Earthquake hits Haiti, causing destruction to an impoverished nation

As you no doubt heard by now, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale has hit Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Its epicenter was just a few miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Large buildings in Port-au-Prince, including the National Palace, built by the US Marines in 1915, and the United Nations headquarters, have been destroyed.   Many large cement structures are now piles of rubble.   The extent of the damage remains unknown, as communication between Haiti and the rest of the world has been difficult since the earthquake hit.

Haiti is a country of ten million people, and some reports estimate that at least 100,000 have died and three million people have been affected directly by the earthquake. The capital, Port-au-Prince, is home to nearly three million people, many of whom are recent migrants to the capital and who live in substandard housing.

Thirty years ago, Haiti was self-sufficient in terms of food production, particularly rice, one of the staples of Haitians. Unfortunately, over the past three decades, trade and aid agreements between the US and Haiti have created a situation where rice farmers can no longer make a living in Haiti.  A prime example of this is when rice, grown by subsidized farmers in the US, is dumped on the Haitian market, pushing Haitian farmers out of production. Because of these and other US and IMF economic policies over the past three decades in Haiti, people from the countryside have been unable to make a living in rural areas, and have migrated to the capital.

Many of these urban migrants live in houses made of cinderblock or other substandard materials that are very susceptible to earthquake damage. The fact that so many people live in inadequate housing structures adds significantly to the destruction caused by the earthquake.

Haiti was founded in 1804, and is the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.   Haiti also boasts a proud history of a successful slave revolt.    Despite its noble beginnings, Haiti’s history has been fraught with violence and poverty, and the United States has played a significant, contributing role in the lack of political and economic stability in the tiny island nation.

Haiti was occupied by the United States from 1915 to 1934. In 1994, Aristide Bertrand was democratically elected by the Haitian people – the first democratically elected president of Haiti. Eight months later, he was ousted by US-backed forces.   Following this, the US occupied Haiti.   Haiti was occupied again by US and UN forces in 2004.

Hurricanes have hit the island regularly over the past decade, adding to the troubles faced by the people of Haiti. The recent earthquake is the worst to hit Haiti in 200 years. The earthquake, with its fires and the massive destruction of buildings, “seems like the abyss of a very long history of natural and political disasters” (Edwidge Danticat, January 13, 2010 on Democracy Now).

When Haitian citizens have left their own country to come to the US (a form of forced migration), the US government has systematically discriminated against them.   Currently, there are currently 30,000 Haitians being held in immigration detention centers in the United States.  Subsequent to the most recent hurricane in Gonaïves, Haiti, immigrant rights activists mobilized to request that Haitians not be deported to Haiti, because of the destruction wreaked by the hurricane. These demands for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) were denied. In the aftermath of the present disaster, it would be inhumane to send deportees from the United States to Haiti.

President Obama has promised to help the Haitian people get through the present disaster. Given the troubled history between the two nations, and the extensive corruption involved in foreign aid in Haiti, Obama will face many challenges in delivering this much-needed assistance. Granting Haitian immigrants presently in the United States Temporary Protected Status would be a crucial first step in the effort to help Haiti get back on her feet.

If you’re interested in helping the people of Haiti, Dumi Lewis has a good list of organizations over at Uptown Notes.

Update from admin 1/15/10: U.S. Suspends Deportations to Haiti.

~ Tanya Maria Golash-Boza teaches at the University of Kansas and blogs about her research on the consequences of mass deportation at

Legalization for All? Not with HR 4321

It looks like it is about time for immigration reform to be debated in Congress again. For the twelve million undocumented people in the United States, immigration reform could not come too soon.

H.R.4321 – Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009, the latest proposed legislation, would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. This provision has caused anti-immigration activists such as Mark Krikorian and others to voice concern about the proposed legislation. Among immigrant-rights activists, the provision is generally celebrated. However, many activists also recognize that HR 4321 likely will not provide for the legalization of all 12 million undocumented people in the US.

HR 4321 provides legalization only to those undocumented immigrants who qualify. Any undocumented immigrant who has been convicted of more than three misdemeanors or one felony will not be eligible for legalization.

This may, at first glance, seem like a fair provision. Who wants criminal elements in our midst? However, if we consider the potential human costs to deportation, the story changes. Felonies are generally crimes for which the sentence is more than one year. Felony convictions vary by state but could include, for example, property damage over $250 (Arizona) or possession of one gram of cocaine (Indiana) possession of four ounces of marijuana (Texas) or possession of a BB gun (New Jersey). These are crimes, but many would argue that the punishment should not be permanent separation from one’s loved ones. For many, deportation amounts to exile from the only country they have known.

Due to racist police tactics and a discriminatory justice system, felony convictions are all too common for people of color. For example, Bureau of Justice statistics estimate that 17% of Hispanic males in the United States will go to State or Federal prison at least once in their lifetimes (pdf).  Notably, only about 75% of people convicted of felonies actually serve time, making the rate of felony convictions for Latinos even higher. Rates of incarceration for immigrants are lower than for the native born.  However, it is reasonably safe to say that as many as one million of the current twelve million undocumented migrants currently in the United States will not be eligible for legalization because of prior criminal convictions.

Many of these one million people will be long-term residents of the United States, and will have families in the United States. Knowing they have a criminal conviction, they will be faced with the choice of remaining in the shadows and continuing to live with their families and leaving their families behind to fend for themselves.

In short, anything less than legalization for all will mean that the problems associated with undocumented migration will not go away with immigration reform. We will continue to have people in the United States who are deprived of the basic rights that go along with legal status, and, of course, citizenship.

It is crucial to point out that those undocumented migrants that can take advantage of legalization will benefit from the passage of a bill such as HR 4321. For that reason, this bill deserves the support of the progressive community. At the same time, we should continue to push for the long-held goal of the immigrant rights movement – legalization for all! Anything less will be a compromise that will harm millions of immigrants and their families.

~ Tanya Maria Golash-Boza teaches at the University of Kansas and blogs about her research on the consequences of mass deportation at

Undocumented Migration is No Joke – Neither is the Illegal Alien Costume

Several immigrant rights groups have expressed their displeasure at major retailers such as Target and Amazon selling “illegal alien” costumes at their stores and online.  In response, Target has pulled the product, and it is not currently available on  Yet, judging by comments below news articles such as this one, online readers at that site can’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about. According to an online poll, 87% of the readers of the NBC news article found the story amusing, and all of the comments below the article are unsympathetic to the cause.

What’s the deal? Why are immigrant rights activists upset about the costume?

The first reason is that the terminology “illegal alien” is offensive, as is its correlate “illegal.” “Illegal alien” is a popular and official term used to refer to people who do not have the proper documentation to remain within US borders. Despite being an official term, “alien” has a popular connotation as a space creature, and thus comes across as harsh when referring to human beings.

Using “illegal” as an adjective or a noun to refer to a person is inappropriate – no one is illegal. There are many possible reasons why migrants may lack the proper documentation to remain in the US borders, but most of the reasons do not involve major infractions of US law. Few of the reasons, in fact, involve any violation of US criminal law. Crossing the border without inspection is a violation of civil law, as is overstaying a tourist, student, or other visa. Those details aside, breaking one law does not render a person “illegal.” Most people have committed some crime in their lives, including jaywalking, driving without their license handy, or drinking underage. None of those activities render a person “illegal,” nor do they make you a “criminal.”

Calling a person an “illegal” or an “illegal alien” is offensive and dehumanizing. It takes the emphasis off of the migrant as a person and redirects it to their presumed “illegality.” Calling migrants “aliens” further dehumanizes them.

Although the costume may be considered to be a joke, the life circumstances of undocumented people in the United States are not a laughing matter. People who lack documentation to remain in the US often face abuses at the hands of their employers, and are forced to accept low wages and bad working conditions. Many long to return home to attend important family functions such as funerals, and cannot, for fear they will not be able to return and continue to secure their family’s livelihood. Many spouses live separated for years; many parents live thousands of miles from their children and depend on phone calls as their only means of communication.

I am sure many of us will see these distasteful costumes on the streets on October 31. I hope many more of us will take part in actions that let undocumented migrants know that we recognize their human rights and humanity.

See this for the stories of some undocumented migrants in the US.  And, visit CHIRLA to find out about their current campaigns in support of migrants’ rights.

CNN Feeling Pressure as Drop Dobbs Campaign Gains Momentum

Over the past few weeks, CNN has begun to feel the pressure to drop their anti-immigrant news reader and talking head Lou Dobbs.   The effort to get Dobbs off the airwaves has garnered widespread attention, particularly through two websites, and  As Jessie noted here a couple of weeks ago, is a website that demands that “CNN deal with its Dobbs problem once and for all.”

In response to these calls for his resignation, Lou Dobbs has asserted his right to free speech as protecting his view that illegal immigrants have no right to be in the US.   Let’s look at the discussion – does Lou Dobbs cross the line of what’s considered protected speech?

First of all, it is important to clarify that Lou Dobbs Tonight is not exactly a question of “free” speech. Lou Dobbs, and CNN, make a lot of money from advertisers. Mr. Dobbs is getting paid by CNN to express his views. In that light, CNN needs to take into account how what Dobbs says affects its viewers. Without viewers, there would be no advertising revenue, and no CNN. Also, there are plenty of things Dobbs is not allowed to say on CNN, such as “Swiffer dusters are bad for the environment,” or “Planters peanuts are picked by exploited workers.” Making these statements would cause those two advertisers to pull their commercials from CNN. In that light, should Dobbs be allowed to say: “The invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans”? Especially, should he be allowed to say this when it is unsubstantiated?

One of the most compelling arguments made by people such as Roberto Lovato of and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now about Lou Dobbs’ problematic show is that Mr. Dobbs spreads lies about Latinos, immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. This claim is justified.

In 2008, the Media Matters Action Network published a report on the representation of undocumented immigration on cable news networks, appropriately titled: Fear and Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News. This report revealed that three shows: The O’Reilly Factor, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and Glenn Beck consistently propagate myths about undocumented immigrants. These myths include the alleged criminality of undocumented immigrants, the falsehood that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, and the myth that Mexicans plan to carry out a reconquista of the United States.    Lou Dobbs seems to be obsessed with the topic of illegal immigration.  In 2007,  70 percent of his shows involved a discussion of illegal immigration. In the three shows combined, there were 402 shows in 2007 where illegal immigration is discussed, an average of more than one per day.

Perhaps most controversial is Dobbs’ sensationalist discussion of crime. Dobbs frequently misrepresents the criminality of undocumented people. For example, on October 5, 2006, Lou Dobbs said “just about a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens.” This is a gross misrepresentation of the reality – less than six percent of prisoners are foreign-born, and only some of those are undocumented immigrants, the remaining being naturalized citizens, permanent legal residents and other visa holders.

All of these myths are easily countered with research. Extensive research by Rubén Rumbaut and his colleagues has demonstrated that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born: the incarceration rate of the native born was four times the rate of the foreign born in 2006.  More than half of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes, and everyone pays property and sales taxes (PDF). The idea of a reconquista is perhaps the domain of a marginalized few, but certainly not the sentiment of most Mexican-Americans.

The constant repetition of hate-filled rhetoric dehumanizes undocumented migrants and renders them appropriate targets for law enforcement activities. One way this can be seen is in polls Lou Dobbs conducts on his show. On his March 5, 2007, show, Dobbs reported that “Ninety-eight percent of you [viewers] voted that illegal immigration, failed border security, and sanctuary laws are contributing to the rise in gang violence in this country.” By consistently presenting undocumented migrants as criminals and dehumanizing them by referring to them as “illegals,” these popular media pundits create animosity toward undocumented migrants in the US.

Creating ill will towards undocumented migrants by spreading lies is certainly something worth complaining about. This not only affects undocumented migrants; it also affects their family members, people who live in communities with undocumented migrants, people who are in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, and people who are not undocumented, but who may be mistaken for an undocumented migrant.

I have to agree – ¡Basta Dobbs! Click here to add your name to a petition to get Dobbs off the air.

Tanya Golash-Boza is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas. Currently, she is in Guatemala, and blogs about her research at:

Criminal Alien Program Results in Racial Profiling

“A top priority for ICE has been to target the “worst of the worst” in the illegal population—criminal aliens incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails; those who may pose a threat to national security or public safety” ICE Annual Report FY 2008 [pdf].

Sounds reasonable, right? Of course Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should ensure national security and public safety by deporting criminals. No wonder the Homeland Security Committee allocated $180 million to this program in 2008 to ensure that incarcerated non-citizens are deported.

However, a new report from the UC Berkeley Law School finds that ICE “is not following Congress’ mandate to focus resources on the deportation of immigrants with serious criminal histories.” Instead, it is encouraging local police to engage in racial profiling and to arrest and deport people who engage in minor infractions of the law such as kicking over traffic cones or public urination.

Racial Profiling? Under the Criminal Alien Program, local police have the authority to call immigration on anyone who they suspect to be undocumented. Turns out that Hispanics are the ones police are most likely to suspect are undocumented. In a study of arrest patterns in Irving, Texas, the UC Berkeley Law School found that 96% of the people held under this program were Hispanic. Moreover, police were more likely to arrest Hispanics for minor offenses once the city began to participate in the Criminal Alien Program.

Not all Hispanics are undocumented. In fact, most Hispanics living in the United States are legal permanent residents or citizens. In Irving, Texas, however, once police began to co-operate with ICE, discretionary arrests of Hispanics for minor traffic offenses rose dramatically.

In 2006, ICE began a partnership with the city of Irving, which enabled ICE to investigate the immigration status of people held at the Irving Jail. Under this partnership, if Irving police arrest someone they suspect to be undocumented, they contact ICE to determine their immigration status. Of course, police officers can’t tell someone’s immigration status just by looking at them. In fact, in September 2007, of the 269 individuals Irving police officers referred to ICE, only 186 were turned over to ICE. The others were lawfully present in the U.S.

“Worst of the Worst”? Most of the people detained under the Criminal Alien Program in Irving, Texas were arrested for misdemeanors. In fact, only 2 percent were charged with felonies. The Berkeley report provides “compelling evidence that the Criminal Alien Program tacitly encourages local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses.” For example, in Irving, Texas, in April 2007, ICE agents began to offer 24-hour access to their services to the local police. Immediately thereafter, the rate at which Irving police arrested Hispanics for minor arrests began to rise. In April 2007, Irving police arrested 102 Hispanics for Class C misdemeanors. That number rose continuously until September 2007, when they arrested 246 Hispanics for Class C misdemeanors – minor offenses for which the maximum fine is $500.

It looks like the $180 million Congress appropriated to ICE is not enhancing public safety. Instead, it is encouraging local police to arrest Hispanics for petty offenses and deporting people for offenses as minor as driving with a broken tail light.

This study of one city in Texas resonates with work I have been doing with deportees in Jamaica and Guatemala. Deportees I have spoke with consistently tell me that they were stopped by police for a minor offense and subsequently placed in deportation proceedings.

A deportee I met recently in Guatemala told me this is exactly why he does not plan to apply for re-admission to the United States, even though his daughter still lives in the US. He does not want to live in a country where he will be arrested for minor traffic violations and hassled by police on a regular basis. Who does?

[Note from blog admins: ~ This is a re-blog from here.  Professor Golash-Boza will be joining Racism Review as a regular contributor, writing about her research in Jamaica, Brazil, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic where she is interviewing people who have been deported from the U.S. for a book she is writing. ]

Mass Deportation of People of Color from the U.S.

Each day, about 1,000 people are deported from the US. Nearly all are people of color. This means that the devastating effects of deportations are felt more strongly in communities where people of color predominate. Many people who are deported have committed fairly minor crimes, and the punishment of permanent separation from their loved ones is overly severe.

Deportation is not considered punishment in US law, yet it often amounts to banishment from the only country people have known, for relatively minor legal infractions. Xuan Wilson, for example, came to the US when she was four years old. In 1989, she was convicted of writing a forged check for $19.83. Since this minor offense was considered a crime of moral turpitude, she was ordered deported in 2003. Mary Anne Gehris came to the US from Germany as an infant. In 1988, she was involved in an altercation in which she pulled the hair of another woman. She was charged and convicted of battery and received a one-year suspended sentence–she did not have to serve any time. However, since she is a non-citizen, she faced mandatory deportation, without any judicial review. Mary Anne Gehris was fortunate to have found advocates for her cause. She was granted a pardon from the governor of Georgia, which meant that she was not deported to a country she barely knew for a relatively minor offense.

Not only are deportees affected by their exclusion; their families suffer greatly as well. In 1997, Jesus Collado, a 43-year old restaurant manager and legal resident of the US went to the Dominican Republic for a two week vacation with his wife and children. When he returned, the inspector checked the INS records and found that Collado had been convicted of a criminal offense in 1974. Collado had been convicted of statutory rape for having consensual sex with his 15-year old girlfriend when he was nineteen. Because of the retroactive nature of the 1996 laws, Collado faced mandatory detention and deportation without judicial review. His family faced losing their father, husband, and provider.

Sometimes, the consequences for family members left behind can be devastating. Gerardo Mosquera, a native of Colombia, was deported for a $10 marijuana sale in 1989, although he had been a legal resident for 29 years. He left behind his US citizen wife and children. His 17-year old son committed suicide after his father left, in part because of his depression over losing his father. In Jamaica, I met a man, Elias, who left twelve children in the US when he was deported. Elias was walking past a barber shop in Brooklyn when a friend asked him to take a bag of baby wipes and diapers to his baby’s mother across town. Elias agreed to do it and hopped into a cab. Shortly thereafter, a police car turned on its siren and pulled the cab over. Elias looked into the bag and saw that the bag didn’t have baby wipes in it – it had fourteen rocks of crack cocaine. Elias was arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in prison. Once released, he was ordered deported. Elias spent eleven months in detention trying to get his charge overturned, until he finally gave up while the appeal was still underway. He had been in the US since he was six years old, and had no ties to Jamaica. He didn’t want his twelve children to grow up without a father present. But, he was tired of being locked up and agreed to be deported.

In many cases, “criminal aliens” have no idea that they have committed crimes that render them deportable. Emma Mendez de Hays faced deportation for translating a conversation for her Spanish-speaking cousin in 1990. Mendez de Hays answered the phone in her home, and the caller asked for her cousin. Her cousin, who did not speak English well, told her to tell him she would help him the next day. Mendez de Hays relayed the message and hung up. It turned out the caller was an undercover narcotics officer, and Mendez de Hays was found guilty of using a communication device to facilitate the distribution of cocaine. She did not serve any time for this “offense” and thought the whole incident was behind her when, in 1996, she returned from a visit to Italy with her fiancé. INS officials immediately detained her and placed her in deportation proceedings for her 1990 guilty plea. She spent two years in INS detention while she fought her case. She finally won when a US Supreme Court decision invalidated some retroactive deportation orders.

Catherine Caza came to the US when she was three years old. She was ordered deported at the age of 40 in 1997, for a crime she had committed seventeen years prior. In 1980, Caza was taking amphetamine pills prescribed by her doctor. Her boyfriend convinced her to sell him 21 of them. He turned out to be an undercover police officer. In court, she pled guilty, and was placed on probation for five years. The 1996 laws rendered her ineligible for a waiver for deportation, and, despite the nature of her offense, the 37 years she had spent in the US, and her seven-year-old US citizen daughter, the judge had no choice but to order her to be deported.

The deportation of people for relatively minor crimes – shoplifting, small drug sales, and forged checks – is appalling. The disproportionate severity of the consequence of deportation is exacerbated by the fact that many of these people have spent nearly all of their lives here. Many learned to shoplift or resorted to selling drugs because of their environment in the US. When a child born in Thailand and adopted by US parents is convicted of forging checks and stealing a car, we cannot blame his country of origin for his criminal activity. John Gaul, the adopted child of US citizen parents was deported to Thailand at age 19, after having served time for these felonies. What is the logic behind this exile? As the 1953 Presidential Commission charged with reviewing deportation orders pointed out, “Each of the aliens is a product of our society. Their formative years were spent in the United States, which is the only home they have ever known. The countries of origin which they left … certainly are not responsible for their criminal ways.”

~ Tanya Golash-Boza is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and American Studies at the University of Kansas and blogs at