Category: Refugee Crisis

JHISN Newsletter 08/01/2020

Dear friends,

“We all must find a way to have the courage to get in trouble, to make good, necessary trouble,” John Lewis said. As we mourn his death this past week, we also bind his life and spirit to current struggles for racial justice. John Lewis faced down state violence and demanded voting rights for Black Americans. Today we honor his memory by collectively facing down state violence that is, again, armed and ready to make justice bleed. JHISN hopes that you might use the newsletter to make some good trouble this summer. Wherever you might be. Wherever it might be needed. 

Newsletter highlights:

  1. Border Patrol’s Long History of Violence
  2. Who Counts? Protecting the 2020 Census
  3. Community Art-Making as Activism

1. First They Came for the Migrants…

The brutality that Customs and Border Patrol paramilitaries have unleashed on protesters in Portland is shocking, but perhaps not entirely surprising.

As I see white mothers and mayors being teargassed on the streets Portland, Ore., one word keeps bubbling up from my bleeding heart: “Welcome.” Welcome to the world of secret police and nighttime raids. The world where you can be snatched by an unidentified officer in an unmarked van. The world where you get to see an attorney, maybe, after the government is done beating you. Welcome to the world as experienced by brown people with foreign-sounding names in this country.Elie Mystal (The Nation, July 2020)

CBP has made headlines in recent years for its openly racist brutality at the Mexican border; for casually separating children from their parents; for concentration camps where migrants are tortured in hieleras–“ice boxes”–and locked in cages filled with Covid-19. At least 111 people have died at the hands of the Border Patrol since 2010. But this is only the most recent chapter of a murderous history that goes back generations. 

Established in 1924, during an earlier period of xenophobic frenzy, CBP became part of the new, sprawling Department of Homeland Security in 2002. It is one of the largest enforcement agencies in the world, fielding some 20,000 agents, with a budget of around $5 billion. By design, CBP has a loosely-defined mandate, which allows it to be used however the federal regime wants, including as a political police force.

Since its founding in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near-complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement — even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover’s directorship.Greg Grandin (The Intercept, January 2019) 

The Border Patrol operates outside clear borders, geographic or legal. Judges have affirmed that it can operate within 100 miles of any US border, including the coasts–a zone which encompasses 2 out of every 3 US residents. CBP has weaponized this bizarre definition of “the border” to establish intrusive checkpoints all over the country, to deploy “roving patrols” in sanctuary cities including New York, and to board trains and buses searching for people who “look undocumented.” (Protests by activists forced Greyhound Bus to deny CBP agents unrestricted access to the company’s buses last year.)

CBP’s mandate also has an international aspect. The Border Patrol Academy has trained counterinsurgency forces from a variety of overseas dictatorships. BORTAC, the paramilitary group leading the current repression in Portland, has been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Americas to carry out raids and beef up border forces.

Sometimes likened to an American SS, the Border Patrol has always welcomed white nationalists into its ranks, including Klansmen and neofascists. Beatings, rape, murder, racist abuse and sadistic torture have been common throughout Border Patrol history. In 2019, ProPublica exposed a secret Facebook group that had almost 9,500 Border Patrol members, including the current chief. Featuring endless racist jokes about migrant deaths, the group also mocked Democratic congresswomen–including AOC–who were investigating CBP abuses at the Mexican border. One poster encouraged agents to “throw a burrito at these bitches.” Thousands of abuse complaints have been lodged against CBP; these are routinely stonewalled and ignored

WHAT CAN WE DO?

2. 2020 Census and Trump’s Attempts at Immigrant Exclusion

Last weekend marked the 15th year since four immigrant women founded Adhikaar and began serving as social justice advocates for Nepali-speaking workers in our neighborhood. The organization has grown and thrived; Adhikaar currently provides direct relief for those impacted by COVID-19, promotes health justice, pushes for worker safety, and campaigns for a Billionaires’ Tax. All while encouraging immigrants to complete the 2020 census

Adhikaar has taken to the streets in Queens to educate the communities they serve about Congress’s constitutional responsibility to count all the people in the country every 10 years. To be counted is to take a stand against the fear-mongering used by Trump and his liegemen to dissuade people from participating in a process that determines congressional representation and appropriate distribution of federal resources. As Adhikaar, along with other local groups in the Queens Complete Count Committee, encourage immigrants to participate, the federal government is looking at other ways to discount them:

The Census Bureau has begun to examine and report on methodologies available to “provide information permitting the President…to carry out the policy” of “the exclusion of illegal aliens from the apportionment base”. Steven Dillingham, Director of the Census Bureau, July 29, 2020

The 14th Amendment corrected the intentional racism of the original census charge, which excluded indigenous Americans and counted only three-fifths of all persons who were “not freemen or bound to service”. Trump’s push to eliminate immigrants from the census count was a nod back to the original wording in the Constitution; designed to redefine who counts as a person. The failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census exacerbated an existing problem: historically, our national population has been undercounted, even more so in minority communities. People who fear that responding to the census might bring ICE or Border Patrol to their door are disincentivized to participate, as are historically marginalized groups who feel they do not benefit from the representation the census promises. 

In September, the Census Bureau will send a seventh mailing, including a paper questionnaire, to people in the population tracts with the lowest response rates. There are many in Queens. Despite extending the census deadline due to the pandemic, we are not yet even close to the response rates in 2010. In 2010 the overall NYC response was 62%, a full 14 points below the national average. This year the national response rate is almost 63% while NYC is only at 54%. When we drill down into specific neighborhoods the differences are dramatic: East Elmhurst is only at 43%; in Corona, the majority of tracts are below 50% (and 10 tracts are under 40%), while in 2010 there were only 6 tracts which had responses under 50%.  Although the rectangle between Roosevelt and Northern, from 76th to 86th streets, has a 68%+ response, all other areas of Jackson Heights average below 50%.

JHISN celebrates Adhikaar’s 15th birthday and honors their social media and text-banking outreach campaigns that have so far assisted over 4,300 people to complete the 2020 census. In the face of adversity and targeted exclusions, Adhikaar shows how to stand up and be counted. 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

3. Art as Activism

Art with organizing is all about building people’s power and finding strength in our communities; and art has always existed in our communities…that’s where our power lies.”  —Mahira Raihan, Arts & Cultural Justice Organizer, DRUM

The power of art and the power of organizing are intimate allies. As hundreds of thousands of people in the US, night after night, filled neighborhood streets with cries for justice for George Floyd, new art-making also poured into our public spaces. From community murals and street art to the collective performance of thousands ‘taking a knee’ together, the mobilization of political power has been inseparable from an outpouring of creative work.

While the huge, bright yellow street paintings spelling out ‘Black Lives Matter’ in Washington DC, and in front of NYC’s Trump Tower, have received international attention, more community-driven BLM street paintings designed in lush colors by local artists have also proliferated in Jackson, MI, in Cincinnati, OH, in Charlotte, NC, and in Seattle, WA. Foley Square is the site of a gorgeous multicolored Black Lives Matter street painting collaboratively designed by multiple artists; the word ‘Black’ was designed by artist and immigrant Tijay Mohammed, using Ghanaian fabric motifs and imagery. In Harlem and Bed-Stuy, painting the street with Black Lives Matter was a community event, with hundreds of local residents participating.

Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) here in Queens is currently running a two-month Art to Activism program, mobilizing South Asian and Indo-Caribbean working-class youth to collaborate on a community-based art project. Aimed at deepening understandings of both police brutality and anti-blackness in South Asian-American communities, the project uses art-making as a catalyst to social change. Art to Activism builds on DRUM’s earlier Moving Art—Making Art for Our Movements program which created collective art “grounded in our communities’ experiences and dreams of liberation.” Visual art, theater, ‘zine-making, and poetry are all a regular part of DRUM’s organizing and cultural work.   

WHAT CAN WE DO?

  • Support DRUM’s Building Power & Safety through Solidarity campaign.
  • Purchase a copy of DRUM’s ‘zine created collectively in the Moving Art program.
  • Visit the Black Lives Matter street art in Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and Foley Square!
  • Work and play with local artists, neighbors, kids, and friends to design street art for immigrant justice on 34th Ave Open Streets.

Gratitude for your collective care in this moment of sustained and multiplying crises. Together we will continue to take strength from our solidarities, and our histories of creative resistance.

Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network

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How the US Created the Refugee Crisis

Every month, tens of thousands of migrants are detained along the US-Mexico border. Right now, most of those migrants are refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. When they get to the border, these folks have already endured a long, dangerous journey, covering thousands of miles. They've struggled through perilous desert crossings. They've clung to the top of freight trains in baking heat and freezing cold. They've faced very real odds of being kidnapped or raped. They've borrowed money or used their last resources to pay off coyotes and corrupt officials. Once they arrive, they are brutalized by border agents and a dehumanizing, racist detention system.

Harsh Life in the Northern Triangle

People don't undertake a journey this terrible for no reason. The reality is that El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have become unbearable for these refugees, no matter how much they might wish they could stay in their homes.

Poverty is widespread in the Northern Triangle. Parents must watch their children go hungry. Family farmers are forced off their land, flooding into cities where there are no jobs. Homelessness is common.

Violence is out of control. Many of the people leaving the Northern Triangle have had family members killed, have witnessed murders, or have been themselves threatened with rape and other deadly violence in their home countries. Young people are subjected to forcible recruitment into street gangs, with their families as hostages. The military and police rule society with a heavy hand.

How We Got Here

Why is life so difficult for so many Central Americans? To a large extent, the blame lies with the policies of the US government, and with the power of US corporations.

For over a century, the US has acted like Central America was its private plantation. The US has invaded the region over and over. It has backed corrupt military dictators, overthrown democratic governments, armed and trained vicious death squads. The CIA has manipulated and assassinated its way up and down Central America. And US economic policies have destroyed the livelihoods of millions of people.

Here are just a few examples of US political-military intervention in the Northern Triangle:

Repressing El Salvador

  • In 1932, the US helped suppress a peasant rebellion in El Salvador led by Farabundo Martí. Tens of thousands of rebels and civilians—many of them Indigenous—were systematically massacred.
  • In 1944, the US supported a reactionary coup.
  • In 1960, the US supported another right wing coup.
  • From 1980 to 1992, the US enthusiastically funded, trained, and directed a military dictatorship, whose main purpose was to crush a popular leftist-led uprising. Some 70,000 people were killed by the Salvadoran military and death squads under the direct sponsorship of the US. Thousands more were raped or tortured. During that period, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled to the US, which deported many of them back into the war zone.

Destabilizing Honduras

  • In 1911, the US launched a coup to overthrow its elected government. After that, the country was afflicted by a series of military dictators propped up by Washington.
  • In the 1980s, the US set up military bases in Honduras, turning it into a launch pad for waging war against Nicaragua. Thousands of US troops trained, armed and dispatched the right-wing Contra guerillas from Honduras, in violation of US and international law.
  • As recently as 2009, the US backed a coup against reform-minded President Manuel Zelaya.

The Pattern Repeats in Guatemala

  • In 1954, the US organized a coup against the reformist Arbenz government. This coup led to a long guerrilla uprising, which was brutally suppressed by a US-led counterinsurgency campaign. The tactics of this counterinsurgency included aerial bombing, use of napalm, and the eradication of whole villages.
  • In 1970, when US-backed President Carlos Arana took office, he said, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so." The US-sponsored regimes that followed Arana in Guatemala had the same basic philosophy. Turning a blind eye to all their brutality, the US gave political support and tens of millions of dollars to the Guatemalan military.
  • In 1978, Rios Montt became dictator, in a coup that had full US support. Montt unleashed a campaign of genocide against the Maya. Villages were bombed and looted; civilians were raped, tortured and executed. During the long Guatemalan civil war, some 200,000 civilians were killed by the regime and allied right-wing death squads. Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled the country.

An Economic Thread

Running through all of the US violations of sovereignty and human rights in the Northern Triangle, there 's always been an economic thread. The almighty dollar is behind it all. US policy has been formulated to serve the US corporations that profit from Central America’s resources and labor. For instance, several brazen US interventions in Guatemala and Honduras were specifically intended to benefit the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands), whose low-wage fruit plantations were fantastically profitable.

Maybe the best way to sum up the history of US colonialism in Latin America is to quote Marine General Smedley Butler, who helped lead US military campaigns in Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Haiti. In the 1930s, he wrote: "I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism."

CAFTA Devastates Farmers

Over the last few decades, the US pressured and bribed Central American politicians to join what is called CAFTA-DR. CAFTA, like NAFTA, is a trade pact designed to override national laws, favoring the interests of large multinational corporations. Given the economic and power imbalances in the Americas, we shouldn’t be surprised at how that worked out for Central America. US banks and commercial interests have now taken over large parts of the financial systems and retail trade in the Northern Triangle, and US manufacturers have overwhelmed local industries.

But maybe the biggest effect of CAFTA has been to drive small farmers off their land. Under CAFTA rules, small farmers can't possibly compete with well-financed, large-scale global corporate agribusiness owned by investors from the US and other wealthy countries. To give one example of the impact: Not long ago, Honduras used to be a net exporter of agricultural products. But now it imports more food and other farm goods than it exports.

CAFTA specifically forbids any national legislation by Central American countries that would allow them to protect their small farmers—even farmers trying to sell products to their own local markets. Hundreds of thousands of family farmers have fled out of the countryside, flooding into the cities, where they find little but unemployment and crime.

On top of all this is the impact of the US-fueled drug trade, and the US's "War on Drugs," each of which lines the pockets of Miami bankers while undermining one Latin American society after another. Gangs like MS-13, which was exported from Los Angeles to the Northern Triangle by the US government, thrive in this environment of chaos and corruption.

There’s a Word for This

US policies and corporate greed have left a lasting legacy of poverty, civil strife and social violence. Every time the people of Central America resist, the heavy fist of the US and its military puppets slams down on the peoples’ movements. Demands for fair trade by Central American countries are met with economic blackmail by global banks and the US, intent on enforcing the wishes of the large corporations.

There's a word for this relationship. The word is imperialism. This parasitic relationship between the US and Central America has been a constant destructive force for generation after generation, during both Republican and Democratic administrations. The whole time, it’s been justified by naked racism and victim-blaming. When we see desperate people from the Northern Triangle arriving at the Mexican border, we must recognize that it’s US imperialism that has forced them to make this painful exodus.

The Responsibility of US Citizens

Under international law, and in light of basic decency, all countries are expected to provide asylum for people seeking refuge from persecution, war, social violence and disasters. But US citizens have a special responsibility to give refuge to the people that US imperialism—in its cold-blooded search for profit—has cruelly driven from their homes. Citizens have a special obligation to defend the human rights of Central Americans, and to repudiate every racist attempt to demonize and dehumanize them. And finally, beyond the immediate human rights crisis at the border, US citizens have every moral and practical imperative to help rebuild the countries that the US has pillaged and devastated.

For Further Reading and Study:

A Century of U.S. Intervention Created the Immigration Crisis

How US ‘Free Trade’ Policies Created the Central American Migration Crisis

How US policy in Honduras set the stage for today’s migration

The devastating effects of American intervention in Guatemala

The Impact of CAFTA: Drugs, Gangs, and Immigration

Video: The War on Democracy

UNHCR: Claims from Central America

CISPES: Community in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador