Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

This story was published in the Concord Monitor on July 28, 2016.

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U.S. and Mexico Respond to Desperation with Detention and Deportation

(Editor’s note: In order to protect the identities of those profiled for this article, their names have been changed.)

Ricardo sounded desperate when we met him at a shelter for migrants in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca six years ago.  He was traveling north, trying to get to the United States for the second time.  The first time, he said, he was arrested by Mexican authorities and deported back to El Salvador.  “If I could stay in my country and make money, I’d never leave,” he said.

The dangers of the trail were well known: thieves, kidnappers, police, and perhaps a risky trip across the desert where plenty of people have perished from thirst and starvation.  “I could die on this journey,” he said, but he was willing to try one more time.  If he failed, Ricardo said, he would return to his mother’s home in El Salvador and “we’ll starve to death.”

In the past six years, the situation appears to have grown even more desperate for people like Ricardo.  But instead of taking action to support human rights and peaceful development, the United States is putting its weight behind enforcement and deportation on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

When unaccompanied children from El Salvador,  Honduras and Guatemala, also called the Northern Triangle, began showing up in large numbers at the U.S. border with Mexico two years ago, the Obama administration recognized “a humanitarian crisis,” to which it responded by opening new detention centers and stepping up the deportation of children and families.

In addition, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, “U.S. officials and members of Congress called for increases in U.S. assistance to help Mexico fortify its southern border, building on construction, equipment deliveries, and training support that began with the post-2007 ‘Mérida Initiative’ aid packages and intensified after 2011.”  gabriela with

“As you look at these children, they are all coming from Central America. If we can close the southern border of Mexico, that stops 99 percent of our problems here,” is how Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, characterized the situation at a hearing.

Speaking at a House budget hearing, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Chairwoman of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, stated, “Our neighbor, Mexico is on the front lines of combating the illegal migration issue and we must do all we can to help Mexico strengthen its borders.”

Mexico apparently got the message.  Since it introduced a new “Southern Border Program” (or “Plan Frontera Sur”), apprehension and deportation of Central American migrants has gone up.  In 2015, Mexico apprehended nearly 172,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle, up from 118,000 in 2014.  Apprehensions by Mexico of unaccompanied children from those countries went up by 70% during the same time. Meanwhile, U.S. apprehensions of unaccompanied minors went down by 42% from 2014 to 2015. 

So, while the program may reduce the number of migrants who reach the U.S. border, it worsens the real crisis.

Sandra’s case is disturbingly typical.  After her husband was killed by gang members in El Salvador, she fled to Mexico, where she was picked up and jailed for seven months.   Speaking recently in the safety of a church-related human rights group’s office in southern Mexico, she said she had produced proof that her husband had been murdered, even providing a letter from the local mayor.  Despite the evidence that her life, too, would be in danger if she went home, her request for asylum was denied and she was deported.  But with the gang threats still real, she was giving it another try.

We met Juan near another border crossing in southern Mexico.  He had fled Honduras with his pregnant wife and little boy.  After armed gang members stole the motorcycle he used for work, he filed a complaint with the police.  The gang responded with threats to kill him and his son.  

According to a recent report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), “Increasing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras forced thousands of women, men, and children to leave their homes in 2015, mainly to Mexico and the United States. The number of refugees and asylum-seekers with pending cases in Mexico from these three Central American countries increased from 20,900 people in 2012 to 109,800 people in 2015.”

“The situation is so bad that people have no other choice but to flee,” a UNHCR representative told us.  By her estimates, some 400,000 Central Americans were crossing the Mexican border every year.  Half of them were probably in need of protection, but only 1% were even seeking refugee status in Mexico.  And of that small fraction, most would fail to get protection.  According to a staff member at the Mexican federal agency responsible for vetting refugee claims, only 3423 people filed applications for refuge in 2015.  Of those, only about 1100 were granted some form of protection by the Mexican government.

In addition to providing the Mexican military and police with millions of dollars of armaments, the U.S. is also stationing Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents in Mexico to provide “mentoring” for members of the country’s immigration enforcement agency.

With stepped up enforcement by Mexico authorities, including shutting off the option of travel on the tops of trains, migrants have been forced into more dangerous routes.  According to Amnesty International’s latest report on Mexico, “Migrants and asylum-seekers passing through Mexico continued to be subjected to mass abductions, extortion, disappearances and other abuses committed by organized crime groups, often working in collusion with state agents.”

If they evade the odds and make it as far as the United States, they still run the risk of getting jailed rather than granted asylum.  Take Mario, a recent detainee at the Strafford County Jail in Dover.  He first came to the U.S. from Honduras when he was 14 years old, fleeing gang violence and direct threats to his life if he didn’t join. After he was deported back to Honduras and his father was killed, he returned to the U.S. and was deported once more.

Deportation did nothing to provide security from criminals at home, so Mario tried once again to make it to the United States.  This time he succeeded and not only found work in construction, he also fell in love, got married, and had 3 children.  But when he was arrested again, our legal system saw him only as a felon for crossing the border after deportation.  Once again he was sent back to Honduras, leaving his wife and children homeless and his own life in jeopardy.

The stories go on, each one unique but together painting a picture of widespread violence and governments focused on blocking migration instead of protecting those fleeing for their lives.

Though the recently announced expansion of the Central American Minors program is a step in the right direction, it will affect only a small number of the people fleeing violence in Central America and will not prevent the thousands of perilous journeys through Mexico each year.

Responding to past humanitarian crises, the U.S. has recognized and welcomed large numbers of refugees, successfully meeting our international obligations and often strengthening the communities where they settle.  There’s no reason we can’t do that once again with Central Americans instead of sending refugees back to their deaths.

Arnie Alpert is Co-Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program.  He recently participated in a two-week fact-finding trip to Mexico focused on human rights.

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“Even a Senator Can Learn Something”

I wrote this for the American Friends Service Committee’s “Governing Under the Influence” website.  See more at http://gui.afsc.org/

The Concord Snowshoe Club, a rustic and out-of-the-way venue in New Hampshire’s capital city, was the site of a kick-off event for Senator Lindsey Graham’s possible presidential campaign on Sunday afternoon, March 8.

Hosted by the City Republicans, the “Politics and Pies” event was free, open to GOP members and unaffiliated voters, and open as well to the press.  Senator Graham arrived on time, took a position by the fireplace, gave a short speech about his priorities, and responded to questions for more than an hour.

Graham is an aggressively hawkish critic of President Obama’s foreign and military policy, but at the same time takes a perspective on domestic issues that tends P3080063toward the pragmatic rather than the ideological.   Immigration is an example.

Graham was among the 14 Republicans who voted with the Senate majority for a complex immigration reform bill in 2013.  Had it passed the House, the bill would have increased funds for “border security” (i.e. more police, soldiers, weapons, and fences for the US-Mexican border) and created a tortuous path that would have enabled many of the country’s 11 million undocumented residents to gain legal status and qualify eventually for citizenship.  Graham described it as a “rational and practical” approach to immigration.

In the Q&A session, I asked Senator Graham about the budget provision which mandates that federal authorities have 34,000 immigrants in detention on any given day.   “The big beneficiaries of this seem to be the private prison companies, the for-profit companies, which is where about half of the immigrants are housed.  And of course they turn around the profits and lobby for more prisons and immigration policies that benefit them,” I said, asking how we can get to a rational policy in the face of such realities.

“I thought I knew everything about immigration until now,” Senator Graham responded.  “Even a Senator can learn something.”

Without discussing the detention bed mandate, Senator Graham launched into an explanation of the need for immigration reform, starting with the fact that the reason so many immigrants are coming here is to work and that the country has a long-term labor shortage.   The Senator also believes GOP support for immigration reform will help the party woo Hispanic voters.

In response to a question from Rev. Dwight Haynes about a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Graham said he “would like to control money in politics to the extent that it will destroy the political process.”

“Here’s what we’re going to lose in democracy if we don’t have control over the money.  The most influential people in the country will be the ones with the most money, and the ads you see on TV ad nauseum, you don’t know where they’re coming from, you don’t know who’s responsible for them.”  Graham said he wouldP3080048 support a constitutional amendment as long as it applies to union funds as well as funds from corporations.   Then he joked he wouldn’t walk as far as Granny D did. 

Senator Graham spent much of the time outlining his support for higher levels of military spending, aggressive action in the Middle East, and a “generational struggle to defeat radical Islam.”

“You could close Gitmo tomorrow and give the Palestinians everything they’ve ever hoped for and this would still be trying to kill us, Israel and everybody that disagrees with them because God commands them to do so,” he said.  “They’re crazy.”

Senator Graham has launched a political committee, Security Through Strength, to help him “’test the waters’ for a potential 2016 run for president.”  We can look forward to picking up where this discussion left off next time he’s in town. 

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My colleague Gabriel Camacho and I wrote this a year ago, timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  With President Obama in China touting a new “free trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this seemed like a good time to re-post it here.  The original article was published in the NH Business Review.

In the twenty years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, millions of Mexicans have been pushed by NAFTA to make the dangerous journey across the border into the United States, many without legal authorization. The U.S. government has responded by turning the border into a militarized zone, jailing hundreds of thousands of people, and deporting record numbers back across the border.

Militarization of the border began in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper, which erected fencing, walls, and other barriers between San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico, forcing migrants into dangerous desert terrain. stop corporate rule

This was not supposed to happen.

According to NAFTA’s backers, the agreement was supposed to promote prosperity in both countries and actually reduce the pressure to migrate.

President Bill Clinton asserted NAFTA would give Mexicans “more disposable income to buy more American products and there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.”

Mexico’s former President, Carlos Salinas, offered a similar opinion: NAFTA would enable Mexico to "export jobs, not people," he said in a 1991 White House news conference alongside President George H. W. Bush.

William A. Ormes wrote in Foreign Affairs that NAFTA would “narrow the gap between U.S. and Mexican wage rates, reducing the incentive to immigrate.”

So what happened? As a precondition for NAFTA, the U.S. demanded drops in Mexican price supports for small farmers. The agreement itself reduced Mexican tariffs on American products. These changes meant that millions of Mexico’s small farmers – many of them from indigenous communities – could not compete with the highly subsidized corn grown by U.S. agribusiness that flooded the local Mexican market.

Dislodged from the places where their families had lived for generations, many people did in fact seek employment in export-oriented factories and farms. But there were too few jobs to go around, and those jobs that were created did not generate the “disposable income” President Clinton had promised.

A 2008 report on “NAFTA’s Promise and Reality” from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that while half a million manufacturing jobs were created in Mexico from 1994 to 2002, nearly three times as many farm jobs were destroyed.

As for Mexican wages, they went down, not up, during the same period. “Despite predictions to the contrary, Mexican wages have not converged with U.S. wages,” Carnegie observed.

Unable to earn a living at home or elsewhere in their own country, Mexicans did what people have done for ages; they packed their bags and headed for places where they thought they could find employment.

The experts shaping NAFTA knew that the deal would disrupt the Mexican agricultural sector. That’s why Operation Gatekeeper was implemented the same year as NAFTA. It’s impossible to integrate national economies without disrupting local ones – something that should give pause to those proposing new trade agreements today. The realities of NAFTA should not be replicated.

As the American Friends Service Committee outlines in “A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy,” the U.S. should advance economic policies that reduce forced migration and emphasize sustainable development. Instead of policies like NAFTA that elevate rights of transnational corporations above those of people, we need alternative forms of economic integration that are consistent with international human rights laws, cultural and labor rights, and environmental protections.

Modern-day free trade agreements are basically arrangements that take rights away from citizens and bestow expansive benefits to multi-national corporations.

Workers on both sides of the border have one thing in common: they need the ability to organize for higher wages and decent working conditions. Without the opportunity for workers to benefit from the rewards agreements like NAFTA generate for corporations, “free trade” becomes just another driver of the widening gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else.

With the Obama administration pushing hard to create a new arrangement linking the economies of eleven Pacific rim countries, and another that ties the U.S. economy to that of the European Union, it’s time for a new path.

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Prominent New Hampshire Republicans, including several who hail from the right-wing party’s right wing, spoke out today in support of immigration reform legislation introduced yesterday by a bi-partisan group of eight US Senators.

The occasion, a news conference in the Legislative Office Building, was organized by the Partnership for a New American Economy, an organization that “brings together a bpartnership press conf 4-18-13 008ipartisan group of mayors from across the country and business leaders from all sectors of the economy and all 50 states to raise awareness of the economic  benefits of sensible immigration reform.”

It was no surprise to see Fergus Cullen there.   The former GOP State Chairman is a prominent supporter of immigration reform and is also the founder of a pro-reform advocacy group, “Americans by Choice.”  He has actively distanced himself from the party’s Bill O”Brien wing. 

It was more impressive to see Kevin Smith, one-time lobbyipartnership press conf 4-18-13 005st for the social conservative Cornerstone Institute and a candidate for governor in the last election.  “We need to modernize our immigration laws,” he said.  

Andrew Hemingway, who ran Newt Gingrich’s presidential primary campaign and more recently waged a campaign to be GOP state chairman, also stood up for immigration reform as a way to assure more workers for high-tech manufacturing. 

Also along for the ride were Representatives George Lambert and Pam Tucker, who called the Gang of Eight’s proposal “a great first start” and a way to keep the US population growing.  

For those readers who are not intimate with New Hampshire politics, these folks aren’t just conservatives.  Smith, Lambert, and Tucker embody the agenda of the partnership press conf 4-18-13 001 party’s far right wing.  And they are exactly who is needed in the pro-reform coalition to get Senator Kelly Ayotte on board. 

The perspective of the Partnership’s partners is that immigration reform serves the interest of America’s business class.  They have a particular interest in the ability of employers to hire high-skilled immigrants.  An alliance between them and the grassroots immigrants’ rights movement, with its union and working class immigrant membership, will be awkward.  But successful politics usually makes for interesting bedfellows.

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Forty faith, labor, and community activists prayed, sang, and protested outside Manchester’s Federal Building this afternoon to express outrage about recmanchester 4-9-13 019cropent actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in area homes and  businesses.

ICE agents entered a Nashua home in the wee hours of Sunday morning, roused residents from their beds, and took away two men in shackles.  The men had no criminal remanchester 4-9-13 040cropcords and were released by ICE on Monday, according to a Nashua Telegraph report.  

Also Sunday, a squad of ICE and local police officers entered the El Mexicano Jr. restaurant in Manchester, took away two  customers, asked other customers for ID, and threatened to return. 

The ICE actions reveal a frightening contrast to policies that manchester 4-9-13 044are supposed to place priority on people who could be considered threats to public safety and leave others alone.  The home raid also appears to violate terms of a recent federal court order which bars ICE from warrantless searches.   

Outside the Norris Cotton Federal Building, participants expressed outrage at ICE’s abusive actions.  They also said they will call on the state’s members of Congress to help rein in Imanchester 4-9-13 047CE and act speedily to approve humane immigration policies. 

Nancy Pape, chair of the NH  United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group led the group in a prayer.  Members of the Smanchester 4-9-13 024isters of Mercy  led another.  The program included a rousing rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved” in Spanish and English, and concluded with “We Shall Overcome.”

The demonstration was organized in a day by the American manchester 4-9-13 033 Friends Service Committee, NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, and others involved in support for immigrants’ rights and humane immigration policy,

Activists plan to meet up again at the State House Plaza in Concord on May 1, International Workers Day.  

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“The Time is Now”nashua 4-6-13 012 crop

More than a hundred immigrants rights supporters rallied today at Nashua City Hall  and marched to the offices of Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen to call for reforms centered on a clear and direct path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the USA. 

Rally speakers included Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees; the Rev. Tom Woodward of the Granite State Organizing Project; Juan Zamudio, a student at Derryfield School in Manchester; Marisol Saavedra, a Nashua student; and Carols Escobar of SEIU  nashua 4-6-13 040crop Local 615.

In many years of working across the US, I saw time and time again bosses use the broken immigration system to mistreat, intimidate, underpay and over work undocumented workers,” said Escobar, an Ecuadoran immigrant who works as a janitor in Nashua. 

“When employers pay lower wages to some workers, all workers are affected and standards are lowered for everyone,” the Local 615 member added.

Participants included union members, faith community leaders, and otnashua 4-6-13 014cropher social justice activists adding their bodies and voices to the movement calling on Congress to act now for humane immigration policies. 

Following the brief rally, the crowd marched north into Nashua’s downtown shopping district and crossed over to the east side of the road by the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte.  There, they taped a giant letter to the window, where marchers added their signatures to a statement calling for commonsense immigration reform that fosters unity.

nashua 4-6-13 031 “The time for action is long overdue and there is bipartisan agreement on moving forward,” the statement said.  “A reform package that includes a path to citizenship makes economic sense and is true to our ideals as a nation.  Taking action now makes sense politically, as well, since the American public supports immigration reform.”

Marchers continued northward to Senator Shaheen’s office where another letter was taped to the window for signatures. 

The program concluded with a statement from Germano Martins, a member of the State Employees Association (SEIU Local 1984) followed by a prayer led by the Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ.  nashua 4-6-13 109

The organizing committee included SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, the NH AFL-CIO, NH Civil Liberties Union, Lutheran Social Services, the Granite State Organizing Project, the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, the United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group, and the American Friends Service Committee.

Another rally will take place at State House Plaza in Concord at noon on Wednesday, May 1.

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It was billed as a “solemn vigil” to protest the implementation of the federal “Secure Communities” program in New Hampshire.  But for more than 70 people who gathered in the rain outside Manchester’s Norris Cotton Federal Building it was hard to remain solemn when the Sisters of Mercy started chanting, “Stop Deportations Now.”

On the other hand, everyone paid close attention to Paloma SylvestrP1000505 e, who described her husband Juan’s arrest.  “He was just driving, going to work,” she  said, and was stopped “just for his features.”  Paloma was hospitalized during the months Juan was in jail, forcing the couple’s three boys to be separated from both their parents.  The family still feels the trauma.

P1000512 “I don’t want this to happen to another family,” she said.

S-Comm represents an escalation of immigration enforcement through data sharing between local police, FBI, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  It makes immigrants less secure and by fostering increased fear of police makes our whole communities less secure. 

This evening’s vigil was organized when ICE announced last week that S-Comm was in effect in New Hampshire.  The event included prayers, comments from Eva Castillo, Maggie Fogarty, and me, and several songs.  Newsmedia coverage included WMUR-TV and the NH Union Leader.



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