.” The framing of the questions leaves open the possibility that Sessions could vacate rulings regarding migrants fleeing gang violence and other criminal activity perpetuated by non-state actors. This would clearly have a dramatic impact on asylum claims from people fleeing violence in Central America and many other areas.  

The continued infringement on the rights of people seeking asylum must end. The long-term impact of Sessions ruling remains unclear. However, his effort to exert unilateral authority to shape immigration law is a frightening precedent.

Read more about this case on TASSC’s blog.

For more information on the ongoing asylum review, see CNN.

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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Wangari Maathai

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

“Some of our human rights is environmental rights.” – Wangari Maathai

We all know that the #FutureIsFemme 🙂 but we also have to take a step back to acknowledge the remarkable women who helped paved that way. One African queen, in particular, is Wangari Maathai, Kenyan activist and founder of the Green Belt Movement.

Madame Maathai was born in 1940 in the rural compound of Nyeri, Kenya. An environmental scholar that studied in the U.S., Germany, and later Kenya, Madame Maathai returned to Kenya to receive her doctorate degree in veterinary anatomy in the late 1970s. She was the first woman in the East and Central African region to earn her doctorate. Her work as a department chair and professor for the University of Nairobi was short-lived in comparison to her grassroots environmental activism which began in the early 1980s and lasted until her death in 2011. She began her activism by being an active member (and later chairwoman) for the National Council of Women for Kenya. It was in this position that she informed members and communities about the importance of planting trees. Her commitment to the environment and the people of Kenya as a whole was relentless and no one, regardless of wealth or power, was immune to it:

“In the 1980s Maathai led a courageous fight against the construction of a skyscraper scheduled for construction in the middle of Uhuru park, Nairobi’s most important public space. Her vocal opposition to the location of the proposed complex led the government of President Daniel Arap Moi to label both Maathai and the Green Belt Movement ‘subversive.‘ She was vilified in Parliament and in the press and forced to vacate her office of 10 years with 24 hours’ notice. Nevertheless, thanks to Maathai’s opposition, foreign investors withdrew their support for the Uhuru Park complex and the project was canceled.” (Goldman Prize)

Madame Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, with the premise of paying local women to plant trees in their community. An organization which started off with an environmental focus soon elevated itself to a human rights organization. She allowed people to see their growth and power by planting trees which made her a threat to the Kenyan government but ultimately a hero to not only the people of Kenya but all over the world. She worked with communities, mostly women around different parts of Kenya, to plant at least 20 million trees while she was alive (Nobel Prize). Today, the number of trees planted has surpassed 51 million (Green Belt Movement). Her work soon spilled over to neighboring countries in which tree planting initiatives began in Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. In 2004 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize because of her human rights and environmental conservation work.

In 2011, Wangari Maathai, passed away from ovarian cancer. She was an author, politician, environmentalist, professor, activist, but ultimately a visionary who saw that in order to properly help ourselves, we must help our environment.  Her impact continues to resonate across generations and countries because she was a fighter for justice; in fact, in Washington, D.C. there is a community garden named after her called Wangari Gardens. Today, her legacy continues to remain intact because of the continuous work of the Green Belt Movement which is still a positive force within Kenya.   

“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system. We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come.”

Wangari Maathai 

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Activism in Retrospect

During the last two weeks of February, the Quixote Center was involved in actions of solidarity for Dreamers and the people of Honduras. I attended the Honduras Awareness Tour (Feb. 22) and the Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers (Feb. 27) and was equally moved by both events that called us to be a catalyst for change. Below are my reflections on these experiences.

Honduras Awareness Tour

On February 22, I attended the Honduras Awareness Tour in its final stop in Washington, D.C. The three-city tour was an opportunity for Honduran journalists and human rights activists, Joaquin Mejia and Claudia Mendoza, to update the public on the current conditions of Honduras. It was only befitting that the tour ended in our nation’s capital since both speakers emphasized the destabilizing role the U.S. has played in its foreign policy towards Latin America, in particular, Honduras, starting with the Obama administration’s legitimization of the 2009 coup in which democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power by the Honduran military (NCR). For a country that claims to promote democracy and is even considering punishing other countries for not upholding democracy (as seen, for example, in the NICA Act), the U.S. position to dismiss democracy in Honduras by engaging with the Honduran military speaks volumes about the continuation of foreign policies that disregard the plight of the people of Honduras.

The event began with disturbing news reported by the event host, Oscar Chacon (Executive Director of Alianza Americas). He told the audience that Mejia’s family was still receiving death threats for his role of using Radio Progreso to discuss the conditions of Honduras. We also heard that one of Mendoza’s loved one’s passed away from an illness the night before. There before us stood two fearless people, determined to bring a message despite personal loss. The message, simply put, is that Honduras is suffering. Their democracy is being choked and as U.S. citizens we need to hold our government accountable for these actions and demand change. Why is our government still sending military aid to Honduras, a country where activists are met with death (#BertaVive)?.   

Overall the event provided a much-needed update on the conditions in Honduras. This is a U.S. concern as well since the people of Honduras need us to stand with them. They need us to raise our voices to a level that demands change in U.S. foreign policy. We need to support avenues of authentic journalism like Radio Progreso and the many other organizations in Honduras being harassed in an effort made to silence them. Now more than ever it is important to stand with the people of Honduras.

Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers

The final Tuesday in February was a day of both hope and sorrow. On February 27, Quixote Center staff took part in the Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers, a peaceful protest in Washington, D.C. that encouraged Catholics and non-Catholics to elevate voices in support Dreamers and demand their right to stay in the U.S. The first year of the Trump administration has been a disaster for immigrant families. The administration’s dehumanizing rhetoric and willingness to use families to create a deal for a misconceived border wall is, frankly, disgusting. 

QC staff: (left to right) Mfon Edet, Jessica DeCou, Jocelyn Trainer

The protest was an opportunity to stand with our neighbors, families, and friends who are Dreamers, during this stressful time in their life. Have you ever been in a situation when you didn’t know where you were going to live or have to face the possibility that your family could be split apart? The amount of stress those types of concerns come with is too heavy to bear alone. We need to support immigration reform that leads to paths to citizenship for not only Dreamers but all immigrants who have built lives here.

The number of people that showed up in support of Dreamers was beautiful to witness. There was mass in the morning at St. Peters on Capitol Hill and a rally in front of the Senate building in which different activists spoke about the much-needed change in our immigration policies. The protest eventually moved inside of the Senate building where protesters met in the rotunda to pray. Soon after the prayer, the protest ended with the arrest of approximately 40 nuns.

After the arrest, I saw protest participants walking directly into their state representatives’ offices to discuss the need for a path to citizenship with better immigration reform legislation. I also saw families around the rotunda crying and it dawned on me even more that this is their reality. They are in limbo and it’s SCARY. With our members of Congress failing to support positive immigration reform, and with the current injustices of ICE raids, the voices of immigrants are being ignored.

Overall I’m glad to have been a part of this protest. As a Catholic, a person of color, a first-generation American, and an activist, seeing the nuns being arrested coupled with the families crying made me take a step back to look at the conditions of this country. In the words of Daniel Neri, one of the speakers at the rally, “We are not criminals, we are not rapists, we are good people” (NCR). 

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It’s Not Just Oxfam

Last week The Times reported on a 2011 internal investigation conducted by Oxfam into the behavior of some of its team in Haiti.  

The group lived in a guest house rented by Oxfam that they called the ‘pink apartments’ — they called it ‘the whorehouse’,” said a source who says he was shown phone footage by one of the residents of the guesthouse. They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white T-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues’.”

Roland van Hauwermeiren, who was Oxfam’s country director in Haiti in 2011 and admitted to hiring prostitutes in Haiti, had also been accused of hiring sex workers in Chad in 2006 – an allegation known to his superiors at Oxfam prior to him being sent to Haiti. Following the disclosures in 2011, Hauwermeiren was allowed to resign from his post in Haiti in exchange for cooperating with the investigation. Following the 2011 investigation Oxfam set up a whistleblower line and Safeguarding Team to try and rein in abuses. There was some reporting to officials in the U.K. about the investigation and the actions taken internally at the time. However, until The Times published its piece last week, there had been no full public disclosure about the abuses in Haiti.

Since the story first broke, more information has come to light about other staff at Oxfam engaging in sexual harassment, including demanding sex in exchange for aid. Helen Evans wrote to Oxfam’s director in 2014 that the information she was gathering as head of Oxfam’s Safeguarding initiative, “increasingly points to a culture of sexual abuse within some Oxfam offices.” She raised these concerns to the UK Charity Commission as well. Little was done. She left the organization in 2015.

As many have also been noting, there is nothing unique to Oxfam about sexual abuse. In Haiti, there have been a number of sexual abuse incidents involving UN Peacekeepers and other non-governmental organizations. Globally, aid workers and peacekeepers have come into the spotlight from time to time because of sexual abuse. According to an ABC report:

Andrew MacLeod, former chief of operations of the UN’s Emergency Coordination Centre and Red Cross aid worker, said the Oxfam scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. “It’s a global problem across all charities, including the United Nations”….The UN said last year there were 145 cases of sexual exploitation involving 311 victims reported within peacekeeping in 2016 alone.

Obviously, the time for treating these incidents as isolated is long passed. Which is to say, we must look beyond Oxfam to the broader pattern of abuse. In doing so one might hope this becomes a pivotal moment where we begin to ask critical questions about the nature of aid work itself, and the differentials in power between agencies and their employees, and the people they are supposed to be serving.

Such an assessment must be far-reaching. Aid organizations control significant resources and can leverage them in ways that impact policy and dramatically impact lives in the countries where they work. We need to ask about the ways aid agencies disempower local stakeholders in general – through setting up infrastructure independent of local governance, bypassing official channels in the organization and delivery of services, bringing in people from outside the country to run projects rather than hire more locally and so on. These institutional choices can reproduce modes of privilege, creating the environment in which abuse takes place. In short, it is the responsibility of all of us who work in the delivery of international assistance to commit to being more responsive to the communities we serve. Oxfam will navigate the current situation however they choose. For the rest of us, we should be thinking less about how we are different than Oxfam, and more about the fundamental ways we may be the same.

And then change.

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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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Country Highlight: Nepal

Part VIII of a series on TPS

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Temporary Protected Status holders increasingly fear they will not be permitted to remain in the United States. Within the last year the Trump administration has terminated TPS for four out of the 10 designated countries.  This week TPS for El Salvador was terminated, impacting over 260,000 people who have lived in the U.S. for over 17 years. TPS holders and supporters continue to press for a permanent, legislative solution. In support of this effort we continue our series on TPS; this week with a profile of Nepal.

Nepal began receiving TPS in 2015, shortly after the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the country. The earthquake left roughly 9,000 dead, 20,000 injured, over 10,000 displaced, and destroyed 824,000 homes. Though two years have passed since the earthquake, over 2.8 million Nepalese remain in need of humanitarian aid.

The government is seen as largely ineffective in implementing reconstructive efforts or distributing aid due to political instability and infighting. In late 2016, the government attempted to implement the new 2015 Constitution, which ensued in months of violent protests and opposition throughout the country, halting reconstruction efforts.

The political infighting led to delays in establishing or legitimizing an earthquake recovery authority. Without any government authority heading the reconstruction, the majority of victims of the earthquake were forced to spend two monsoons and two winters in makeshift shelters.

Finally, the Reconstruction Authority was created eight months after the earthquake. It estimates that USD$9 billion is needed to complete all the necessary reconstruction in the country. The international community raised USD$4.1 billion to aid Nepal; however, as of April 2017, only 12% of the aid money has been distributed, indicating the ineffectiveness of the agency.

Major criticisms from the international community of the Reconstruction Authority included that it lacks coordination between donors and the governments, possesses a limited understanding of local concerns, and has a dearth of civil engagement. This leaves many organizations attempting to directly give aid to local communities and avoid government involvement.

As with many natural disasters, the earthquake affected the disadvantaged and poor the most. Rural communities in particular have been hard to access and have thus far received little assistance for emergency housing and relief. Of those whom have received government compensation disbursements to rebuild their homes, they face shortages of water, raw materials, inspectors, and engineers needed to rebuild, consequently halting the already slow reconstruction.

The government faces complaints from Nepalese over a lack of transparency and information provided to the public about the time constraints to receive compensation disbursements, and knowledge regarding where and how to receive aid. Although, some believe that there is hope to enact positive governmental change in the elections scheduled for May 2018.

Currently, there are 8,950 Nepalese living in the United States under TPS. This is not an undue hardship to America, and it is clear that the Nepalese government is not capable of adequately handling the return of these citizens.

Please continue to call your legislators and urge them to support legislation that extends TPS and also creates a pathway to permanent residence. See more on legislative options here.


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Country Highlights: Yemen & Syria

Part VII of a series on TPS

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

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



2016 Statistics*

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


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

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

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



2016 Statistics*

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


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

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

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

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


*Most recent statistics available, likely to change

Up Next:

Country Highlight: Nepal – coming January 12th 


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Take Action in Defense of Democracy in Honduras

The crisis in Honduras in the wake of the November 26 election continues.  As documented here by Rick Sterling the evidence suggests strongly that the ruling National Party tampered with the voting process to ensure victory for Juan Orlando Hernandez:

After midnight on election night, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) stopped posting updates and effectively shut down for the next 36 hours. The TSE’s president, David Matamoros Batson, said the TSE had received 13,000 tally sheets but was missing 6,000 from the total. With just over 18,000 total, this does not quite add up. Then two hours later, Matamoros increased the number of missing tally sheets to 7,500.

When updates resumed, mid-day last Tuesday, the results consistently favored the incumbent right-wing President Juan Orlando Hernandez. The opposition lead steadily diminished then disappeared.

The leader of the Opposition Coalition against the Dictatorship, Salvador Nasralla, denounced the apparent malfeasance and protests commenced across the country. Police and military have sometimes responded violently. Numerous unarmed Hondurans have been killed over the past five days.

On Monday, more than a week after the election, the TSE announced results giving a narrow victory to the incumbent National Party President Juan Orlando Hernandez. As mass protests continue, the opposition has demanded a recount of all the tally sheets received after the TSE shutdown.

The situation continues to evolve. Protests have continued. The police, remarkably, announced that they would no longer enforce a curfew or prevent peaceful protests. A welcome respite after 10 days of state violence that left at least 13 people dead and hundreds detained.

The United States has some responsibility for events. It has provided military and police assistance to Honduran forces, despite years of evidence of complicity with human rights violations since the coup in June of 2009. Just this week it was announced that the Trump administration had certified Honduras as making sufficient strides in the protection of human rights to continue to receive aid – close to $55 million in the upcoming fiscal year. The Obama administration made a similar certification last year, claiming that Honduras had made significant progress to “protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference.” A description sorely at odds with events on the ground.

As events continue to unfold we join with other human rights and solidarity organizations to demand that the U.S. government respect the democratic process. We invite all of you to contact your members of congress and demand that the U.S. respect the democratic process in Honduras.

You can call the U.S. Capital Switchboard to directly contact your Senators and Representatives: (202) 224-3121.  Get their phone numbers and email addresses; send them copies of this and other information; politely insist that they agree to any and all of the following demands; share your efforts with the media, family, friends and networks.

In the short term, the U.S. government and politicians must:

  • Publicly condemn the multiple acts of documented electoral fraud being carried out by the corrupt, military-backed government of Juan Orlando Hernandez and the National party;
  • Publicly condemn the suspension of constitutional rights, the imposition of a curfew and the acts of police and military repression happening across Honduras against anti-electoral fraud protesters and other citizens;
  • State unequivocally that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez and the National Party will be held fully accountable for any and all electoral fraud and repression taking place;
  • Immediately suspend all economic, military, police and other “security” related relations with the corrupt, repressive government in power;
  • Advocate for a complete recount of ALL votes, carried out under full national and international supervision, or a new run-off election is held under full national and international supervision.
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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)