Department of Homeland Security Ends Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, January 8, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen declared that El Salvador’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will end on September 9, 2019, affecting over 200,000 Salvadoran nationals residing in the US.  El Salvador has been part of the TPS humanitarian program since the 2001 earthquakes that significantly damaged the country’s infrastructure, and before that from 1990-1992 during its civil war.

El Salvador received Temporary Protected Status following the 2001 earthquakes that caused widespread damage across the country. Photo Courtesy La Prensa Gráfica, via Associated Press.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently living in the United States by designating criteria upon which relief could be granted.

Prior to the implementation of the TPS program, the executive branch would designate certain countries for Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD), where immigration courts could exercise prosecutorial discretion to not pursue removal of nationals from those countries.  However, critics called the process too partisan and subject to political whims, citing the Regan administration’s failure to designate El Salvador for EVD during the civil war in the 1980s.

The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants currently in the US who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  Applications have a $495 processing fee for the initial application as well as subsequent renewals. TPS beneficiaries may apply for a work permit and a driver’s license, and the TPS prevents their deportation.  According to the press release from the Department of Homeland Security, “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes [in El Salvador] no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.” However, the US government cited the pervasive gang violence as a factor for choosing to renew El Salvador’s TPS in 2016, and El Salvador remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with an average of 15 reported homicides a day.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly emphasized that TPS is ‘temporary’ after visiting Haiti in June 2017. Photo Courtesy Mark Wilson, Getty Images.

US foreign policy has itself severely impacted El Salvador’s current social climate.  During El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s, the US government backed a repressive right-wing military regime that left 75,000 civilians dead and forced 2 million people to flee to the US.  In the mid-90s, the US began deporting Salvadorans en masse, including gangsters incubated with the US prison system who would then go on to form the Salvadoran branch of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  The rising gang violence began a new wave of refugees—primarily unaccompanied minors or women with their children—fleeing El Salvador for the United States.

Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas—an immigrant advocacy group—said to Reuters, “Our (US) government is complicit in breaking up families — nearly 275,000 US-born children have a parent who is a TPS holder — and further destabilizing our neighboring countries.”

According to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies, 51% of Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the US for more than 20 years, 34% have homes with mortgages and the majority of them live in California, Texas, New York and Washington DC.

Remittances to El Salvador from relatives abroad are at an all-time high and account for almost 20% of El Salvador’s GDP, while in 2016 the World Bank reported that economic growth had reached 2.4% and was the slowest growing economy of Central America.

El Salvador joins Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan as the fourth country in four months to lose its Temporary Protection Status.

For more information, please see:

Vox News – Thousands of Salvadoran TPS workers clean federal offices. Now their livelihoods are on the line. – 11 January 2018

The New Yorker – What the Salvadorans Being Kicked Out by Trump Face Back Home – 9 January 2018

Reuters – Salvadorans say going home not an option after U.S. axes protection – 9 January 2018

Vox News – Trump’s attacks on humanitarian immigration just became a full-blown war – 9 January 2018

The Guardian – US says 200,000 people from El Salvador must leave within 18 months – 8 January 2018

NPR – U.S. Ends El Salvador’s Protected Status, Affecting 200,000 Residents – 8 January 2018

The Intercept – Ignoring Violence in El Salvador, Trump Ends Years of Special Protective Status for Immigrants – 8 January 2018

The New York Times – Trump Administration Says That Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave – 8 January 2018

Reuters – U.S. moves toward expelling 200,000 Salvadorans – 8 January 2018

The Washington Post – ‘We will lose practically everything’: Salvadorans devastated by TPS decision – 8 January 2018

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

Salvadoran Tribunal Upholds 30-Year Sentence for Woman Jailed for Delivering a Stillborn Child

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — On Wednesday, December 13, San Salvador’s Second Court of Judgment in El Salvador upheld Teodora del Carmen Vasquez’s 30-year sentence for aggravated homicide against her unborn child.

Teodora Vasquez is escorted to her hearing to appeal her 2008 conviction for the death of her stillborn child. Photo Courtesy Oscar Rivera, Getty Images.

On July 13, 2007, Ms. Vasquez nine months pregnant and working when she began bleeding and feeling severe labor pains and called 911 to transport her to the hospital.  She waited for medical personnel for over four hours before fainting from blood loss in a restroom at work. She awoke to police accusing her of having killed the child—unaware that the child had already been born and that it was stillborn.  Ms. Vasquez was arrested and later convicted of aggravated homicide against her stillborn child.  The judge who convicted Ms. Vasquez in 2008 to the 30-year minimum sentence was the same judge who heard and denied her appeal in 2017.

During Ms. Vasquez’s appeal hearing, two medical experts testified to the child being born dead, and Ms. Vasquez not being responsible for the death of her child.  One testified that according to the results of the autopsy conducted by the Institute of Legal Medicine, the newborn had died of asphyxiation prior to birth due to complications from having been born outside of a hospital.  The second expert testified that the newborn was born dead and that the studies conducted during the criminal investigation by the prosecution were inadequate and incomplete.

The judge ruled that the defense’s medical experts did not present sufficient evidence to dispute the investigation carried out by the prosecution and that Ms. Vasquez’s appeal was denied.

Earlier in 2017, a 19-year old rape-survivor was sentenced to 30 years in prison after delivering a stillborn child at her home.  Prosecutors accused Evelyn Hernandez Cruz of not seeking prenatal care and alleged that she had aborted the fetus and thrown its remains into a latrine at her home.  The defense argued that Ms. Hernandez had not even known that she was pregnant, and had confused the labor pains with a stomach ache.  The defense is seeking an appeal following Ms. Hernandez’s conviction.

El Salvador, along with Malta, Andorra, Chile, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua, have criminalized abortion in any and all cases.  This law, enacted in 1998, allows women to be charged with murder and other related charges in cases of abortion or suspected abortion and extends liability to medical practitioners that fail to report suspected abortions.

According to Al Jazeera, 17 women in El Salvador have been convicted of aggravated homicide under this law between 1999-2011 for losing their babies.  “In most cases, these are women without resources who suffer obstetric emergencies or spontaneous abortions [miscarriages] and, when they go to hospitals, they are reported by the medical staff, because they are afraid of prosecution,” Katia Recinos, one of Ms. Velasquez’s lawyers, told Al Jazeera. These women have been sentenced from 12 to 30 years in prison as a result.

In 2016, the left-wing opposition party FLMA introduced a bill that would decriminalize abortion in cases of where the pregnancy would put the life and health of the mother at risk, where the pregnancy would produce an unviable fetus, or when the pregnancy was due to rape, incest, or human trafficking. The right-wing majority party ARENA—with support from the Salvadoran Catholic Church—countered the bill by petitioning Congress to increase the maximum penalty in these cases to 50 years in prison.  Both pieces of legislation are still pending within their respective committees.

Doctors who are suspected of aiding pregnancy terminations are also persecuted under the 1998 anti-abortion law.  Dr. Zulma Mendez, who leads the HIV program at the San Rafael Public Hospital of San Salvador, told the New York Times that she was threatened with criminal prosecution for her work.  “I wanted to help a woman whose emergency contraception didn’t work after she was raped.  Naively, I called the Institute of Legal Medicine and told them what had happened.  I was told not to get involved, as I could be put behind bars.”

Ms. Vasquez has served 10 years of her 30-year sentence and will be 57 years old when she is released.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – El Salvador rejects appeal in baby death case – 14 December 2017

The Guardian – El Salvador court upholds 30-year jail sentence in stillbirth case – 14 December 2017

El Nuevo Herald – Ratifican condena de 30 años de cárcel a mujer que abortó en El Salvador – 13 December 2017

El Salvador: Noticias – Tribunal ratifica sentencia de 30 años a mujer condenada por el homicidio de su bebé – 13 December 2017

Al Jazeera – El Salvador woman jailed after stillbirth seeks freedom – 8 December 2017

The New York Times – In El Salvador, ‘Girls Are a Problem’ – 2 September 2017

CNN – The people fighting the world’s harshest abortion law – 10 July 2017

Al Jazeera – El Salvador rape victim jailed 30 years for stillbirth – 7 July 2017

Independent – El Salvador jails raped teenager for 30 years under murder laws after she said she suffered miscarriage – 6 July 2017

The Guardian – El Salvador’s anti-abortion law makes criminals of mothers who miscarry – 30 November 2015

Miami Herald Publishes Investigation into Abuses of Florida Juvenile Justice System

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MIAMI, Florida — On Tuesday, October 10, the Miami Herald published a series of the results of a 2-year long investigation into the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s history of abuses toward juveniles in their care.

The entrance to the Palm Beach Youth Academy in West Palm Beach, FL. Photo Courtesy of Emily Michot, Miami Herald.

This investigation was launched following the death of 17-year-old Elord Revolte, who was beaten to death by fellow detainees on August 30, 2015, and was at least the twelfth questionable juvenile detainee death since 2000.  The investigation examined a 10-year span of records ranging from incident reports, investigations, court cases, archived surveillance tapes and interviews with former inmates, their families, guards, and other staff members.

Allegations range from fights between the detainees set up by staffers for their entertainment (Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility), to multiple counts of confirmed sexual relationships between staff and detainees, to a severe medical neglect of detainees.

Elord Revolte’s death was an instance of a ‘honey-bun hit’, where a staffer would offer a honey-bun—or some other kind of sweets, fast food, etc.—as a bounty in exchange for beating up the targeted inmate.  This food bounty would allow the staffers to avoid Abuse Hotline charges by turning detainees into enforcers in order to outsource discipline. The DJJ investigation estimates between 12 and 16 other detainees participated in the assault upon Elord.

According to the DJJ’s Investigation Report into the matter, Elord was placed on medical confinement for a “24-hour concussion precaution” following the August 30 assault. On the morning of August 31, he complained of a “crackling” chest pain and told a nurse that he needed to go to the hospital.  Around 4:45 p.m., Elord was taken by a nurse to the hospital in a state vehicle.  He was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency room at 5:17 p.m. Elord Revolte died at 11:05 p.m., 30 hours after the assault as a result of a heart attack caused by his extensive internal bleeding.

Five juvenile justice officers were fired by the DJJ as a result of the investigation for poor performance, negligence, and failure to perform duties as assigned.

Following the publication of the Miami Herald series ‘Fight Club’, the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice Christina Daly, issued a press release stating:

“DJJ has not, does not and will not ever tolerate or condone mistreatment of children in our care. Staff who are not well intentioned to help transform the lives of our children have no place within this agency. Anyone who is found to have encouraged, enticed, or ordered youth to engage in fights or assault other youth is, and will be, held accountable to the full extent of the law, including criminal prosecution. We consistently work to identify, investigate and hold fully accountable any staff member who does not meet our high standards – both within DJJ facilities and with our contracted providers.”

According to the DJJ, one of their biggest problems is a 60% turnover rate for entry-level officers due to low pay.  Other issues include inadequate background checks that result in the hiring of personnel with a history of violent and sexual abuses, as well as a tolerance for cover-ups.   However, in a presentation to the Senate Criminal Justice committee, Secretary Daly stated that the “crime rate among Florida youth has dropped by 37 percent since 2010, and the state has also seen a sharp drop in the number of children arrested or placed in DJJ custody,” and that the arrest rate for girls dropped by more than half.

The Miami Herald reports that over the past 10 years, “DJJ has investigated 1,455 allegations of youth officers or other staffers failing to report abusive treatment of detainees— or, if they did report an incident, lying about the circumstances. That’s nearly three times a week.”

For more information, please see:

Miami Herald – Despite challenges, Florida’s juvenile justice system continues to improve – 10 November 2017

Florida Politics – Juvenile Justice Secretary talks ‘Fight Club’ during Senate presentation – 23 October 2017

Miami Herald – Juvenile justice chief defends agency, calling abuses ‘isolated events’ – 23 October 2017

Tampa Bay Times – Fight Club: Dark secrets of Florida juvenile justice – 11 October 2017

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice – Setting the Record Straight: Miami Herald Omits Facts, Ignores Reforms in Series Targeting DJJ – 10 October 2017

Miami Herald – Dark secrets of Florida’s juvenile justice system: A Miami Herald investigation – 10 October 2017

Miami New Times – After Herald Catches Prison Guards Running Child “Fight Clubs,” State Attacks Reporters – 10 October 2017

Miami Herald – 5 fired at Miami-Dade lockup where teen died in beat-down – 30 September 2015

Former Trump Aide Accused of Conspiracy to Kidnap a US-Resident

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Friday, November 10, the Wall Street Journal published an article stating that Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn was allegedly involved in a plan to kidnap a US-resident Turkish dissident on behalf of the Turkish government in exchange for approximately $15 million dollars.

Retired Lt. General Michael Flynn served as national security advisor to the Trump administration for only 24 days before he was asked to resign. Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press.

Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who has resided in Pennsylvania since 1999, has been blamed by Turkish government officials for the failed coup against Turkish President Erdogan’s administration in summer of 2016.  Turkey has requested Gulen’s extradition under the US-Turkey extradition treaty for Mr. Gulen’s alleged role in the coup, but the Department of Justice has so far denied the requests.

Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, was hired in August 2016 by a firm with ties to Turkish government officials to investigate Mr. Gulen and to present the results of the investigation in a short film.  While the film project was never completed, Flynn’s company received $530,000 in November, and Flynn himself wrote an opinion piece about Fethullah Gulen published on November 8, 2016, in The Hill.

In a mid-December meeting at the “21” Club in New York, Turkish officials allegedly offered Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. approximately $15 million dollars to assist in the forcible removal and “extra-legal” extradition of Gulen to Turkey.  The alleged plan included discussions of transporting Gulen by private jet to Imrali, a Turkish prison island.  This meeting occurred after the Trump administration had named Flynn the next national security advisor.

President Trump asked for Flynn’s resignation as his national security advisor in mid-February 2017, twenty-four days after Flynn’s appointment.  Flynn also served for two months in 2014 as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency before being dismissed by President Obama for insubordination after “failing to follow guidance from superiors.”

Flynn registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) on March 7, 2017, several weeks after his resignation as national security advisor.  Lawfare posits that at the time of his dealings with Turkish officials, Michael Flynn was no longer simply a private citizen lobbying in favor of a foreign government, and whose disclosure of dealings to the Department of Justice would comply with FARA.  Since Flynn had already been tapped to serve as national security advisor in the Trump administration, he was a public official “in transition,” and public officials are prohibited from acting as foreign agents under 18 U.S.C. § 219.

Not only was General Flynn an unregistered foreign agent during his dealings with Turkish officials, he received well over the $5,000 maximum for lobbyists, and if the allegations in the Wall Street Journal article are true, Flynn may be charged with conspiracy to kidnap.  Even if Flynn intended to instead use his position as national security advisor to return Mr. Gulen to Turkey by legal means, the fact that he was possibly offered $15 million dollars to do so may still constitute egregious felonious conduct.  Lawfare states the matter plainly: “It’s no more legal to take $15 million to use your influence as national security adviser to bring about an outcome than it is to kidnap someone.”

The New York Times notes that President Trump’s firing in March 2017 of Former FBI Director James Comey after Comey’s refusal to halt the investigations into Flynn led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Robert Mueller has, in turn, led the investigation as to whether associates of President Trump colluded with Russian agents in their efforts to manipulate the 2016 US presidential election.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Flynn’s lawyers earlier had entered into a joint defense agreement with President Trump’s legal team that allowed them to share information surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation that would otherwise be subject to attorney-client privilege.  As of November 24, Michael Flynn’s lawyers stopped cooperating with White House attorneys defending the President in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Flynn’s decision to end cooperation with the White House attorneys may signify that Flynn has entered into plea deal discussions with Mr. Muller’s team, which recently indicted Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos—all three former campaign aides of President Trump.

JustSecurity has compiled a timeline of the Trump administration’s knowledge of the federal investigations into the relationship of Michael Flynn and Turkey.

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – A Split From Trump Indicates that Flynn is Moving to Cooperate With Mueller – 23 November 2017

Just Security – Turkey on Valentine’s Day: Did Trump Obstruct Investigation of Flynn as a Foreign Agent? – 17 November 2017

CNN Politics – WSJ: Muller probes Flynn role in plot to deliver cleric to Turkey – 11 November 2017

The Guardian – Ex-Trump aide Flynn investigated over plot to kidnap Turkish dissident – report – 10 November 2017

Lawfare Blog – What to Make of the Latest Story About Flynn and Gulen? – 10 November 2017

The Wall Street Journal – Mueller Probes Flynn’s Role in Alleged Plan to Deliver Cleric to Turkey – 10 November 2017

The Wall Street Journal – Accused Turkish Cleric Assails President on Anniversary of Coup Attempt – 14 July 2017

NY Daily News – Michael Flynn, Turkish officials secretly discussed removing exiled Muslim cleric from U.S. – 24 March 2017

The New York Times – Michael Flynn Was Paid to Represent Turkey’s Interests During Trump Campaign – 10 March 2017

Associated Press – Flynn, fired once by a president, now removed by another – 14 February 2017

Mexico’s Attorney General Resigns to make way for Judicial Reforms

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CIUDAD DE MEXICO, Mexico — On Monday, October 16, Mexico’s Attorney General Raúl Cervantes announced his resignation before members of the Senate, stating that he wanted to facilitate the transition to a new institutional framework to combat crime and abandon impunity.

Mexican Attorney General Raúl Cervantes giving his resignation before members of the Senate. Photo Courtesy Gob.Mx.

Mr. Cervantes is the third Attorney General appointed within the last five years and was appointed Attorney General on October 25, 2016.

In 2014, Congress approved a constitutional reform—to be enacted at the latest in 2018—that would replace the office of the Attorney General with an independent chief prosecutor who would be appointed to a nine-year term.  This extended tenure is designed to distance the prosecutor from the president, who serves a single six-year term.  According to El País, Mr. Cervantes would have assumed the position of chief prosecutor automatically.

Mr. Cervantes’ appointment as Attorney General caused widespread consternation since he has close ties to the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and is a member of the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).  Many opposition politicians and non-governmental groups have expressed a lack of faith in Cervantes’ willingness to investigate the Peña Nieto and his administration after the 2018 elections, which is why the new office of the chief prosecutor has not yet been established.

During his tenure, the Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano (ONC) reported a significant increase in violent homicides in Mexico since the beginning of 2017 to August, with a steady monthly average of 2,300 homicides reported per month.  According to Huffpost, this means that “every 18 minutes and 47 seconds, a victim of violent homicide was reported in the first eight months of 2017 on a national level.”

One of the major controversies Mr. Cervantes and his predecessors faced was the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping, where 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared and were allegedly delivered to a local criminal syndicate for execution.  The official account given by Mexican authorities has been marred by inconsistent testimony, accusations of obstruction of justice by various state officials, and has resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals.  Mr. Cervantes and his predecessors’ failure to advance the investigation of the Iguala mass kidnapping has arguably been the proverbial “final nail in the coffin” in their tenures as Attorney General.

President Peña Nieto announced that the next Attorney General would be appointed after the 2018 presidential elections since the position cannot be taken short term and appointing anyone else would further complicate the process of naming the new chief prosecutor.

For more information, please see:

InSight Crime – Mexico AG Resigns Amid Growing Pressure to Tackle Widespread Graft – 18 October 2017

El País – Raúl Cervantes renuncia al cargo de procurador general de México – 17 October 2017

Animal Político – Peña Nieto anuncia que el fiscal general será nombrado después de las elecciones de 2018 – 17 October 2017

AP News – Mexico’s attorney general resigns a year into job – 16 October 2017

BBC Mundo – Renuncia de Raúl Cervantes, procurador general de México, tras la controversia por su potencial nominación para la primera fiscalía autónoma del país – 16 October 2017

CNN Español – Renuncia el procurador general de México, Raúl Cervantes – 16 October 2017

Gob.mx – “Servir a la República en esta capacidad ha sido el honor más grande que se me ha conferido” – 16 October 2017

The New York Times – Mexico’s Attorney General Resigns Under Pressure – 16 October 2017

Reuters – Mexico attrney general resigns amid debate on new top prosecutor – 16 October 2017

Huffpost – México, en el camino directo a tener el año más violento en la historia – 10 October 2017

DHS to Decide on Continuation of TPS Program for Haitians in US

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — On November 6, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to make a decision as to the continuation of the Temporary Protected Status program that affects over 300,000 foreign nationals currently residing in the United States.

Men visiting a mass-grave of victims from the 2010 earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince. Photo Courtesy of Shannon Stapleton.

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently in the United States.  The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  This allows them to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license and prevents their deportation.  There are currently over 300,000 people from 13 countries under Temporary Protected Status, including individuals from Syria, El Salvador, and Haiti.  According to The Washington Post, TPS beneficiaries are the parents of around 190,000 US-citizen children.

Haitians were granted TPS in the US by the Obama administration in January 2010 following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed around 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.  Haiti has suffered several crises since then, including an outbreak of cholera in late 2010 that infected close to 800,000 and killed over 9,000 people, sexual abuse of hundreds of people at the hands of UN peacekeepers dating back to 2004, as well as a 1,000-people killed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  The recent hurricanes have also destroyed infrastructure and caused food shortages across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Haiti’s TPS several times, the last time being on May 24, 2017.  After a bipartisan effort from several Florida politicians, DHS Secretary General John Kelly approved a six-month extension of the July 22, 2017, deadline, but expressed that Haitians should begin preparations to return to Haiti come January 22, 2018.  According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, “At least 60 days before Jan. 22, 2018, Secretary Kelly will re-evaluate the designation for Haiti and will determine whether another extension, a re-designation, or a termination is warranted, in full compliance of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

There are 59,000 Haitians living in the US under TPS, 80% of which are employed; $1.3 billion in remittances from US-based Haitians accounted for 15% of Haiti’s economy in 2015.

In contrast, Haiti is currently the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 6 million people—approximately 59% of the population—living below the national poverty line.

For more information, please see:

NBC News – Will Central Americans, Haitians ‘Protected’ by U.S. Be Sent Home? – 23 October 2017

NACLA – Temporary Protected Status in Limbo – 20 October 2017

The Washington Post – Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status – 20 October 2017

Al Jazeera – UN peacekeepers leave Haiti: What is their legacy? – 6 October 2017

USCIS – Temporary Protected Status Designated Country: Haiti – 3 October 2017

Sun Sentinel – Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue – 18 September 2017

The Intercept – The Trump Administration is Playing with the Lives of 59,000 Haitians – 26 September 2017

The New Yorker – A Harrowing Turning Point for Haitian Immigrants – 12 May 2017

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

White Nationalists Return to Rally in Charlottesville

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — On Saturday night, October 7, a small group of white nationalists led by Richard Spencer held a brief rally at Emancipation Park, near the University of Virginia campus, coincidentally during the university’s bicentennial celebration.

Torch-wielding white nationalists gather around the tarp-covered statue of Robert E. Lee. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

Emancipation Park, formerly known as “Lee Park,” is the home of the Robert E. Lee statue that became a focal point during the “Unite the Right” rally in August, where white-nationalist protesters violently decried its removal.  One counter-protester was killed by a Nazi sympathizer while dozens of others were injured in various white nationalist attacks.

According to the Charlottesville Police Department, the tiki-torch toting group arrived at Emancipation Park around 7:40 p.m. One speaker announced, “Hello, Charlottesville […] We’re back and we’re going to keep coming back.”

The Washington Post reported that the crowd chanted “You will not erase us,” along with “The South will rise again. Russia is our friend. The South will rise again. Woo-hoo! Wooo.”

The rally lasted around 10 minutes, after which the group boarded a chartered bus and left the city.  Police cars followed the bus to ensure the group’s departure.

Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer took to Twitter to condemn the rally and expressed: “Another despicable visit by neo-Nazi cowards. You’re not welcome here! Go home! Meantime we’re looking at all our legal options. Stay tuned.”

After the rally, people gathered outside of the house of the president of the University of Virginia to protest the white nationalists and call for the revocation of Richard Spencer’s diploma from UVA.

Spencer is an alumnus of the University of Virginia and heads the National Policy Institute—a white supremacist think-tank in Virginia.  He allegedly called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” during a conference for American Renaissance in 2013.

This event marks the third rally held by Spencer in Charlottesville this year, and the first rally held since Congress and President Trump signed a resolution on September 12 condemning the white supremacy and violence in response to the ‘Unite the Right’ rally.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – White nationalists march again in Charlottesville – 8 October 2017

BBC – White nationalists return to Charlottesville – 8 October 2017

CNN – Charlottesville mayor slams ‘despicable visit’ as another torch rally held – 8 October 2017

The Guardian – ‘Neo-Nazi cowards’: white nationalists stage brief Charlottesville rally – 8 October 2017

NBC News – White Nationalist Richard Spencer Leads Torch-Carrying Crowd in Charlottesville – 8 October 2017

The New York Times – White Nationalists Reappear in Charlottesville in Torch-Lit Protest – 8 October 2017

Vox News – White nationalists return to Charlottesville less than 2 months after violent clashes – 8 October 2017

The Washington Post – ‘We will keep coming back:’ Richard Spencer leads another torchlight march in Charlottesville – 7 October 2017

CNN Politics – Trump signs resolution condemning white supremacy – 14 September 2017

Deadliest Mass Shooting in Modern US history is the 273rd Mass Shooting in 2017

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LAS VEGAS, Nevada On Sunday night, October 1st, Stephen Paddock opened fire from his room on the 32nd floor upon concert-goers attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.  Police received the first reports of the shooting at 10:08 pm, according to the New York Times, and the shooter was found dead by the time SWAT entered his room.  As of October 2nd, 59 people were killed and 527 people were injured during the shooting.

Dozens of people were killed and hundreds were wounded during Sunday evening’s shooting in Las Vegas. Photo Courtesy of Vox News.

According to multiple law enforcement officials, 23 guns were recovered from the hotel room and an additional 19 guns and explosives were recovered from Paddock’s home in Mesquite, NV, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.  Stephen Paddock was a 64-year-old wealthy white man with “no significant criminal history.”

In a statement to The New York Times, FBI Special Agent Aaron Rouse dismissed claims that Paddock was associated with ISIS and stated that “[Paddock had] no connection to an international terrorist group.”

Sunday night’s tragic shooting, categorized by many as an act of domestic terrorism, has surpassed the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida as well as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre as the deadliest shooting since 1949.

Mass shootings do not have a consistent definition: organizations may categorize a mass shooting by number of people injured, number of people killed, and may exclude certain kinds of violence.  These definitions may exclude the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 or the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, both incidents with a death toll in the hundreds. Under Vox News and the Gun Violence Archive’s definition of mass shootings (any incident where “four or more people were shot, but not necessarily killed, at the same general time and location”), this incident is the 273rd mass shooting in the US in 2017.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Las Vegas shooter named as Stephen Paddock – 2 October 2017

Al Jazeera – The deadliest mass shootings in the US – 2 October 2017

The Guardian – 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart – 2 October 2017

The Guardian – Mandalay Bay attack: at least 59 killed in deadliest US shooting – 2 October 2017

The New York Times – Las Vegas Shooting Live Updates: Multiple Weapons Found in Gunman’s Hotel Room – 2 October 2017

NPR – Las Vegas Shooting Update: At Least 59 People Are Dead After Gunman Attacks Concert – 2 October 2017

Vox – Is Las Vegas the worst mass shooting in US history? It’s surprisingly complicated – 2 October 2017

Reveal – Charlottesville underscores how homegrown hate is going unchecked – 21 June 2017

97-year-old Shipping Regulation Limiting Post-Hurricane Relief to Puerto Rico

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico On Wednesday, September 20, Category 4 Hurricane ‘Maria’ made landfall in Puerto Rico with winds reaching 155 miles per hour and covering parts of the island in over 10 feet of water.  It was the strongest hurricane to affect Puerto Rico since San Felipe Segundo in 1928.

The sun sets on a devastated neighborhood in Yabucoa in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.

As of September 27, 97% of the population did not have access to electricity and over 50% do not have access to drinking water with the daily temperature reaching over 90°.  Puerto Rico’s hospitals are dependent on diesel fuel to power their emergency generators, and despite their stringent fuel rationing, the majority of the hospitals are on the verge of running out.  Diesel is a necessary good imported to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States.

The existing poor infrastructure and the current difficulty in getting aid to Puerto Rico post-Maria have been blamed in a large part on the Jones Act.

The Jones Act—also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—requires that the transportation of goods between points in the US be done in a ship (1) bearing the US flag, (2) built in the United States, (3) owned by US citizens, and (4) operated by US citizens or legal permanent residents.  This means that basic shipments of necessary goods must be imported to Puerto Rico from the US on Jones Act-compliant ships that tend to run four times more expensive than non-compliant ships.  This results in the cost of living in Puerto Rico is about 13% higher on average than in the contiguous United States.

Precedents for Jones Act waivers in the last 15 years have included exceptional situations of humanitarian need—Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sandy in 2012, and Harvey and Irma in 2017—and have spanned three administrations: Bush, Obama, and Trump.

President Donald Trump has been hesitant to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and told reporters on Wednesday: “We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people, a lot of people who work in the shipping industry, that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million—roughly equivalent to the combined population of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Puerto Ricans still waiting for aid a week after Maria’s devastation – 27 September 2017

NBC News – What is the Jones Act? Opponents to 1920 Law Argue It’s Worsening Puerto Rico’s Crisis – 27 September 2017

The Guardian – Hurricane Maria pushes Puerto Rico’s struggling hospitals to crisis point – 27 September 2017

Vox – The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained – 27 September 2017

The Washington Post – Feds rush aid to Puerto Rico amid growing pleas for help – 25 September 2017

Al Jazeera – Hurricane Maria strikes US territory of Puerto Rico – 21 September 2017

Department of Homeland Security – DHS Statement on Extending the Jones Act Waiver – 13 September 2017

“Not one less:” Thousands Protest in Mexico Following the Murder of Mara Castilla

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PUEBLA, Mexico On Sunday, September 17, thousands marched in the streets of Mexico City and Puebla after the body of Mara Fernanda Castilla—a 19-year-old university student gone missing the week before—was found.

Protestors marching against femicides in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of CNN Español.

Mara had gone missing on September 8, after hailing a driver from a popular ride-sharing app called Cabify; she got in the vehicle and the driver drove to her home. Security footage showed that the driver idled in front of her house, ended the ride, and drove away, but Mara never got out of the car.

Her body was found a week later in a ditch near a motel.  She had been raped and strangled.

The Cabify driver has been arrested for deprivation of liberty and murder.

Sunday’s marches took place throughout the states of Mexico and Puebla, with people protesting a perceived disregard from the Mexican authorities toward femicides—killings of women and girls specifically due to their gender, usually accompanied with sexual violence.  As per the Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio, only 25% of reported murders are investigated as femicides.

According to Luis Ernesto Derbez, director of Universidad de la Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in an interview with Forbes Mexico, a lack of judicial infrastructure is one of the greatest problems in combating impunity in Mexico today.  This means that less than 1% of reported crimes are seen through to their conclusion. The population ratio of judges to people is approximately 4.2 judges per every 100,000 people, while the international average is closer to 16.23 judges per 100,000 people.  UDLAP has conducted a multi-year study called the Global Impunity Index (Índice Global de Impunidad), in which Mexico scored 4th highest impunity in the world.

Mara was a political science major at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. She is the 82nd victim of femicide in the state of Puebla this year.

For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – “Mexicans march against femicide after teen’s murder” – 18 September 2017

BBC Mundo – “Femicidio en México: Mara Castilla, el asesinato de una joven de 19 años en un taxi que indigna a un país violento” – 18 September 2017

El País – “Mara no se fue, a Mara la mataron” – 18 September 2017

The Guardian – “Outrage as Mexican student killed after using ride-hailing service” – 18 September 2017

Observatorio Ciudadano de Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos – “Feminicidios en Puebla al 17 de septiembre de 2017” – 17 September 2017

CNN Español – “El trágico fin de Mara Castilla, la joven mexicana que desapareció tras tomar un coche de Cabify” – 16 September 2017

Forbes México – “México es el cuarto país con mayor impunidad en el mundo” – 28 August 2017

A Weekend of Protests Follow Ex-Cop’s Acquittal for 2011 Shooting

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ST. LOUIS, MissouriOn Friday, September 15, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted white former police officer Jason Stockley charged with first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Hundreds of people protesting in St. Louis on Friday following Jason Stockley’s acquittal of the 2011 murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post.

In December 2011, Officer Stockley and his partner (who was not charged) engaged Mr. Smith in a high-speed car chase when he fled the scene of a suspected drug deal.  The officers rammed Mr. Smith’s vehicle.  Officer Stockley got out of the police SUV armed with his service revolver as well as an unauthorized AK-47, approached Mr. Smith’s car, and fired five shots into the car.  Mr. Smith was killed as a result.  Officer Stockley reported finding a handgun lodged between the center console and the passenger seat.

Prosecutors alleged the handgun was planted by Stockley after the shooting since it did not have Mr. Smith’s DNA on it, only Stockley’s.  Dashcam footage also recorded Officer Stockley telling his partner that he was “going to kill this [redacted], don’t you know it” immediately prior to their ramming of Mr. Smith’s vehicle.

Stockley was charged in May 2016.  He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead for a bench trial where questions of both fact and law would be decided by the presiding judge.

Judge Wilson determined that the two points of contention alleged by the prosecution in the case were as follows:

  1. Whether Officer Stockley planted the gun found in Mr. Smith’s car.
  2. Whether Officer Stockley’s statement made prior to the end of the vehicle pursuit indicated premeditation.

Judge Wilson ruled that Officer Stockley’s comment lacked context and that there was no evidence that the handgun found in Mr. Smith’s car had been planted. “This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” Officer Stockley was found not guilty of Anthony Lamar Smith’s murder.

Protests around St. Louis began on Friday shortly after news of the acquittal, and continued throughout Saturday and well into Sunday afternoon.

Officer Stockley’s defense attorney, Neil Bruntrager, also represented Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and whose lack of indictment by grand jury sparked protests around the United States in 2014.

In 2015, The Guardian began an investigative project called “The Counted” to document the number of people killed by police in the United States.  The database includes 1093 reports of people being killed by police in the US in 2016.

For more information, please see:
The Guardian – More protests expected over acquittal of white officer in police killing – 17 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Ex-officer cleared in killing of Anthony Lamar Smith – 16 September 2017

New York Daily News – Here’s why a judge acquitted a St. Louis cop of first-degree murder – 16 September 2017

The Washington Post – Police and protesters clash in St. Louis after former officer who shot black driver acquitted on murder charges – 16 September 2017

National Public Radio – Protests in St. Louis After Ex-Cop Acquitted In Anthony Lamar Smith Murder Case – 15 September 2017

Vox News – St. Louis police shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith: ex-cop Jason Stockley found not guilty of murder – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – “The Counted: People killed by police in the US” – Series

Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017