Friday, August 4, 2017

Thousands of Haitians fleeing from U.S. to Canada (Aug. 4, 2017)

Canadian authorities are struggling with waves of asylum seekers crossing the U.S. border -- most are Haitians afraid that the Trump administration will soon end a program that enables them to stay in the U.S.

As many as 150 migrants a day are making “irregular” border crossings from northern New York state into Quebec near the border station at Lacolle, and 70 percent of them are Haitians, reports the Washington Post. About 1,500 asylum seekers arrived this July, up from 180 last year, reports the New York Times, which says 90 percent are Haitians. A Miami Herald source estimates that about half of the 6,500 asylum seekers who have arrived since January are Haitian.

Quebec authorities have set up a makeshift temporary shelter in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and is putting asylum seekers in student dormitories, shuttered nursing homes and hotels.

There has been an increase in asylum seekers crossing the border since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, but the initial flow was migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and countries named in Trump’s temporary ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority states. The influx of Haitians is more recent.

The Temporary Protected Status for Haitians is set to end in January, and would affect an estimated 58,000 Haitians who were permitted to stay in the U.S. in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that devastated their home country.

U.S. officials have argued that conditions on the ground have improved enough to justify ending the program, though human rights advocates have fiercely questioned that stance. Though the U.S. could revise the end date of the program, earlier this year  John Kelly — then secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, now White House chief of staff -- told Haitians to prepare to return home. (See May 23's and June 2's briefs, for example.)

News Briefs
  • Jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma was returned to house arrest today, reports the BBC. His wife said he was returned by intelligence agents, just as he had been suddenly taken to military prison in the middle of the night earlier this week. Another prominent opposition leader, Leopoldo López was also rearrested on Tuesday. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • The 545-member Constitutional Assembly is expected to convene today to begin work on rewriting Venezuela's constitution. The government still hasn't announced the names of all the members, and how they will proceed about their work is not yet clear, reports the New York Times. "But if there is one thing that seems to unite them, it is a will to stifle political dissent." There have been threats of jailing dissenting voices, and of possibly dismantling the opposition-led National Assembly.
  • "The National Constituent Assembly could be the first experience of this type in which a group installed illegally in power -- some of whose members are even accused of drug trafficking -- is the principle organ responsible for writing laws, executing them and interpreting them," writes Aquiles Esté in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Chavismo must be seen as a criminal corporation with global reach," he writes. The piece looks at last weekends election as a moment where myths such as Chavismo's eventual electoral defeat are overthrown.
  • Back in January, Trump pressured his Mexican counterpart to stop pushing back against a polemic border wall project. In the first phone call between the two, Trump told President Enrique Peña Nieto to stop publicly denying that Mexico would pay for the wall, reports the Washington Post based on a transcript it obtained. In the conversation Trump recognizes that Mexico likely won't pay for the wall, but said media attention on the issue was becoming untenable. "I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to," he said. "I have been talking about it for a two-year period," Trump said, in reference to prominent campaign promises. "On the wall, you and I both have a political problem," he said to Peña Nieto. "“My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language." (See Jan 31's post.) Peña Nieto has struggled with the fallout from his various interactions with Trump -- but this one seems to put Trump in a worst light than his Mexican counterpart, reports the Guardian. But Mexican politicians are seizing on the transcripts to criticize Peña Nieto as weak and submissive, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The conversation in question is the same one in which Trump proposed deploying the U.S. military to help Mexico beat its drug cartels. (See Feb. 2's post.) But dispatching U.S. troops into Mexico would be more complicated, and would definitely require the agreement of the host country, experts told the Washington Post. Most said it wouldn't be a good strategy in a long and bloody struggle with criminal groups.
  • The Mexican spyware scandal continues to expand to include more human rights activists -- in this case prominent attorneys investigating a multiple homicide case whose victims include a photojournalist and an activist. Lawyers Karla Micheel Salas and David Peña were targeted in 2015, weeks after they questioned prosecutors’ handling of the killings of activist Nadia Vera, journalist Ruben Espinosa and three other women in a Mexico City apartment in July that year. (See Wednesday's briefs.) Internet watchdog Citizen Lab senior researcher John Scott-Railton told the Associated Press that "a pattern has emerged" in these cases: "Lawyers and investigators whose work contradicts official accounts have been targeted with NSO spyware on at least three occasions." (See July 11's post, for example.)
  • Homicides are at record highs in Mexico and is extending to areas previously safe from drug violence. The numbers are politically damning for an administration that sought to portray a new Mexico. "... Faced with the surging homicides, government officials have also put forward another culprit to help explain them: the sweeping legal reforms pursued by their predecessors," reports the New York Times.
  • Gallup's annual "Global Law and Order Report"ranks Latin America as the least secure region in the world for the eight year in a row, reports InSight Crime. Venezuela ranks at the global bottom of the list. (See yesterday's briefs.) Though the art of measuring insecurity is difficult, perceptions surveys such as this help show how security situations are playing out on the ground. "For example, the substantial improvement in Honduras' law and order score from 2015 to 2016 might seem counterintuitive at first glance, because murder rates essentially stayed flat from year to year. However, the country has indeed made important security gains recently, and has made significant progress in terms of cleaning up its notoriously corrupt police force," notes Insight.
  • In fact, last week Honduran officials arrested former Police Commissioner Jorge Alberto Barralaga on allegations of money laundering, a sign of the country's commitment to tackling corruption at high levels of security forces, reports InSight Crime separately.
  • Chilean lawmakers approved a law permitting abortion in limited circumstances late Wednesday night. The legislation was an important policy goal of President Michelle Bachelet, reports the New York Times. The debate lasted years and was polemic, in a country where abortion is illegal in all cases. "Today, women reclaimed a basic right that we never should have lost: being able to choose when we’re living through painful moments," tweeted Bachelet. (The bill was narrowly rejected by lawmakers last month, see July 21's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer pulled out all the stops to get Congressional support to avoid facing trial over corruption charges -- including distributing more than $1 billion in federal funds for congressional projects. (See yesterday's post.) Though he succeeded in avoiding suspension, he may have lost the political capital he needs to pass unpopular economic measures he considers key to reviving the country's economy, reports the Washington Post.
  • Temer has consistently sought the favor of the important rural lobby in Congress, "rolling back environmental regulations, indigenous and peasant land rights, and mechanisms to fight deforestation," which helped him survived this week's vote. "But it has also emboldened large landowners across Brazil to step up the use of violence as a tool for territorial expropriation and unbridled exploitation of natural resources with near-total impunity," writes Cristiane Passos of Brazil's Land Pastoral Commission (CPT) in Americas Quarterly. "Peasants, small farmers, and indigenous people are being massacred over land rights and environmental conflicts across rural Brazil. From January to July of this year, 52 people have been killed," according to the group's data.
  • This week Guatemala's Defense Minister denounced that criminal groups continue to have presence in the country's customs system. Tackling the problem will require greater inter-institutional cooperation, he said. "The persistence of corruption in Guatemala's customs system despite several high-profile arrests -- including those of former President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti -- suggests that more structural reforms are needed to help undercut criminal influence in this institution," according to InSight Crime.
  • A government report on Mexican prisons paints a relatively positive picture when it comes to overcrowding, access to food and medical services, and even beds -- at least in a regional context. "However, the report glosses over other controversial problems in Mexico's penitentiaries. For example, Mexico has come under repeated fire from human rights groups like Amnesty International for a sizeable increase in torture complaints between 2003 and 2013, but INEGI failed to include torture as an indicator in its survey," notes InSight Crime.
  • Uruguay will use funds seized from drug traffickers towards a facility for people with drug addictions, an example of how such assets can be applied to target causes of insecurity, reports InSight Crime.
  • Americas Quarterly honors the top journalists working in a region where they are increasingly targets of violence. The list includes Mexicans Carmen Aristegui and Marcela Turati, as well as Efecto Cocuyo's Luz Mely Reyes, El Faro's Carlos Dada, and Argentine photojournalist Rodrigo Abd.

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