Friday, March 6, 2020

Trump, Asylum, and Honduras’s “Narco-State”

President Hernández and U.S. diplomat socialize. Photo: Casa Presidencial
On March 3 the U.S. government formally charged Honduran citizen Geovanny Daniel Fuentes Ramírez “with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and related weapons offenses involving the use and possession of machineguns and destructive devices.” Federal agents had arrested Fuentes Ramírez two days earlier at Miami International Airport; the charges were filed in the Southern District of New York.

While the case didn’t get much media attention in the United States, it provides a fascinating insight into the connections between our government’s foreign policy, its approach to asylum, and its “war on drugs.”

The case links the current president of Honduras, the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernández, to a major drug trafficking operation. According to U.S. prosecutors, in or about 2013 Fuentes Ramírez paid Hernández some $25,000 “in exchange for protection from further interventions by law enforcement” against his drug trafficking business. Hernández, who began his first term in 2014, also “agreed to facilitate the use of Honduran armed forces personnel as security” for Fuentes Ramírez’s operations, according to the charges, and he instructed the alleged drug smuggler to report directly” to his brother, Tony Hernández, “for subsequent drug trafficking activities.”

The “End of Asylum”

President Hernández denies any connection to drug trafficking, but the evidence against him keeps piling up.

Last fall a New York jury convicted Hernández’s brother Tony on four counts related to cocaine smuggling. Prosecutors charged that Tony, a former Congress member for the National Party, “participated in the importation of almost 200,000 kilograms of cocaine, used heavily armed security including members of the Honduran National Police, and coordinated two drug-related murders.” In addition, the president’s brother “funneled millions of dollars of drug proceeds to National Party campaigns to impact Honduran presidential elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017.”

One of the bribes Tony Hernández forwarded was some $1 million that notorious Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”) allegedly earmarked for the current president during the 2013 elections.

The U.S. Department of Justice clearly agrees with the assessment of many Hondurans that their country has become a “narco-state.” So we might expect a strong condemnation of President Hernández from the U.S. government, which has spent billions of dollars over the past fifty years fighting drug trafficking in Latin America. And surely the U.S. asylum system would give special attention to the thousands of Hondurans who in recent years have fled from drug gangs that the U.S. government says operate under protection from Honduran armed forces personnel.

The Trump administration’s reaction has been exactly the opposite.

The present U.S. government seems to have no problems with the Honduran president and his apparent drug connections. In fact, just one day after Hernández’s brother was convicted in New York, U.S. interim ambassador to Honduras Colleen Hoey was photographed laughing with President Hernández himself.

As for Hondurans seeking asylum, the Trump White House has slammed the door in their faces: current immigration policies add up to what several analysts have declaredthe end of asylum.” An important element in this is a safe third country agreement Honduras made with the United States last September. Far from accepting refugees from Honduras’s drug gangs, the United States is now sending the refugees to nearby Guatemala—and plans to ship asylum seekers from other countries into danger in Honduras.

Bipartisanship in Action

The Trump administration gets a lot of criticism from many quarters, but we haven’t heard a lot about these particular outrages. There’s a reason: U.S. support for rightwing Central American governments is a longstanding bipartisan policy, one which doesn’t get much pushback from the corporate media.

In the case of Honduras, the Obama administration gave de facto support to a June 2009 coup against elected president Manuel Zelaya and then allowed the new coup-installed government to hold a highly suspect presidential election that November—the first of the three elections Tony Hernández was accused of funding with drug money. Following Obama’s example, in December 2017 the Trump administration certified the even more questionable election of President Hernández to an unconstitutional second term. Establishment media like the New York Times and the Washington Post largely ignored or downplayed these developments.

This should be a reminder that simply removing Donald Trump from office won’t end human rights violations in the U.S. immigration system. Trump’s immigration policies are definitely worse than earlier policies, but that doesn’t mean the earlier policies weren’t bad. Truly effective immigration reform is going to be impossible without fundamental changes in this country’s foreign policies.

Correction, 3/9/20: The item originally indicated that the safe third country agreements with El Salvador and Guatemala were already being implemented.

A slightly different version of this post appears on the NYU Press blog.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Bernie Sanders’ Immigration Platform

Bernie Sanders’ campaign released the senator’s immigration platform on November 7. The candidates’ immigration plan is easily the most progressive and most detailed presented by any candidate in this election cycle, and represents a significant advance over Sanders’ stance four years earlier.

Predictably, media coverage focused more on electoral strategy than on the important immigration issues raised in the platform. The immigration issues that the media did discuss were generally the ones the political class considers hot-button questions—abolish ICE? open borders? decriminalize unauthorized entry?—not demands for amnesty and a repeal of  the 1996 laws, the demands that have the greatest impact on immigrant families and communities.

The Sanders platform has the potential to be far more than an electoral ploy. While not perfect, it’s a major step towards getting a wider public to rethink the United States’ entire approach to immigration. 

Below we describe some of the best media coverage.

Vox’s Nicole Narea and Tara Golshan produced a fairly comprehensive summary of the platform in their article, “Bernie Sanders’s immigration plan puts the rights of workers into focus.” As the title indicates, Narea and Golshan note Sanders’ emphasis on undocumented immigrants as workers who are denied their labor rights. The Vox writers also note Sanders’ support for amnesty and his pledge to end Trump’s anti-asylum measures, notably MPP/”Remain in Mexico,” by executive action. But they don’t mention two other major commitments: to repealing the 1996 immigration laws and to addressing the root causes of immigration in US foreign policy.

In The Nation, John Washington’s “Bernie’s Immigration Plan Is Good” makes several important points. While the Vox coverage treats Sanders’ emphasis on labor rights simply as “part of his signature issue of workers’ rights,” Washington also notes that immigration and labor exploitation “cannot be untangled,” just as immigrant rights can’t be treated separately from the struggle against racism. Another important point from Washington: the Sanders platform was largely written by immigrant rights activists rather than by politicians and think tank analysts. Strangely, though, he omits any mention of the platform’s positions on repealing the 1996 laws and on turning back Trump’s attack on asylum.

Bernie Sanders’s New Immigration Proposal Is Incredibly Strong,” by Daniel Denvir in Jacobin also passes over the asylum issue. However, Denvir stresses the organizing potential of the platform’s platform on workers’ rights: “by emphasizing that immigrants are core to the working class rather than a threat to it, Sanders strengthens the multiracial coalition that is this country’s only hope for transformative change.” Denvir also notes that the Sanders approach addresses the US government’s role in creating the conditions that force people to leave their countries. “[W]e must remake the global economy and deliver economic justice,” Denvir writes, “so that people are free to not migrate and stay put if they choose.”

Bernie Sanders’s immigration plan: a response from the front-lines of struggle,” by Lupita Romero at Puntorojo also stresses Sanders’ commitment to addressing the US foreign policies that lie at the heart of much immigration here. Romero, who is an undocumented immigrant herself, emphasizes a point that Washington makes: that Sanders' platform “is the only one truly tapping into the demands of the immigrant rights movement and the popular sentiment for defending and strengthening civil rights.”

But Romero also brings up an issue missed by most coverage: that Sanders’ platform can be used as a starting point for grassroots organizing "through and beyond" the 2020 election. “[C]oalitions and organizing committees should be formed now.” Romero writes. “We should be calling for the abolition of ICE and the DHS, for the repeal of the ‘Illegal Immigration Act of 1996,’ and for active opposition to US intervention in Latin America.”

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Media Step Up MPP Coverage—What's Next?

Asylum seekers in Mexico. Photo: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./Texas Tribune
Dara Lind, an investigative reporter covering immigration at ProPublica, noted in a tweet on November 22 “how mind-boggling it is that the mass pushback of people to Mexico, in conditions like this & staggering rates of crime victimization, hasn't become a major news story/outrage magnet yet.”

Lind was referring to the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, also known as “Remain in Mexico.” After a slow start near the beginning of the year, MPP has now forced some 60,000 asylum seekers into Mexico to wait for their claims to be processed—more than the total number of immigrants the U.S. is holding in immigration detention. MPP is one of the most significant of the administration’s efforts to end the asylum system that the U.S. created in 1980.

Lind is right: MPP has failed to spark the level of outrage that met the family separation policy in June 2018. There are various reasons for this, including the program’s initially slow rollout and the political class’s focus since September on the Ukraine crisis, but there are hopeful signs, especially in the corporate media. The past few weeks have brought a number of powerful articles on the subject, along with op-eds, opinion columns, a report from Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office, and an hour-long presentation on NPR’s This American Life. Some of this coverage is listed below.

So what can we do to bring more attention to this ongoing atrocity?

The recent media reports can be a useful tool in reaching out to activists. MPP is actually the biggest and cruelest of the Trump administration’s many attacks on migrants: protests would be inevitable if more people understood this. Influential politicians could also help. Sen. Merkley and Rep. Nanette Barrgan have brought attention to the issue: imagine the impact if Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—who are both on the record opposing the program—sent out a few tweets highlighting the horrors of MPP.

Recent Articles and Other Reports on MPP/“Remain in Mexico”:  

“In scathing manifesto, an asylum officer blasts Trump’s cruelty to migrants,” Washington Post, November 12, 2019:
“Merkley Releases Sweeping Report on Trump’s Gutting of Asylum, Including Direct Evidence of Grave Whistleblower Concerns,” Senator Merkley press release, November 14, 2019:
“Tents, stench, smoke: Health risks are gripping migrant camp,” AP, November 14, 2019:
“US Border Officials Pressured Asylum Officers To Deny Entry To Immigrants Seeking Protection, A Report Finds,” BuzzFeed News, November 15, 2019:
“The Out Crowd,” This American Life, November 15, 2019:
“Asylum officers rebel against Trump policies they say are immoral and illegal,” Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2019:
“Migrants stuck in lawless limbo within sight of America,” AP, November 17, 2019:
“‘Remain in Mexico’ policy faces internal critiques at House hearing,” Roll Call, November 19, 2019:
“My city used to welcome refugees. ‘Remain in Mexico’ means we can’t anymore.” Washington Post, November 19, 2019:
“In squalid Mexico tent city, asylum seekers are growing so desperate they’re sending their children over the border alone,” Washington Post, November 22, 2019:
“At Migrant Camp in Mexico, Crowds and Complaints Swell,” Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2019:
“Desperate Asylum-Seekers Stuck In Mexico Are Sending Their Children Across The US Border Alone,” BuzzFeed News, November 25, 2019:
“For Migrants In Nuevo Laredo, ‘Remain In Mexico’ Means Remain In Danger,” Texas Public Radio, November 27, 2019:
“Immigrants Sent Back To Mexico Are Not Getting Adequate Health Care, And Doctors Are Worried,” BuzzFeed News, November 27, 2019:
“New from the Mother Jones Podcast: Trump Is Winning His Border Wars. For Now.” Mother Jones, November 27, 2019:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Viewpoint: Vote No on the PSC-CUNY Contract: 7K or Strike


By Jane Guskin, Labor Notes
November 7, 2019
The Professional Staff Congress, American Federation of Teachers Local 2334, reached a tentative agreement in October on a new contract with the City University of New York (CUNY). The agreement covers 30,000 workers at the university, including part- and full-time faculty, professional staff, lab technicians, graduate employees, and more. Below we publish a piece arguing for a no vote on the agreement. See the argument for a yes vote here.

What’s wrong with the PSC tentative agreement?

The proposed contract capitulates to New York state’s austerity budget for public higher education, hurting CUNY students and workers. While the PSC leadership is enthusiastically promoting this proposed agreement as a victory, its salary gains remain far below the original bargaining demands. Concessions like an increase in adjuncts’ workloads and elimination of our seniority salary steps would be difficult to reverse in future contracts.[…]

Read the full article:

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Open Forum: The Politics of Immigration, Questions and Answers

Join authors Jane Guskin & David L. Wilson for a participatory discussion of themes from their book, The Politics of Immigration.

Thursday, November 21, 2019
6:00 pm–8:00 pm
NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

In The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, Guskin and Wilson explore the intersection of migration, race, labor, politics and social change. The authors will share insights and selections from the book while engaging the audience in an interactive exchange of ideas. Bring your questions and an open mind.

Organized by:
Free and open to the public, but RSVP here:

Sunday, October 6, 2019

They Fled Gang Violence And Domestic Abuse. An NYC Immigration Judge Denied Them Asylum

[This article is a useful answer to people who cite asylum denial rates to claim asylum seekers are all economic immigrants, that they're coached, etc. WNYC’s Beth Fertig  shows how the systems stacked against migrants, even the ones lucky enough to have legal representation.—TPOI editor]

By Beth Fertig, WNYC
September 26, 2019
Seventeen year-old Josue and his mom, Esperanza, were visibly drained. They had just spent more than four hours at their asylum trial inside an immigration court at 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, answering questions from their attorney and a government lawyer. We are withholding their full names to protect their identities because they’re afraid.

“It was exhausting,” said Josue, whose angular haircut was neatly combed for the occasion. In Spanish, he told us the judge seemed nice but, “you feel bad if you don’t know if you are going to be allowed to stay or if you have to go.”[…]

Read the full article:
Josue and Esperanza. Photo: Beth Fertig/WNYC


Thursday, October 3, 2019

They Say They Support “Legal Immigration.” They Don’t.

Pro-immigrant banner at Mets game. Photo: Rise and Resist
The evening of September 7 protesters from Rise and Resist dropped a banner at a Mets game reading: “Immigrants Make Baseball Great.” When they tweeted out a video of the action, the usual suspects responded with tweets about “legal immigrants.”

This is a standard response from the right wing. The irony is that for the past two and a half years the Trump administration’s focus has been on cutting legal immigration. The travel ban was about excluding legal immigrants who were Muslim. The measures against asylum seekers target people exercising their legal right to apply for asylum (which they have even if they “entered without inspection”). The “sh--hole countries” remark was about legal immigrants from African countries. So it’s blatantly dishonest for the right to bring up legality when the goal is really just to exclude certain people.

We need to keep exposing this hypocrisy every time we encounter it.

But is this really worth the effort? Many people simply use the term “illegal” as a code word to disguise their racism; they give themselves away when they say someone “looks illegal.” But some are actually confused and think they are upholding an idea of the United States as a “nation of laws,” and it’s important to keep the issue clear: the right wing’s agenda is limiting all immigration—legal or otherwise—by poor people of color.

Note: John Oliver has provided an informative guide to the Byzantine process for getting legal immigration status.