The Global Crisis That’s Creating 21.5 Million Refugees Each Year

How environmental destruction created a refugee crisis.


When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia (“the Beast”), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington’s pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, U.S. Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’s “dry corridor” planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a “much greater occurrence of very dry seasons” lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, “ground zero” for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than76% of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as Castro put it, be part of a global situation in which “the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme.”

Talking with those farmers in the Tenosique train yard felt, in a way, like a scene from a sequel to the movie The Road in which a father and son walk across a post-apocalyptic North America devastated by an unknown cataclysm. In reality, though, I was just in a typical border zone of the Anthropocene, the proposed new geologic era characterized by human activity as the dominant force on the climate and environment.  And these young, unarmed farmers with failing harvests are now facing the only welcome this planet presently has to offer for such victims of climate change: expanding border regimes of surveillance, razor-wire walls, guns, and incarceration centers.

As they keep heading north, they will have to be on guard against ever more army and police patrols, while enduring hunger and thirst as well as painful separations from their families. They will have to evade endless roadside checkpoints, which Fray Tomás Tómas González Castillo, director of a nearby shelter for migrants in Tenosique, told me were almost “impossible” to avoid, at a time when, he noted, “organized crime” controlled the trains.

Such a predicament is hardly unique to the Mexico-Guatemalan border region or even the U.S.-Mexican version of the same. Think of the maritime divide between North Africa and the European Union or the Jordanian border where patrols now reportedly shoot at “anything that moves” coming from Syria — or so a Jordanian official who prefers to remain anonymous told me. And Syria was just one of the places where the ever-increasing impacts of climate change, migration, and tightly enforced border zones intersected. 

Now, homeland security regimes are increasingly unleashing their wrath on the world’s growing numbers of displaced people, sharpening the divide between the secure and the dispossessed. Whether in Mexico or on the Mediterranean Sea, as ever more human beings find themselves uprooted from their homes and desperate, such dynamics will only intensify in the decades to come. In the process, the geopolitics and potentially the very geography of the globe will be reshaped.  It’s not just Donald Trump.  Everywhere on Planet Earth, we seem to be entering the era of the wall.

The Displaced

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the “impact and threat of climate-related hazards” displaced an average of 21.5 million people annually between 2008 and 2015. The growing impact of the Anthropocene — of intensifying droughts, rising seas, and mega-storms — is already adding to a host of other factors, including poverty, war, and persecution, that in these years have unsettled record numbers of people. While many of the climate-displaced stay close to home, hoping to salvage both their lives and livelihoods, ever more are crossing international borders in what many are now calling a “refugee crisis.”

“Catastrophic convergence” is the term sociologist Christian Parenti uses to describe this twenty-first-century turmoil, since many of these factors combine to displace staggering numbers of people.  As Camila Minerva of Oxfam puts it, “The poorest and the most marginalized are five times more likely to be displaced and to remain so for a longer time than people in higher income countries and it is increasing with climate change.”

Though the numbers are often debated, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggests that climate breakdowns will displace 250 million people by 2050. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that those numbers could actually range from 150 million to a staggering 350 million by that year. In reporting on how climate change is already affecting Mexico City, Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Timescited a report suggesting that the number may be far higher than that, possibly reaching 700 million — and that, by 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.

“Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain,” wrote the authors of the report In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, “the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before.”  And here’s the sad reality of our moment: for such developments, the world is remarkably unprepared.  There isn’t even a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, either in international law or the laws of specific countries. The only possible exception: New Zealand’s “special refugee visas” for small numbers of Pacific Islanders displaced by rising seas.  

The only real preparations for such a world are grim ones: walls and the surveillance technology that goes with them.  Most climate-displaced people traveling internationally without authorization will sooner or later run up against those walls and the armed border guards meant to turn them back. And if the United States or the European Union is their destination, any possible doors such migrants might enter will be slammed shut by countries that, historically, are the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters and so most implicated in climate change.  (Between 1850 and 2011, the United States was responsible for 27% of the world’s emissions and the countries of the European Union, 25%.)

A Booming Market in Walls

I have no idea what happened to those three farmers after our brief meeting in Tenosique. I did, however, think of them again a couple of months later when I was 1,000 miles to the north. Under a mesquite tree in northern Mexico, there was a lonely plastic bottle with a few droplets of water still in it. Somebody had left it as they crossed into the United States.

I was just east of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, a mere 25 feet from the U.S.-Mexican border. I could clearly see the barrier there and a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a green-striped truck looking back at me from the other side of the divide. Perhaps a quarter mile from where I stood, I could also spot an Integrated Fixed Tower, one of 52 new high-tech surveillance platforms built in the last two years in southern Arizona by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Since that tower’s cameras are capable of spotting objects and people seven miles away, I had little doubt that agents in a nearby command and control center were watching me as well. There, they would also have had access to the video feeds from Predator B drones, once used on the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, but now flying surveillance missions in the skies above the border. There, too, the beeping alarms of thousands of motion sensors implanted throughout the U.S. border zone would ring if you dared cross the international divide.

Only 15 years ago, very little of this existed. Now, the whole region — and most of this preceded Donald Trump’s election victory — has become a de facto war zone. Climate refugees, having made their way through the checkpoints and perils of Mexico, will now enter a land where people without papers are tracked in complex, high-tech electronic ways, hunted, arrested, incarcerated, and expelled, sometimes with unfathomable cruelty. To a border agent, the circumstances behind the flight of those three Honduran farmers would not matter. Only one thing would — not how or why you had come, but if you were in the United States without the proper documentation.

Climate change, increased global migration, and expanding border enforcement are three linked phenomena guaranteed to come to an explosive head in this century. In the United States, the annual budgets for border and immigration policing regimes have already skyrocketed from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, a number that represents the combined budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that period, the number of Border Patrol agents quintupled, 700 miles of walls and barriers were constructed (long before Donald Trump began talking about his “big, fat, beautiful wall”), and billions of dollars of technology were deployed in the border region.

Such massive border fortification isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now, according to border scholar Elisabeth Vallet, there are 70. These walls generally have risen between the richer countries and the poorer ones, between those that have the heavier carbon footprints and those plunged into Parenti’s “catastrophic convergence” of political, economic, and ecological crises. This is true whether you’re talking about the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

As Paul Currion points out, even some countries that are only comparatively wealthy are building such “walls,” often under pressure and with considerable financial help. Take Turkey. Its new “smart border” with drought-stricken and conflict-embroiled Syria is one of many examples globally. It now has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones. “It appears that we’ve entered a new arms race,” writes Currion, “one appropriate for an age of asymmetric warfare, with border walls replacing ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles].”

India is typical in constructing a steel wall along its lengthy border with Bangladesh, a country expected to have millions of displaced people in the decades to come, thanks to sea level rise and storm surges. In these years, with so many people on the move from the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa, the countries of the European Union have also been doubling down on border protection, with enforcement budgets soaring to 50 times what they were in 2005.

The trends are already clear: the world will be increasingly carved up into highly monitored border surveillance zones. Market projections show that global border and homeland security industries are already booming across the planet. The broader global security market is poised to nearly double between 2011 and 2022 (from $305 billion to $546 billion).  And, not so surprisingly, a market geared to climate-related catastrophes is already on the verge of surpassing $150 billion.

Climate Change as a National Security Threat (and Bonanza)

Don’t just take my word for it when it comes to predictions about this planet’s increasingly bordered future. Consider the forecasts of the U.S. military and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the first crude assessments of such a walled-in world appeared in a 2003 Pentagon-commissioned reportAn Abrupt Climate Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, and it already had a distinctly Trumpian ring to it:

“The United States and Australia are likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries because they have the resources and reserves to achieve self-sufficiency… Borders will be strengthened around [the United States] to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.”

That identification of the Caribbean as “an especially severe problem” almost a decade and a half ago was prescient indeed in this year of super-storms Irma and Maria that left Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in shambles and the island of Barbuda “extinguished.”

While the Trump administration is scrubbing government websites and policies clean of climate change, other parts of the government are still in the business of preparing for it, big time, rather than denying its existence. At both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, global warming is seen as a “threat multiplier” that must be factored into any long-term planning — and that should surprise no one.  After all, the future time frame of a national security planner can be as much as 30 years. It sometimes takes that long for a major weapons system to go “from the drawing board to the battlefield,” according to former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, editor of Climatic Cataclysm: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change, a 2008 report coordinated by the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Unlike the president and the present heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, U.S. military and homeland security risk assessors aren’t likely to deny the 97% consensus of scientists on climate change. In Climatic Cataclysm, Campbell wrote that the “sheer numbers of potentially displaced people” are prospectively “staggering.” In one assessment of what a possible 2.6 degree Celsius rise in the global temperature by 2040 might mean, Leon Fuerth, a former security adviser to Al Gore, concluded that “border problems” would overwhelm U.S. capabilities “beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then.”

In 2009, the Obama administration declared climate change a top national security threat. This prompted both the Pentagon and the DHS to prepare climate-change adaptation “roadmaps” and action plans. In 2014, the DHS added climate change as a top threat to its Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, its main public mission document. During a 2015 congressional hearing, Thomas Smith, one of that review’s authors, testified that climate change was “a major area of homeland security risk,” and that “more frequent severe droughts and tropical storms, especially in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, could increase population movements, both legal and illegal, toward or across the U.S. border.”

In other words, you don’t have to turn to climate-change activists and experts like Bill McKibben or Naomi Klein to understand why those Central American droughts are getting worse and why those three Honduran men were in that train yard. All of this was predicted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Those in the DHS, like those in the Pentagon, grasp what’s coming and they’re going to meet it with what they know how to do best, what Donald Trump himself would approve of if he weren’t ignoring the potentially most devastating phenomenon on this planet: hardened enforced borders, big brother biometrics, and high tech surveillance systems. In other words, they will face the victims of climate change with a man-made dystopia.

The Alternative Border Wall

Now, remember that water bottle under the mesquite tree near the U.S.-Mexico border?  I came across it while being taken on a tour by Juan Manuel Pérez, the project manager of Cuenca Los Ojos, an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of biological diversity along those same borderlands. I was there to see a water-harvesting project. But first, Pérez took me to a spot where a portion of a barrier wall the CBP had once built across this part of the border lay wrecked like some ancient archeological ruin.  It had been swept into Mexican territory in 2014 by a deluge of water, as the remnants of Hurricane Odile lashed the washes of the Chiricahua Mountains in Eastern Arizona. Now, planet Earth was devouring the carcass of that former wall, those hundreds of pounds of metal. Three years after it was deposited here, that wall fragment was already partially covered with soil. Purple flowers sprouted from its crevasses.  When I got close enough, I could see spiders hanging from their webs on it. If the rest of that $20 billion in border infrastructure were left alone, in the end this is what would happen to it. This is how the earth would welcome it back.

From there, I could see where DHS had built a new barrier to replace the destroyed one. Near it, that same border patrol vehicle was idling and that same surveillance tower stuck up in the distance, all part of a desperate attempt to keep that “catastrophic convergence” at bay, to keep the world of such hurricanes and the climate-change displaced who will go with it, from the United States.

Nearby, I also saw what Pérez told me were gabions — steel cages filled with rocks embedded in the nearby streambed on the Mexican side of the border. They were there, he explained to me, to slow down the rushing rainwaters during the summer monsoon season so the soil could drink them in and be replenished. Remarkably, they had done their job. In this parched territory, in the middle of a 15-year drought, the water table had risen 30 feet.

It was, I said, a miracle.

Native grasses were growing back, as were the desert willows. The rising water, no respecter of borders or border patrols, had similarly begun to replenish the aquifers on the Arizona side and water was appearing in places that hadn’t seen anything like this before. Mind you, national security assessments stress that in Mexico and Central America water scarcity issues will be a factor driving climate breakdowns and increased migration. That was certainly the case for those three Honduran farmers.

Here, however, those gabions, embedded in the dry river, were bringing water back to places where it had become scarce. Remarkably, from my vantage point in that border landscape, the cages of rocks began to look like parts of some intricately carved stonewall. It was a strange illusion and it made me think that in a world of the grimmest sorts of walls meant to turn back everyone and offer greetings to no one, perhaps this was the real “border wall” that people needed, that planet earth needed, something that welcomed us to a better, not a desperately worse world.

 

 

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JPMorgan Chase Is Funding and Profiting From Private Immigration Prisons


The giant bank stands to benefit from the Trump administration’s mass incarceration of immigrants.


One of America’s largest banks, JPMorgan Chase, is quietly financing the immigration detention centers that have detained an average of 26,240 people per day through July 2017, according to a new report by the Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York. Through over $100 million loans, lines of credit and bonds, Wall Street has been financially propping up CoreCivic and GeoCorp, America’s two largest private immigration detention centers. 

The two organizations, part of Corporate Backers of Hate, a campaign from multiple immigration and social justice advocacy groups committed to revealing Wall Street’s financial ties to the Trump administration, examined Securities and Exchange Commission filings to determine the extent of the financial connections, and how much Chase stands to benefit from the mass incarceration of immigrants. 

The details are hiding in plain sight, buried in a series of Securities and Exchange Commission documents, whose complexity frequently protects them from deeper scrutiny. This new report cuts through the financial jargon to reveal how Chase both finances and profits from facilities that divide families and place tens of thousands of immigrants at the mercy of private contractors, with little oversight or recourse from the deportation-happy Trump administration. 

They range from the $13.23 million Chase loaned CoreCivic as of June 2017, to owning $89 million of their bonds, and $77 million of Geo Group’s as of October 2016. They were one of 11 banks that underwrote CoreCivic’s most recent 2015 corporate bond offering of $250 million, contributing $40 million and receiving an underwriting discount of $300,000. Chase also underwrote $42 million of notes for GEO Group’s 2016 bond offering and received an underwriting discount of $630,000. And that only scratches the surface of the relationship, which includes additional millions in revolving credit and stocks, including $72 million and $11 million invested in Geo Group and CoreCivic, respectively. 

The impact of these numbers is not an abstraction for the families of the 12 immigrant detainees who died in custody in fiscal year 2017. Detainees are repeatedly denied medical care or given substandard food (one facility in Georgia had bones in its food). Melissa Nuñez, a member of Make the Road New York who was detained in a CoreCivic immigration detention center in New Jersey for six months, told AlterNet:

“I don’t have words to express my disgust that these companies are not only financing, but also investing in, private prisons and immigrant detention. What people like me have lived [through] in these private detention centers are the worst experiences human beings can live. They’re supposed to take care of you, and instead you’re subjected to harassment and abuse. No one should suffer this type of treatment. And no one should be positioning themselves to profit off it.”

Despite the massive financial investment from the likes of Chase, both CoreCivic and Geo Group continue to “charge the federal government a per diem rate anywhere between $30 per bed to detain immigrants for a short-stay facility to $168.64 per day, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse data from 2016,” as ThinkProgress reported in November. For CoreCivic, Geo Group, and Chase, there’s profit in the pain of detention. While the report doesn’t detail exactly how much money Chase gets from its massive investments, they wouldn’t be consistently pouring in money if it wasn’t good for their bottom lines. 

Activists were particularly concerned to uncover the extent of the funding, as publicly, CEO Jamie Dimon spoke out against Trump’s September 5th repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but privately, his company provides over $100M in direct investments for America’s largest private prisons. 

The Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York hope that exposing JPMorgan Chase will encourage other banks to divest their holdings from private prisons, says Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “Earlier this year, JPMorgan Chase Chairman Jamie Dimon said he was supporting President Trump out of patriotic duty,” she told AlterNet. “But true patriots stand up for the people and the values of a nation, not its rulers. Facilitating and enabling Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda directly contradicts the values that Dimon says he espouses.”

Instead, she continued, “that’s exactly what JPMorgan Chase is doing by helping to prop up private prison companies, which have boomed in the age of Trump and are being deployed to pave the way for Trump’s agenda of mass deportation.”

Ultimately, Archila said, “JPMorgan Chase—and all companies that have a stake in private prisons—need to divest from private prisons immediately and put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting immigrant communities.”

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Now Joe Arpaio Wants to Run for Jeff Flake’s Senate Seat

Fresh from his presidential pardon, the controversial former Arizona lawman says he just might run for Senate.


For anyone who can’t stomach the idea of Roy Moore occupying a seat in the upper chamber of Congress, here are three words that may send a shiver down a spine: Senator Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who has had several brushes with the law of his own, is thinking about running for the open Senate seat that will be vacated at the end of 2018 by the retiring Jeff Flake. Arpaio told ABC News he was “strongly considering” mounting a run, and also told the Daily Beast Thursday that he wanted to take Flake’s seat.

Given the Republican electorate’s recent willingness to overlook controversial candidates like Donald Trump and Alabama’s Roy Moore, he might have a chance.

Arpaio, 85, came back into the national spotlight in August after he was issued a presidential pardon by Trump for a contempt of court citation after he continued authorizing semi-official citizen “patrols” in defiance of a judge’s order.

The July contempt sentence was the latest in a string of episodes during which Arpaio had run afoul of the criminal justice system in his desire to exact harsh punishments against inmates and illegal immigrants.

In 2008, Maricopa County, his former jurisdiction, was required to pay more than $1 million to a man that Arpaio’s deputies had framed in a fake assassination plot against the sheriff in which deputies purchased bomb parts and delivered them to the defendant.

In a preview of Republican voters’ seeming willingness to overlook numerous charges of sexual harassment against Trump, Arizona voters continued re-electing Arpaio despite the incident. They also seemed not to care about Arpaio losing court rulings for his operation of outdoor tent prisons which he called “concentration camps.”

Several years later, Arpaio and Trump became political allies as the then-sheriff became the top law enforcement booster of Trump’s conspiracy theory that former president Barack Obama had not been born in the United States. Arpaio became a hero to far-right Republicans for sending deputies to Hawaii and Africa in pursuit of proof that Obama had forged his birth certificate.

An Arpaio Senate run might also be a boon to Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon who has reportedly been seeking to find a better candidate for the Senate seat than Kelli Ward, a state senator who failed to gain significant traction in a previous campaign she had operated against Arizona’s other U.S. senator, John McCain.

Bannon has been trying to encourage far-right candidates who will swear undying loyalty to Trump in several states. The president, meanwhile, has been trying to enlist Senate candidates on his own as well, reaching out to Maine’s bellicose governor Paul LePage to encourage him to run against Angus King, a political independent who usually votes with Democrats.

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts cast doubt on the idea that Arpaio might right for Senate, citing the fact that he is 85, has become increasingly unpopular with Republican voters in recent years, and has become known locally for repeatedly trying to raise money for himself through fake campaigns that never materialize.

“This isn’t the first time that Arpaio has floated the idea that he would run for higher office. By my count, it’s the sixth time,” she wrote.

On the other hand, Trump himself was known for pretending to run for office as well. In 2015, he actually followed through. We all know what happened next.

In Roy Moore and Donald Trump’s GOP, it would seem that anything is possible.

 

 

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Activists Vow to Fight After Supreme Court Allows Enforcement of Muslim Ban

Appeals to the ban drag on while families live in fear.


Rama Issa-Ibrahim, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY), was already in the midst of a crisis before the news broke Monday that the Supreme Court had announced a stay of the preliminary injunctions against Trump’s Muslim ban. The Supreme Court’s decision allows the administration to enforce the third, latest version of the travel ban that bars citizens of six majority-Muslim countries (plus North Korea and some Venezuelans) from entering the United States, as appeals wind their way through the 4th and 9th Circuit Courts.

A large number of Issa-Ibrahim’s clients are Muslim women from Yemen (on the ban’s list), she explained on a joint press call with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). There is a devastating civil war raging in Yemen, and clients were so visibly shaken by reports of famine and the death of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh that her staff had “to bring in our social worker to de-escalate the situation, to process those feelings. Then just a few hours later, the Supreme Court decision [was announced.]”

It makes an already tragic situation worse, eliminating these and other Yemeni nationals’ ability to bring family members fleeing the conflict to the United States. Issa-Ibrahim—who is from Syria, another country on the list—doesn’t even know when she’ll next see her own father.

Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition, emphasized just how uncertain the results of the Supreme Court’s decision are nearly a day after their ruling. As of Monday evening, neither the Supreme Court nor the Department of Homeland Security offered any guidance to Customs and Border Patrol officials at airports or in consulates in the impacted countries. In response to the potential confusion, NYIC has reactivated the No Ban JFK email address and hotline, where anyone from or with family in Chad, Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia can call for legal advice.

Said Mackler, “This stay on the preliminary injunctions leaves many immigrants in limbo and terrified. Many people are planning on traveling during the holiday season and are scared to travel out of the country, not knowing whether or not they will be allowed back. While these injunctions only scratch the surface of the larger legal battle against the ban, we will resist this latest assault on our liberties, and prevail.” 

The next legal steps include oral arguments in front of the 4th and 9th circuits on Wednesday and Friday of this week for both preliminary injunctions. Those courts will decide whether to uphold them or strike them down. If the Supreme Court upholds the injunctions, they will not go back into effect until either the Supreme Court refuses to take the issue on appeal or they grant the appeal request and make a final judgment in the case.

“This decision is nothing less than a dereliction of duty from our nation’s highest court,” said Albert Fox Cahn, legal director of the New York chapter of CAIR. “This ruling reminds us that we can’t simply rely on the Supreme Court to stop President Trump’s marginalization of Muslims and other minorities. It is incumbent on lawmakers at every level to take a stand against this bigoted ban. Let us be clear, the justices have not ruled on the merits of the ban, and this decision is far from the last word. The fight goes on, and we’ll do everything we can to oppose Muslim Ban 3.0.”

As the appeals continue, NYIC, AAANY and CAIR are taking their cases not only to the courts, but to the streets and the halls of Congress, drawing on their mass mobilization skills honed after the first Muslim ban to help fight this one. Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, emphasized that his organization was activated immediately after the first ban, drawing thousands of people to a protest at JFK Airport on the first day of the ban, 30,000 to Battery Park the following day and nearly 100,000 people participating in actions in the 14 days after. 

“It is entirely un-American and unlawful to use the pretext of national security to discriminate against people based on race or religion,” Awawdeh said, and “nearly a year after we rallied at JFK and at Battery Park in response to the first attempted Muslim ban, we will continue to fight against Trump’s plan to turn bigotry into policy, while standing strong for human dignity.” 

As of Tuesday morning’s call, Mackler and Awawdeh had not received reports of airport detentions, but said lawyers and advocates are standing by ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. Non-lawyers in New York City can show their support at a rally against the ban scheduled for Thursday, December 7, at 6pm in Washington Square Park. CAIR chapters across the country are planning a variety of rallies and protests, which will be announced on their website and social media channels. 

The No Ban JFK email is jfkneedalawyer@gmail.com and the hotline number is (844) 326-4940. 

 

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Guest farm workers do not always understand the rules

With almost no one in the U.S. willing to work harvest jobs, farms have imported workers via temporary visas, a program widely criticized for the extensive bureaucratic requirements including housing workers. This winter Yuma area farms are expected to produce around 90 percent of the nation’s lettuce and green crops, meaning these farms need to […]

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Green card holders fret about citizenship

Nervous green card holders are seeking citizenship in greater numbers because of concerns that the Trump Administration’s new immigration policies could send them out of the country. From July 2016 to September 2016, the number of I-485 forms (the application for a green card) received at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was 158,442, according […]

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ICE Is Falsely Accusing Undocumented New Yorkers of Being Gang Members in a Plot to Deport Them En Masse


Immigration activists have launched a truth-seeking mission.


When the Trump administration can’t find crimes to detain undocumented immigrants, it will invent them. That’s exactly what activists fear is occurring in Long Island, NY with Operation Matador, under which Immigration and Customs Enforcement claims to have arrested nearly 350 people for being members of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a Salvadorean gang whose violence is spreading across America. Advocates believe undocumented residents of Suffolk and Nassau counties are being erroneously arrested for being gang members so they can then be deported. To prove it, a coalition of immigration advocacy groups have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to discover the truth behind the mass deportations. 

The nationwide operation against the Central American MS-13 has been underway since May, and the sting is clearly politically charged. The GOP tried to win the Virginia governor’s race with baseless ads claiming Governor-elect Ralph Northam is linked to the violent gang, in an effort not only to defeat Northam but to spread the lie that undocumented immigrants are responsible for the gang’s growth. They failed in Virginia, but while ICE might have been restrained under previous administrations, as acting director Tom Homan explained to CBS News, “since Mr. Trump’s election, ICE has been able to make more arrests; in part, because this administration allows him to prioritize any individual who crosses the border illegally, not just those who have committed other crimes. “The NGOs and the advocates can say what they want. Everybody has their day in court.”

The NGOs are fighting back. “Immigration authorities seem to be using supposed gang affiliation as a pretext to detain immigrants and deny them benefits. New York communities will not be safer if immigrants avoid local law enforcement for fear of being arbitrarily locked up and deported,” said Camille Mackler, director of immigration legal policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. Her organization is a member of I-ARC, a collaborative of 65 immigration, legal and nonprofit services around New York State that jointly filed the FOIA request. They hope to find the information they need from Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Suffolk and Nassau County Police Departments, and the New York City Police Department.

Babe Howell, a professor at CUNY School of Law, thinks the arrests are “based on inaccurate information, including information from law enforcement gang databases, which are based on appearances and association rather than on criminal conduct.” In fact, she continued, “any conviction for a crime or criminality is not required. There’s no notice, or a review, or an ability to appeal, so there’s no way of correcting errors in the gang databases.” 

ICE agents have even admitted the evidence is less than foolproof. Before one early morning raid targeting a 20-year-old suspected gang member earlier this month, Jason Molina, an assistant special agent in charge of the raid told CBS News, “Yes. We have information, we have pictures of him actually flashing gang signs.” However, as even CBS pointed out, “gang membership is not a crime, and the agents did not have a criminal warrant.” Molina had told reporter Margaret Brennan prior to the raid that he expected the suspect to be heavily armed, but the agents found only “pellet guns or BB guns.” 

Unfortunately, as Mackler explained, ICE, Homeland Security and related agencies were still able to make this arrest and hundreds of others under Operation Matador simply because the target is an undocumented person. “They were actually using Operation Matador to not only arrest gang members but also arrest individuals who have no other issues on their record other than they are here in the United States undocumented,” Mackler said.  

Activists are adamant that raids like this are counter-productive. In fact, MS-13 is “terrorizing our immigrant communities and our immigrant neighbors,” Mackler said. “Many of them, themselves or their family and friends and neighbors fled those very same gangs and thought that they were finding safety here on Long Island or here in the United States.” 

Operation Matador is also undoing years of work spent building trust between immigrant communities and police in an effort to fight gang violence. Patrick Young, program director at the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) and a member of the coalition that filed the FOIA request explained that “we have always wanted to work to bring the police and the community together because we believe the community are the eyes and the ears of the police in countering the growth and violence of Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs on Long Island.” Unfortunately, he continued, “we’ve seen a lot of our work basically go by the wayside in the last 11 months. People now in the community are very much afraid to come forward. They see the police as working together with ICE in immigration enforcement.”

Once I-ARC has received and analyzed the documents, Mackler, Howell and Young explained they will be compiling a report with their findings and creating toolkits for immigrant communities and immigration attorneys to use when they believe gang allegations have been made in an inappropriate way. They’re not expecting a smoking gun, but rather stronger proof of the government’s attempts to use fabricated gang affiliation as a pretense for deportation. 


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