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