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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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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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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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.

Conclusion

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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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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Inspirational and Influential Women of the World: Nora Astorga

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo provided by Liberation News

Astorga training new recruits

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

Astorga at the United Nations

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

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

 

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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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Unjust Armour: Restrictions Lifted to Transfer Military Equipment to Local Police

On Monday, Trump issued an executive order undoing restrictions placed on the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments.

The restrictions had been put in place by President Obama in 2015 following criticism of police tactics in response to protests in Ferguson. Obama said at the time, “We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force.”

Concern about the growing alienation between communities and police drove Obama’s decision, but many of Trump’s policy choices seem designed to disintegrate the increasingly tenuous relationships between these two segments of society. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the lifting of restrictions he said, “We will not put superficial concerns above public safety.” It is hard to escape the implication that police accountability is the “superficial concern” that must be cast aside in order for law and order to be enforced.

The 1033 Program that permits the transfer of surplus military equipment to police forces was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, building on a 1990 program that had restricted use to “agencies in counter-drug activities.” The 1033 Program is managed by the Defense Logistics Agency whose records are not publicly available. A GAO study this year found problems with oversight, including a transfer of $1.2 million of military equipment to investigators pretending to be a police department.

Over the last 10 years, as the war in Iraq wound down, the availability of military surplus led to a dramatic expansion of transfers of equipment completely out of proportion to law enforcement needs. Newsweek reported in 2014:

– Police in Watertown, Connecticut, (population 22,514) recently acquired a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle (sticker price: $733,000), designed to protect soldiers from roadside bombs, for $2,800. There has never been a landmine reported in Watertown, Connecticut.

– Police in small towns in Michigan and Indiana have used the 1033 Program to acquire “MRAP armored troop carriers, night-vision rifle scopes, camouflage fatigues, Humvees and dozens of M16 automatic rifles,” the South Bend Tribune reported.

– And police in Bloomington, Georgia, (population: 2,713) acquired four grenade launchers through the program, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Attorney General Sessions announced the decision to a group of police officers, saying, “The executive order…send[s] a strong message that we will not allow criminal activity, violence, and lawlessness to become the new normal.” With crime rates at an all-time low, it difficult to know what “new normal” of lawlessness is being addressed here. Certainly we should question the need for police departments to deploy MRAP’s and rocket launchers to combat property crimes and drug addiction.

Trump’s decision to lift restrictions on the transfer of military equipment to police, along with his pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, allowing police to expand their use of property seizures and his war on migrants, all point to an effort to remove all accountability for violations of civil liberties by law enforcement. Janai Nelson of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund called the move, “exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible,” and noted “[i]nviting the use of military weaponry against our domestic population is nothing short of recasting the public as an enemy.”

Trump is inventing a war at home, and picking sides. It is political posturing of the worst kind and can only deepen the rift growing in civil society.

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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)