From the Wikipedia entry for 19th century Sicilian astronomer Niccolo Cacciatore. You can easily see these two stars during the summer in the northern hemisphere.
Sadness (and hope)
We don’t do “sad” well here in the United States. We’re not really mourners or grievers. We go great lengths to avoid feeling sadness. “I’ll give you something to cry about” is something parents actually say to their young children. Perhaps it’s the same around the world.
Unless it’s something immediate, like the departure of a loved one, we put our heads down, furrow our brows, and soldier on. We numb with addictions, from alcohol to fentanyl to overwork to social media. (We write blog posts.) We bury.
We avoid feeling sadness, too, out of a sense that it’s a wrong turn: that it’s the opposite of acting to reverse it. That it’s pointless wallowing, or an admission of defeat.
It isn’t, though. Sometimes it’s first necessary to feel the sadness fully. Only then can we work to ease it. Maybe this part of the year is the time to do that. To give in, if only for a moment.
2021 has been another unrelenting year. Even if we haven’t been hit directly by COVID or other, mostly human-caused, tragedies, there’s an ambient sense of loss. Despair has been building up in our peripheral vision. If we look at it directly, we may find that all the little bits of sadness have accreted into a howling mass.
There’s great sadness for everything we lost during the pandemic. More than 800,000 people gone forever, in this country alone—1 in 400—along with all of the contributions they could have made. People who lost their incomes and saw their careers or ambitions derailed. People who lost parents or those they most admired, their sources of stability. People who just feel a lot less rooted and secure than they did two years ago. All the human connections, from classrooms to churches to celebrations, that never got made.
Sadness for the tens of millions deluded into refusing life-saving vaccines and treatments. Sadness for “essential” workers who’ve taken risks every day for us. Sadness for the big share of our population—the non-voters, the “low information,” those forced to work long hours while raising kids, those simply disconnected from their communities—whom our government, at all levels, didn’t make the extra required effort to reach and protect. Sadness for those in poorer countries denied a chance even to obtain vaccines and treatments.
Our planet: the fading-away species, their dwindling habitats, that we’ll never see again. The human victims of climate-related storms and wildfires. The imminent loss of coastal and floodplain communities, and the mass dislocations to come. The unchecked disappearance of rainforests and coral reefs. Humanity’s frustrating incapacity to act collectively on even modest efforts to change behavior. The knowledge that the weakest and most marginalized will bear the worst of it.
The tents going up in our towns, big and small, as the cost of a home slips out of reach. Kids and parents experiencing homelessness just blocks away. The growing addicted population. The numbingly common overdose deaths: more than 10 per hour nationwide. A Congress run by the “more compassionate” party but failing to pass legislation to help Americans falling through the cracks.
The storm clouds of U.S. democracy’s possible extinction in 2022 and 2024, and the paralysis among the majority who must act to prevent it. The marginalized, like Black Americans, LGBT Americans, undocumented Americans, the poorest Americans, whose experience of life here—interactions with police, employers, immigration agents, judges, and now even voting registries—can barely be called “democracy” anyway.
Our leaders’ remarkable inability—or lack of will—to hold accountable people who’ve broken our laws, including those paying no price for inspiring terror at the U.S. Capitol 50 weeks ago. A sad echo of the impunity granted to all who lied their way through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, through systematic torture, and in the runup to the 2008 financial crisis.
The manufactured suffering of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, whom a Democratic U.S. administration has left homeless and cut off from family and support networks in some of the hemisphere’s most dangerous cities, without even a chance to ask for protection here. The parents in those border cities sending their kids across alone, heartbroken but knowing they’ll be better protected. The peculiar glee with which many U.S. border and immigration personnel carry out these policies.
The growing number of countries becoming populist, nationalist dictatorships—first through fair elections, later through sham elections. The lack of formulas for unseating those regimes. The growing ranks of jailed, tortured, and exiled journalists, activists, and civic leaders. The probability that the United States could become one of those regimes. What that will mean for those of us who continue to speak out.
That’s a big, built-up mass of sadness and loss, constantly hovering in our peripheral vision.
Placing that mass into our direct focus, sitting with it and trying to draw some wisdom from it, can’t happen on a typical, hectic, routine day. We have too many responsibilities and people to attend. We have to stay paid. We certainly don’t sit with it on social media or wherever else our ragged “national conversation” takes place—those venues substitute outrage for sadness, making it worse as we endlessly scroll.
Here at the end of the year, though, most of us have time out of the routine. Hopefully that means at least a few hours not looking at our phones, and reflecting, alone and with those closest to us. If we get a chance to do that, then we should try, for a moment, not pushing the sadness away when it comes.
Go ahead and be with it for a long moment. The end of the year is a good time to do it. Don’t wallow, but do feel it deeply, in all its dimensions. Give in to it: let the sad pass through. It will probably be wrenching. It may hurt.
But then, act. Don’t turn the sadness into anger—at least, not into undirected rage. Sadness and anger are only worthwhile if, like alchemists, we can forge them into something creative.
Examples abound of people doing that. I know hundreds of them from my work in Latin America. But there are hundreds—even thousands—within a 10-mile radius of where you’re reading this.
Those doing registration and get-out-the-vote drives? Fighting for housing, addiction treatment, or asylum? Feeding the hungry, assembling COVID test kits, taking in strangers? They see so much of the sadness on a daily basis that they probably have PTSD. But they keep going.
Right now there are people teaching and mentoring kids, caring for the ill, caring for others’ kids, developing life-saving medical treatments. There are people defending migrants, representing victims of police brutality, advocating for those experiencing homelessness.
People trying to undo deliberate government policies that cause human suffering, at home and abroad. People pushing audacious ideas, from criminal justice reform to housing-first to alternative energy to immigration reform to disarmament to stopping human rights abuse. People trying to end armed conflicts and solve devastating political impasses.
Artists willing new works into existence, changing how we feel or view the world, comforting us, discomforting us, provoking us. People urging political leaders to act, but not content to wait around for them.
As with sources of sadness, the sources of hope are innumerable. They mean so much more than the latest outrages on our phones’ screens.
So give in, for a moment, to the sadness that comes with being alive right now. But then reflect on how to reduce it, how to alchemize it into hope.
Reflect on our own behaviors that might be contributing to the sadness—we all have some. Reflect on how we can better use our talents, our energies, and our connections with people to bring relief, to create… happiness. To create human happiness out of thin air, where nothing existed before but indifference and apathy.
After the sadness, go look for the embers of hope: in our communities, in our families, in our networks, and in ourselves. Then let’s fan them into real flames.
Let’s have a happy new year.
An off-topic rant
Time for some off-topic venting. Bear with me, it’s just 353 words. But I need to rant.
It’s been 21 months since everything first closed down, and it’s still hard to get a COVID test here in the US. Wherever there’s a test site in DC, there’s dozens of people in line. Even hundreds. Some of them coughing. Pharmacies are mostly sold out of tests.
It’s December 2021.
And it seems worse elsewhere.
Think about how incredible that is. What a failure of leadership. We thought this would get better without Trump, but it didn’t. It just didn’t.
Perhaps the “free market will sort this out” myth took hold. Well, the free market didn’t foresee this.
Our family got boosters, but the online appointment system (with for-profit pharmacies, no government involved) made us wait nearly 3 weeks. For our kid, we had to drive for miles—and then the pharmacy screwed up the vax record and my wife spent an hour on hold trying to fix it.
We’re OK: we can deal with that kind of hassle. We have desk-at-home jobs and an older child.
But we’re the minority. What about those in worse shape than us? Elderly? Single parents? Low income? Low information? They’re struggling enough as it is.
What to us is added friction, to them means missing out on boosters and tests.
Getting tested and vaccinated should be effortless by now, especially for people trying to hold down jobs, raise kids, and stay afloat. People who don’t get the latest updates from NPR, NYT, or CDC.
That it isn’t effortless—that there are still so many shortages, so many friction points, and so little specific, current information from credible government sources, leaving so many instead just to share experts’ tweets? That’s a failure, and it will kill people this winter.
OK, end of rant.
I don’t initiate conversations about this in real life, because every time it comes up, I get so mad that whoever I’m talking with starts looking concerned. Even as I write this, I should probably go breathe into a paper bag.
Never mind “left” or “right”: today, it’s “democratic” or “not.”
Most of the takes about Gabriel Boric’s historic election victory yesterday in Chile identify him as a “leftist,” and the opponent he defeated, José Antonio Kast, as a “rightist.” Expect a lot of pixels to be spilled over the next weeks, again, about a “rising leftist tide” in Latin America.
I’m not sure how helpful this analysis is. These days, regardless of their views on abortion or taxing the wealthy, the more interesting label is whether a leader intends to work within established democratic norms or to dismantle them. Some leftists have stayed within the system, and left power when they lost elections (Lula, Cristina Fernández). Others have dismantled the system and undermined elections (Ortega, Chávez/Maduro). (Still others—Zelaya, Rousseff, Lugo—weren’t allowed to finish their terms.)
Right-wingers come in both flavors too. Bolsonaro is weakening Brazil’s institutions, and may be setting up his own January 6-style plan to remain in power past the 2022 elections. But nobody credibly believes that Iván Duque is hatching a plan to keep the right in power regardless of next year’s vote outcome in Colombia. And Kast, along with Chile’s current rightist president, Sebastián Piñera, was quick to congratulate Boric on his victory.
Centrists, too, exist on both axes. El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele is following the populist-authoritarian playbook step by step—but he adheres to no ideological extreme.
What I don’t have a clear idea of from the current Chile coverage is where Gabriel Boric may fit on the democratic-authoritarian axis. So far, especially since he made the runoff, his rhetoric has been institutional and norms-respecting. There’s a sense that he was the less authoritarian-minded candidate, compared to Kast. Analysts who’ve followed his career find him thoughtful and consensus-seeking, and willing to criticize the regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. That doesn’t apply to everyone in his coalition, though.
The jury is still out on other new leaders, like Honduras’s Xiomara Castro (who hasn’t been sworn in yet) and Peru’s Pedro Castillo (who has had trouble enough forming a viable government). They both go on the left side of this graphic, but it’s hard to know yet whether they go into the top left or bottom left. Neither, though, seems bent on building a cult of personality.
As with them and all of the other leaders in the above graphic, their up-down movement is more interesting to monitor than their right-left movement. It will have the greater implications for regional stability and the survival of democracy.
The up-down movement should also have the greater bearing on how the U.S. government chooses to relate to each leader. It should—but I don’t know if it will. My fear is that Washington’s old “right-left” reflex may kick in. “Right” for many here, is synonymous with pro-business, more likely to buy our weapons and let us invest in their commodity production, and less likely to flirt with China. “Left,” for many, is the opposite of that, denying access to our military and our investors.
If the left-right axis continues to predominate in U.S. policymakers’ minds over the up-down axis, the Biden administration and other D.C opinionmakers may end up embracing rightists who damage democracy and shunning leftists who respect it. May that fear not be realized in 2022.
5 links: December 17, 2021
- “Advance the Promises of the 2016 Peace Accord: Civil Society Perspectives on Peace in the Choco” (Washington Office on Latin America, December 17, 2021).
WOLA gathered perspectives on how various civil society actors were viewing the implementation of the 2016 peace on the ground
- Camilo Osorio Sanchez, “Tren de Aragua Ya Aterra en Frontera Con Ecuador” (El Colombiano (Medellin Colombia), December 17, 2021).
Banda venezolana está tras tráfico de migrantes en Ipiales. Investigan relación con criminales capturados en Rumichaca
- Evens Sanon, Peter Smith, “All From Us Missionary Group Freed in Haiti, Police Say” (Associated Press, Associated Press, December 17, 2021).
The remaining members of a U.S. missionary group who were kidnapped two months ago in Haiti have been freed
- Manu Ureste, “Gobierno de Amlo Tambien Militariza la Detencion de Migrantes: En 82% Participaron Soldados y Policias” (Animal Politico (Mexico), December 17, 2021).
La Guardia Nacional, el Ejército y la Marina respondieron por transparencia que “coadyuvaron” en operativos para capturar a 104 mil 798
- Emily Green, “How Dangerous Is Tulum for Tourists Right Now?” (VICE, December 17, 2021).
Murders in the tourist paradise have surged and tourists are wondering whether partying there is worth the risk
5 links: December 16, 2021
- “Documento Lecciones Aprendidas, Paro Nacional Colombia, 2021, Juliette de Rivero, Representante de la Alta Comisionada” (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Colombia Field Office, December 16, 2021).
De la información recopilada y analizada por la Oficina, hay razones fundadas para sostener que se habrían cometido graves violaciones a los derechos humanos
- Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul, Balbina Flores Martinez, “La Vida Despues del Silencio” (El Universal (Mexico), December 16, 2021).
Cómo un sistema fallido de atención a víctimas abandonó a las familias de periodistas asesinados y desaparecidos
- Maria Sacchetti, Nick Miroff, “Border Arrests Ticked Up 5 Percent in November, First Increase Since Summer” (The Washington Post, December 16, 2021).
The increase is driven by sharp increases in arrivals from Venezuela, which smashed the record set in October, as well as steady arrivals from Cuba, parts of Central America and Mexico
- Julia Neusner, Ana Ortega Villegas, ““Nothing Humane About This Process:” Biden Administration Launches “Remain in Mexico” Revamp at el Paso Port of Entry” (Human Rights First, December 16, 2021).
In our roles as Human Rights First’s Advocacy Strategist and Associate Attorney for Refugee Protection, we spent a week in Ciudad Juárez monitoring the Biden administration’s rollout of “RMX 2.0”
- “New Report Unveils Impact of Biden Reboot of Remain in Mexico” (Women’s Refugee Commission, December 16, 2021).
The Women’s Refugee Commission released a new report that unveils new findings from a recent trip to the US border with Mexico on the heels of the Biden administration’s reimplementation of the Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy
5 links: December 15, 2021
- Samantha Schmidt, Diana Duran, “Colombia’s Riot Police Need ‘Profound Transformation,’ u.n. Rights Agency Says” (The Washington Post, December 15, 2021).
Following the excessive use of police force in this year’s protests, the country should consider moving its national police out of the Ministry of Defense, the agency said
- “Descarga la Relatoria Independiente Solicitada por la Alcaldesa Claudia Lopez y Respaldada por la Onu, Informe Que Esclarece los Hechos Ocurridos el 9 y 10 de Septiembre de 2020” (Cuestion Publica (Colombia), December 15, 2021).
Lo que ocurrió en la capital del país en el marco de las protestas del 9 y el 10 de septiembre fue una masacre cuya responsabilidad recae en la Policía Nacional
- Nayeli Valencia, Juan Luis Garcia, Scarlett Lindero, Marco Antonio Lopez, Abraham Rubio, “La Cuarta Transformacion del Poder Militar” (Lado B (Mexico), December 15, 2021).
15 años después de que Felipe Calderón inició la guerra contra el narcotráfico, el presupuesto del Ejército creció un 95%
- Sandra Sanchez, “White House Seeks to Condemn South Texas Land, Nature Preserve for ‘Border Infrastructure Project’” (Border Report, December 15, 2021).
The Biden administration has sued in federal court to condemn several tracts of farmland in Cameron County where they plan to build a new border barrier along the Texas/Mexico riverbanks
- Gilbert Rodriguez, “Cong. Tony Gonzales Introduces Bill to Fight Vaccine Mandates on Customs & Border Agents Fighting to Secure Border” (Texas Insider, December 15, 2021).
As of early December, 1,000s of Border Patrol Agents & Customs Officers have chosen to forego the COVID-19 vaccine
5 links: December 14, 2021
- Cintia Cruz, “A Cada Quatro Horas, Uma Pessoa Negra e Morta Em Acoes Policiais” (O Globo (Brazil), December 14, 2021).
Levantamento da Rede de Observatórios da Segurança mostra que Rio de Janeiro é estado que mais mata negros em operações. Estudo monitora sete estados brasileiros
- “Estados Unidos Ha Retirado Visas a ‘Narcogenerales’ Ecuatorianos” (El Universo (Ecuador), December 14, 2021).
‘Estamos muy preocupados por la penetración del narcotráfico en Ecuador y en las fuerzas del orden’, dice Michael Fitzpatrick
- “Comunicado: Homicidios en Mexico Durante 2020” (Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia, December 14, 2021).
Entre los principales hallazgos destaca que en 2020 se registraron 35,644 homicidios a nivel nacional, una cifra ligeramente menor a los asesinatos en 2019 (36,065).
- Nick Miroff, “Eager for New Border Model, Biden Officials Look to Europe’s Reception Centers” (The Washington Post, December 14, 2021).
It would probably require asylum seekers who cross the border to remain at government sites until their cases are decided. If they did not qualify for protection in the United States, they would be deported
- Camilo Montoya-Galvez, “Appeals Court Upholds Order Requiring Revival Of “Remain in Mexico” Border Policy” (CBS News, December 14, 2021).
A three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Biden administration’s decision to terminate the policy earlier this year violated legal administrative procedures and federal immigration law
5 links: December 13, 2021
- “21 Miembros del Ejercito y un Civil Reconocen Ante la Jep su Responsabilidad por Falsos Positivos en el Catatumbo y en la Costa Caribe” (Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (Colombia), December 13, 2021).
El general (r) Paulino Coronado, y once oficiales más, seis suboficiales, tres soldados y un tercero civil reconocieron su responsabilidad en el asesinato y desaparición forzada de, al menos, 120 personas en El Catatumbo y 127 en la Costa Caribe
- Samantha Schmidt, Diana Duran, “Colombian Police Responsible for ‘Massacre’ of 11 People in 2020 Protests, u.n.-Backed Investigators Conclude” (The Washington Post, December 13, 2021).
The killings amounted to a “massacre,” former national ombudsman Carlos Negret wrote in a scathing 177-page report released Monday
- Maria Abi-Habib, “Haiti’s Leader Kept a List of Drug Traffickers. His Assassins Came for It.” (The New York Times, December 13, 2021).
In the months before his murder, President Jovenel Moïse took a number of steps to fight drug and arms smugglers. Some officials now fear he was killed for it
- J. David Goodman, “Helicopters and High-Speed Chases: Inside Texas’ Push to Arrest Migrants” (The New York Times, December 13, 2021).
Texas is using state law enforcement in an unusual way in an attempt to stem illegal border crossings. The tactic is raising constitutional concerns and transforming life in one small town
- Jana Winter, “Operation Whistle Pig: Inside the Secret Cbp Unit With No Rules That Investigates Americans” (Yahoo!, December 13, 2021).
As many as 20 journalists were investigated as part of the division’s work, which eventually led to referrals for criminal prosecution against Rambo, his boss and a co-worker. None were charged, however
Latin America-related online events this week
Monday, December 13 – Thursday, December 16
- At oas.org: 182nd Regular Period of Sessions, Inter-American Human Rights Commission (RSVP required).
Monday, December 13
- 2:00-4:00 at usip.org: Bolivia’s Search for Justice and Reconciliation (RSVP required).
- 6:30pm at thedialogue.org: América Latina en la transición de poder mundial y la era poscovid (RSVP required).
Tuesday, December 14
- 9:00-7:00 at thedialogue.org: América Latina en la transición de poder mundial y la era poscovid (RSVP required).
- 2:00-3:30 at thedialogue.org: Recovering Schooling and Learning After Covid-19 in LAC Series #1 – Early Warning Systems (RSVP required).
- 3:00-4:00 at csis.org: The Road to the 2022 Summit of the Americas: Vaccine Diplomacy and Engagement (RSVP required).
Thursday, December 16
- 8:00-9:30am at thedialogue.org: Toward Pandemic Recovery in Latin America and the Caribbean—Exploring New Dimensions of Japan-US-LAC Interregional Cooperation (RSVP required).
- 4:00-5:00 at refugeesinternational.org: Voices from the Border: “It’s very hard to have rights”: Refugee and Migrant Communities in Tijuana During the Pandemic (RSVP required).
Friday, December 17
- 1:30 at atlanticcouncil.org: Looking to 2022: CARICOM Chair, Prime Minister Gaston Browne on US-Caribbean relations (RSVP required).
- 3:00-4:30 at wola.org: Revisiting Rapprochement 7 Years Later: Engagement on Pause (RSVP required).
Apps I’m using
My new laptop computer arrived on Friday, and I decided to set this one up from scratch instead of migrating from the old one. (I’m using it right now.) That gave me a good look at the software and services I’m using most lately.
My daughter, a senior in high school who’s applying for college right now, is getting a similar model computer for Christmas. Coming off my own setup experience, I thought I’d write her up a list of the apps I’ve found useful, and that she might find useful as a university student.
Here’s the list that I’m sharing with her. Note that:
- I use a Mac, so this list is Apple-centric. I’ve been in that ecosystem since 2006, so I don’t really know what many of these apps’ Windows or Linux equivalents are.
- I like apps and sites that let me keep my hands on the keyboard, rather than distracting me with a lot of clicking or fiddling around. So a lot of these apps favor keyboard shortcuts and automating things, but that often means a steeper learning curve.
- I like inexpensive or free apps that do one thing really well. Still, a lot of these apps charge money to use them, at times as a subscription. Since I spend about two-thirds of my waking hours doing something at a computer, I don’t mind spending a few hundred dollars a year to make that experience less unpleasant and more efficient, while supporting developers.
- 1Password: A password manager is the first thing I install on a new computer, so that I can install everything else easily. 1Password holds all of my logins and passwords behind a single password that only I know. I don’t know the passwords to any of the sites or services I use: 1Password generates them and saves them, and I just copy and paste. All I have to know is that one master password to open the vault. ($2.99 / month)
- TextExpander: I haven’t typed my name in years, I just type “aaaa” and TextExpander instantly puts in “Adam Isacson.” Why have to remember today’s date when I can just type “dddd.” I have snippets for Latin American countries and leaders. (“ammlo” is so much easier than “Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”) Also for bits of HTML code, my address and phone number, my email signature, and much else. ($39.96 / year)
- Alfred: It’s like the Mac’s spotlight feature on steroids. (£29 / year)
- Dropbox: Still works better than iCloud as a way to back up and sync your documents everywhere. But I’m starting to worry about its privacy policies. ($9.99 / month for 2TB)
- Magnet: A handy little app that snaps and resizes your windows around the screen. ($7.99 one-time)
- Copy ’em with helper app: If you copy and paste a lot, this holds the last X number of things that you copied, so you can paste them without having to copy again. I use it constantly, especially when doing data entry. (There are other apps that do this, this is the one I’ve used for years.) ($14.99 one-time)
- BusyContacts: Everyone needs a contacts app that’s easier to use than the really poor one that comes with the Mac. This is the best one I’ve found. I don’t love it, but it’s good with tags and group emails. ($49.99 one-time)
- BusyCal: A better/prettier calendar program than the one that comes with Mac. Fantastical is also good, but I’m not crazy about its related contacts app (CardHop), so I use BusyCal because it integrates with the superior BusyContacts. ($49.99 one-time)
- OmniFocus: This is the to-do list app I’ve used for many years, but it’s probably too complicated for most people. ($49.99 one-time standard, $99.99 one-time pro) Things is prettier and simpler. ($49.99 one-time) Even the much-improved Reminders app that comes with Mac may be enough for most folks these days.
- DeepL: This is the best translation app. ($6.99 / month)
- Hazel: A nifty app that’s always watching your computer for things that you’ve told it to watch for. Something sitting in the trash too long? It’ll automatically empty it. A movie in your Downloads folder? It’ll move it to your “Movies” folder. Lots of stuff more complex than that, too. ($42 one-time)
- Bartender: The menu bar at the top of the screen can get pretty cluttered. This little app cleans it up for you, hiding the items you choose. ($15 one-time)
Keeping in touch
- Spark: My preferred alternative to Apple Mail, which is also fine. I prefer it mainly because of the keyboard shortcuts (archive, delete, reply, forward without taking your fingers off the keyboard or even using control keys) and the way it connects to OmniFocus, Evernote, and other apps. (Free, charges for teams)
- Messages (built-in), WhatsApp, Signal, and Slack: So people can interrupt you. (All free)
- Obsidian: This is my current go-to app for note-taking and processing ideas. It works on nothing but plain text files, which can be linked to each other by using [[double brackets]], which Obsidian can display as a big network map of all of your files. Obsidian has a large and growing universe of free plug-ins allowing you to use it for many things. If you’re happy with something less full-featured, stick with the Notes app that comes with the Mac, it’s gotten a lot better lately. (Obsidian is free, though they ask for support)
- DevonThink: A pretty app that gives you a place to store all of your research documents (PDFs, websites) in a very searchable archive. (I used to use Evernote for this—and still use it for bills and taxes and stuff—but it’s had some bad updates and I hope it gets better.) ($99 one-time standard, $199 one-time pro)
- PDF Expert: If you work with PDFs a lot (like academic articles and NGO reports), this has a few slight improvements over the built-in Preview app. A nice environment if you highlight and annotate a lot. ($79.99 / year – it’s gotten pricier recently)
- Instapaper: If you’re on a web page that you want to read later (a newspaper article, a blog post, basically anything that’s not a PDF), click the “Instapaper” button in your browser and it saves a copy of just the text, without all the other web cruft. At the Instapaper website or phone/tablet app, all of your saved articles are there in a nice readable layout. You can highlight important parts, and then export the highlights elsewhere. Pocket is very similar; I use Instapaper because I have for more than 10 years. ($29.99 / year; Pocket is $44.99/year for premium)
- Readwise: A service that takes your highlights from Instapaper, Kindle or iBooks, and PDFs (if you send the PDFs to an email address), then puts them all together for you—including in a special folder in Obsidian, thanks to a plug-in. ($7.99 / month, lite version $4.49)
- Zotero with BetterBibTex: A reference manager that has made footnotes and bibliographies about 1,000 percent easier. It keeps your reference documents and spits out citation data with plugins for Microsoft Word and Google Docs. My last report had 319 footnotes, but it was really painless thanks to Zotero. Through some hacking, Zotero with plugins can even take the highlights you made in PDF Expert and turn them into a notes page in Obsidian. One inelegant wrinkle, though, is ending up putting many of the same documents in both Zotero and DevonThink. (Free; $20+/year to store documents)
- InoReader and Unread (for iOS): In one place, read the RSS feeds for your favorite sites, Twitter lists, YouTube channels, and similar. Read all new content as though it was emails in your inbox or articles in a magazine. Read folders that show just certain categories or items that meet search criteria. Navigate, and save things to Instapaper, without taking your hands off the keyboard. This is how I get about 95 percent of my news. (Inoreader tiers are free, $1.67/month, and $5.83/month; Unread is free, $19.99/year premium)
- Otter.ai: This service makes decent transcriptions of any audio file, like mp3s of recorded lectures, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. ($100/year for pro)
- Firefox: Safari is a good browser and I use it a lot, but it lacks a lot of extensions. Firefox is fast and privacy-forward (unlike Chrome, which is an invasive spy), and I use it with these extensions:
- Instapaper: Adds the current web page to Instapaper.
- Zotero connector: Adds the current web page to Zotero.
- Clip to DevonThink: Adds the current web page to DevonThink.
- DarkReader: Most of Mac OS can go to dark mode automatically at sunset, but Firefox doesn’t without an extension like this.
- Privacy Possum: This one “monkey wrenches common commercial tracking methods by reducing and falsifying the data gathered by tracking companies.”
- uBlock Origin: A good ad blocker.(Free)
- Ulysses: Most of my writing will never be printed out on paper, so I don’t care what it looks like laid out on a fake page like Microsoft Word does. What I want is text that can be converted to a website easily, with little garbage code, which Microsoft Word is terrible at. Ulysses is bare-bones but has a lot of nice features that make writing pleasant (great autocorrect, easy linking, word count targets). You can break a big writing project into sections and move them around. It’s easy to export to the web. I’m writing this in Ulysses right now. If you regularly write very long papers—more than 10 pages—take a look at Scrivener, which is great for storyboarding and keeping all of your research handy. It’s too complex for shorter-form writing though. ($49.99 / year; Scrivener $41.65 one-time with educational license)
- Microsoft Word: Most of the world uses Word, so you have to have it. I don’t enjoy writing in it, I feel like my train of thought gets interrupted while I’m poking through all of the endless toolbars, and the interface looks like the cockpit of a jet plane. The “track changes” features are great, though, and it usually comes bundled with Excel which is the best spreadsheet. Google Docs is better if you’re collaborating with people. Neither one converts to clean HTML. (MS Office I think is $69.99 / year)
- OmniOutliner: Often your first step when writing is to make an outline, and OmniOutliner is the easiest and prettiest app for doing that. It’s also good for taking notes in classes and meetings. It doesn’t get in the way when you’re thinking. ($49.99 / year)
- MindNode: Sometimes a rigid outline isn’t the best first step for writing something. Sometimes you need something more spread out and visual: a mind map. I enjoy using MindNode for that. ($19.99 / year)
- BBEdit: You don’t need this for plain writing. BBEdit is useful if you’re manipulating text a lot, like lots of complicated search-and-replaces. Usually if I’m about to put something on the web, the text has to spend some time in BBEdit to clean up the HTML (curly quotes, make sure some links open in a new window, deal with letters with accents, strip out goofy formatting). And if you’re ever coding, BBEdit is amazing. ($39.99 / year)
- Keynote: If you’re making a slideshow, the Keynote app that comes with your Mac is far superior to PowerPoint. So much easier to work with. You can convert it to PowerPoint later. I think it makes much prettier charts than Excel does. (Free)
- OmniGraffle: This one’s not necessary, but the company that makes OmniFocus and OmniOutliner makes this app that easily produces diagrams. ($149.99 one-time – it’s gotten pricier)
Sound and images
- Acorn: I’ve used this app to edit graphics for years, and am happy with it. But I have no idea if it’s better or worse than competitors like Pixelmator (cheaper) or Photoshop Elements (pricier). (Acorn $39.99 one-time, Pixelmator $19.99 one-time, Photoshop Elements $99.99 one-time)
- Audacity: This venerable free, open-source audio editor does what I need it to do (mainly, editing podcast audio). It has lots of useful plug-ins to do things like reduce noise and level speech. It can convert from any format to any another. (Free)
- Audio Hijack: This app lets you grab the audio from any app running on your computer. Great for recording Zoom meetings, recording podcasts, recording lectures and events, whatever. (And then you can take the audio you grabbed and run it through otter.ai for a transcript.) ($59 one-time)
- yt-dlp: If you’ve ever seen a video on the web and said, “I’d like to download a copy of that,” this will do it for you. You can also tweak the commands to just download the audio, saving it as an .mp3. Yt-dlp requires you to use the Mac’s built-in Terminal app, so all commands must be typed into a Unix command line. I use TextExpander to do all this, but this is still the hardest app to use on this entire list. (Free)
- VLC: This free, open-source video player has been around forever and can play any format. (Free)
- Calibre: A nice free library for your e-books. A plugin lets you remove the DRM from your books, but you’ll have to look up how to do that yourself. (Free)
- Screenflow: This one is expensive, but if you record presentations on your computer screen, like a video lecture with a slideshow, this app makes it super-easy. ($149 one-time)
Weekly Border Update: December 10, 2021
With this series of weekly updates, WOLA seeks to cover the most important developments at the U.S.-Mexico border. See past weekly updates here.
This is likely the final Border Update of 2021. We look forward to resuming on January 7.
First migrants are returned under Remain in Mexico 2.0
The Biden administration’s court-ordered restart of the Remain in Mexico (RMX) program became reality this week in El Paso, the city where the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) get-tough border initiatives often get rolled out first.
As explained in last week’s and prior updates, Remain in Mexico (known formally as Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP) was a Trump administration initiative that forced 71,071 asylum-seekers to await their U.S. immigration hearings inside Mexico between January 2019 and January 2021. Most cases occurred before March 2020, when the “Title 22” pandemic measure made requesting asylum nearly impossible. At least 1,500 of these asylum seekers suffered violent attacks. Candidate Joe Biden pledged to end the program, and acted quickly to do so in early 2021. A lawsuit from the Republican attorneys-general of Texas and Missouri led to a Texas federal judge, in August 2021, ordering the Biden administration to carry out a “good faith” effort to restart Remain in Mexico. The Supreme Court refused to put a hold on that order while lower-court appeals continue.
Months of negotiations with Mexico culminated in a December 2 agreement to restart the program. Remain in Mexico is to restart at seven ports of entry, with a maximum of 30 people per day expected to be sent back into Mexico from each port. (That, if used maximally, would add up to more than 60,000 people per month; the Trump administration’s peak month, August 2019, saw 12,387 people made to remain in Mexico.) A court filing indicated that the program would restart on December 6; as of December 4, Border Patrol sources told south Texas’s Rio Grande Valley Monitor that the agency had not yet received guidance for how to implement it.
“More than 30 migrants had their asylum cases processed in El Paso this week,” the Washington Post reported on December 8. As of mid-day on Friday the 10th, we’ve seen 28 of them:
- Two single men, a Colombian and a Nicaraguan, sent across into Ciudad Juárez on the 8th. Their transfer, originally planned for the 7th, was delayed “after the process hit a temporary snag and coordination issues,” according to the Post. They have hearing dates in early January. The Nicaraguan migrant told Reuters that “he felt a little sad, but gave thanks to God that he was still alive.”
- Six adult men escortedover the bridge to Juárez, clad in DHS-issued sweatsuits, on the morning of the 9th. They are citizens of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.
- As we write this update on the 10th, another 20 migrants have just been returned from El Paso to Ciudad Juárez, informs Julie Neusner of Human Rights First, who has been closely reporting developments on her Twitter account. As of 1:30pm eastern on the 10th, we don’t know these migrants’ nationalities; Neusner said they appeared once again to be single adult males.
In addition to likely logistical issues, the delay in rolling out the send-backs may have something to do with migrants being granted non-refoulement interviews. In a shift from the Trump-era program, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers must now ask whether those enrolled in Remain in Mexico fear being returned to Mexico. If they say “yes,” they are to have interviews with asylum officers after 24 hours of preparation in custody. In those interviews, they must prove a “reasonable possibility” of persecution and torture in Mexico; if they do, their asylum petitions may be processed inside the United States. Advocates like former WOLA executive director Joy Olson are skeptical: “When it comes to the US making exceptions for asylum seekers who are at risk if they remain in Mexico, I’ll believe it when I see it. Until now, even those who had previously been kidnapped in Mexico were returned when they tried to apply for US asylum.”
After release into Juárez, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gives migrants COVID-19 tests and transports them to an approved shelter. For now, those shelters appear to be the Kiko Romero shelter run by the municipal government and the large Leona Vicario facility run by the federal government. The latter shelter housed several hundred Remain in Mexico subjects in 2019 and 2020.
Migrant rights advocates, including WOLA, are surprised by how robust a program the Biden administration is establishing at the Texas court’s obligation, given its professed opposition to Remain in Mexico. “The reimplementation of MPP by this administration is going well beyond what is required of them by court order,” Shaw Drake of the El Paso-based American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center told the Washington Post. Not only will Remain in Mexico operate at a large number of border crossings—including some across from the country’s most violent border cities—the Biden administration is applying it to a larger variety of nationalities than the Trump administration did.
While the Trump-era program made citizens of Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Latin America remain in Mexico, the Biden 2.0 program will apply to citizens of the entire Western Hemisphere, including Creole-speaking Haitian migrants. “This is going beyond good faith implementation of the court order,” a former Biden appointee told BuzzFeed. “When you add new populations and are doing it in addition to Title 42, you are intentionally implementing a program that you know is largely indistinguishable from the prior one and putting more populations in it.” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who insists that he opposes RMX, explained that because “the demographics along the border change with time,” any “good faith” implementation required adding Haitians.
Early indications show other similarities to the Trump-era program’s harsher aspects. CBP is once again sending migrants into Mexico without returning most of their clothing and belongings, purportedly because they “might be ‘carrying diseases,’” Neusner reports. She adds that CBP is once again requiring migrants to report at U.S. ports of entry for their court dates at 4:30 in the morning, a time when dark and empty border cities can be dangerous.
While the Biden-era program includes humanitarian adjustments, these “aren’t clear and haven’t materialized, and they most likely won’t comply with the needs of shelter, protection, or access to health care and legal assistance,” Tonatiuh Guillén, who headed Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) during the first months of the Andrés Manuel López Obrador administration, told the Post. Kennji Kizuka of Human Rights First notes in the same article that promises of humanitarian exceptions were routinely broken in 2019 and 2020.
A key concern is shelter space for individuals and families who may have to wait months inside Mexico for their hearings. Ciudad Juárez’s network of 27 mostly charity-run migrant shelters is already at 83 percent capacity, Sin Embargo reports. The municipal shelter’s capacity is 200, and it currently houses about 170 people. IOM data cited by the Spanish wire service EFE indicate that Tijuana’s 23-shelter, 2,967-bed network is 85 percent occupied. “We’re saturated, we practically can’t attend to anyone else,” José María García of Tijuana’s Juventud 2000 shelter told the local daily El Imparcial.
Father Francisco Gallardo, who manages shelters in Matamoros and Reynosa, told Animal Político that “for the time being they have not received any information or extra support to receive the migrants.” While the top official for North America at Mexico’s foreign ministry, Roberto Velasco, told an interviewer that about US$80 million in U.S. assistance would be forthcoming to assist migrants via international organizations, no figure has been published anywhere else, and word about shelter provision remains quite vague.
IOM will be providing transportation to shelters and to court hearings. The agency has also condemned RMX as “inhumane and contrary to international law.” For its part, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) makes clear that it “was never involved in implementing MPP and will not be supporting the reinstated policy.” IOM is “pushing Mexico to provide migrants with documents and ID numbers that would allow them to work legally, open bank accounts and access services while they wait,” the Washington Post reports. However, during the Trump-era version of the program, Animal Político had found, only 64 of the 71,000 migrants forced to remain in Mexico had managed to secure formal employment.
Access to legal representation remains a concern. During RMX 1.0, “nearly 95% of people placed into MPP were unable to find a lawyer, compared to just 40% of people inside the United States,” according to Aaron Reichlin-Melnick of the American Immigration Council. This time, citing strong reluctance to return to the personal danger involved with representing RMX clients in dangerous Mexican border cities, most pro-bono attorneys are refusing to include their names on CBP handouts listing lawyers. “We have huge capacity limits and don’t want to be complicit in the restarting of MPP,” Linda Rivas of the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center told CNN. “When they rely so much on the NGOs to make things happen, they try to justify programs that are inhumane and don’t restore asylum.”
Perhaps the most urgent unmet need is security. “A program that requires asylum seekers to remain in one of the most dangerous parts of the world while their cases are pending in U.S. immigration courts cannot guarantee their protection from persecution and torture, as required by U.S. law,” reads a December 2 letter from the U.S. asylum officers’ union. “That first half hour of return to Mexico is the most dangerous point,” Taylor Levy, an attorney who represented many RMX subjects in El Paso, told the Monitor. “That first half hour, that first hour, that’s where we see the most kidnappings. We see systematic kidnappings particularly in Tamaulipas, particularly in Nuevo Laredo.”
In response to these concerns, plans for RMX 2.0 indicate that those sent back into some of the most dangerous border cities in Tamaulipas and Coahuila, Mexico, may be transported to cities deeper into Mexico’s interior. Much about this transport remains undefined, though, including how migrants would be brought back to the border for their hearings.
While the Remain in Mexico rollout proceeds, the Biden administration continues to implement the Trump-era “Title 42” policy of quickly expelling migrants, purportedly to limit COVID exposure, without offering a chance to request asylum. Mexico accepts rapid expulsions of most migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Citizens of other Western Hemisphere countries may now find themselves in Mexico, too—including many from dictatorial regimes that the U.S. government regularly condemns, like Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Unlike those from northern Central America, those in RMX will at least have court dates in the United States to begin their asylum processes.
Though the chance of gaining asylum through Remain in Mexico 1.0 was very slim—1.6 percent of closed cases resulted in any protected status inside the United States—some migrants may be viewing RMX as an incentiveto cross. As long as Title 42 remains in effect and ports of entry remain closed to the undocumented, Remain in Mexico is just about the only avenue available to seek asylum for migrants arriving at the U.S. border right now.
Senate confirms Chris Magnus as CBP Commissioner
By a 50-47 vote on December 7, the U.S. Senate confirmed Chris Magnus, the 61-year-old police chief of Tucson, Arizona, as the first commissioner of CBP since 2019. It was a near-total party-line vote, with only Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voting with all Democrats to confirm Magnus. Though Magnus was nominated in April, his Senate process was delayed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who had held the nomination until CBP provided information about the Trump administration’s use of agency personnel to combat protesters in Portland in 2020.
Magnus is the first openly gay CBP Commissioner. He was known as a relatively progressive police chief, marching with Black Lives Matter protesters in 2014 and vocally criticizing the Trump administration’s immigration policies. He will now head a 60,000-person law enforcement organization, encompassing all of Border Patrol, port-of-entry personnel, and an air and marine division, whose unions were outspoken in their political support for Donald Trump. Even before taking office, Magnus has come up for frequent criticism in the Border Patrol union’s podcast.
CBP also usually ranks among federal agencies with the lowest morale. The agency faces frequent allegations of improper use of force, as well as a culture of everyday abuse—treatment of migrants in custody, verbal abuse, attitudes expressed in a controversial Facebook group—reflecting hostility to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers.
This, combined with many agents’ and supervisors’ affinity for Trump, may spell difficult relations between the agency’s rank and file and Magnus, who said at his October confirmation hearing that he wanted to enforce the law “humanely” and include more sensitivity in Border Patrol agents’ training. Magnus also told senators that he is “not an ideologue” and would take a pragmatic approach with the agency.
Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum, which investigated CBP’s use of force during the Obama administration, told the New York Times that he did not expect Magnus to burst out the gate with a barrage of transparency and accountability reforms. “Police chiefs coming into an environment like this recognize that their learning curve has to go up, and that means listening a lot before you do anything.”
The Times reports that the Biden administration’s nominee to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Harris County, Texas Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, might come up in the Senate next week.
Caravans dwindle while Mexico allows asylum seekers to wait in other states
The Mexican daily Milenio published a helpful explainer about the migrant “caravans”—episodes of mass travel, on foot—that have departed from Mexico’s southern border-zone city of Tapachula since October 23. The vast majority of these caravans’ members are among the 123,000 migrants who have requested asylum before Mexico’s beleaguered refugee agency, COMAR, during the first 11 months of 2021.
Though some seek to reach the United States, many are pushing Mexico to loosen a guideline restricting them to the state where they first applied for asylum. Nearly 85,000 applied in Tapachula, a city of 350,000 in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state. Caravan participants want to exit the city, where employment and income opportunities are few. COMAR, though, is only able to process about 5,000 asylum requests per month nationwide, so migrants’ waits have become very long. (WOLA staff discuss this complex situation with Mexico-based asylum advocates in a December 7 episode of our podcast.)
Milenio identifies four main migrant movements since mid-October, all made up of people of mixed nationalities:
- The original October 23 movement of about 4,000 migrants from Tapachula, some of whose members—prevented from boarding vehicles—have walked almost all the way to Mexico City over nearly seven weeks. Past weekly updates have documented its slow progress.
- A second group that arrived in Veracruz state around November 9, possibly a 500-person offshoot of the first caravan. Authorities appear to have blocked or dispersed this group.
- A third group of about 3,000 people that left Tapachula on November 18, only to dissolve after about five days after National Migration Institute (INM) personnel agreed to provide travel documents allowing most to await the result of their asylum applications in other Mexican states.
- A fourth collection of smaller groups that Milenio calls “ant caravans,” each with several hundred people. These appear to have dissolved after coming to relocation agreements with INM, though some of their participants may have appeared in Veracruz state.
A remnant of the first group, numbering between 300 and 600 (including some who probably joined the caravan in recent days or weeks) is now in Mexico’s central state of Puebla, and may soon arrive in Mexico City. Its longest-lasting members have walked through Chiapas, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Puebla, about 500 miles. Milenio reports that their plan is to gather in the Zócalo in central Mexico City to push for “respect for human rights, and humanitarian visas.” In mid-November the INM had reported having convinced at least 1,500 members of this “caravan” to desist in exchange for travel documents allowing them to await their asylum decisions in other southern or central Mexican states.
Reuters reported on a group walking towards Mexico City along the main highway from Puebla on December 9. It is not clear whether these migrants are part of the October 23 caravan, or a group that INM had relocated to Puebla.
These relocation arrangements are becoming more common as INM yields to migrants’ demands to leave Tapachula. In recent days the agency has been offering bus transportation from Tapachula to other states—all of them far from the U.S. border—to a number of migrants that is unknown but very likely in the thousands. Reuters mentions 45 buses leaving the city on December 4, 32 buses on December 5, and 70 more on December 6.
Enrique Vidal of the Tapachula-based Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center is critical. “It is an improvised reaction,” he told the Associated Press. “They have the people completely uninformed and they think they can move them like merchandise.”
A large crowd of mostly Haitian migrants—estimates range from 3,000 to 7,000 people—has encamped outside of the Tapachula soccer stadium that COMAR had been using as a processing facility. They are demanding documents allowing them to live outside of Chiapas, along with bus transportation.
The process has been chaotic, which in turn has slowed the flow of buses from the stadium to a “trickle,” according to attorney Arturo Viscarra from CHIRLA. Meanwhile the Mexican daily El Universal published allegations that corrupt INM agents have been selling bus tickets to Haitian migrants—which are supposedly free—for US$300 apiece.
Between the restart of “Remain in Mexico” and Title 42’s persistence, on one hand, and the Tapachula buses on the other, Mexico is in a strange situation of seeking to relocate migrants into its interior from crowded situations at both its dangerous northern border and its economically depressed southern border.
Report points to devastated morale among National Guardsmen assigned to U.S.-Mexico border
A 4,300-word investigation by Army Times reporter Davis Winkie finds that the National Guard mission at the border, begun in 2018 as part of Donald Trump’s response to migrant caravans, “fell apart” over the past year due to irrelevance, poor leadership, and low morale.
National Guardsmen have been at the border almost continuously since the Bush administration, usually in support of CBP in roles that involve no contact with migrants. By the early Trump administration, only a couple of hundred guardsmen were stationed at the border, carrying out technology-intensive missions like aerial surveillance. In April 2018, Trump greatly increased the Guard presence, and during 2021 about 4,000 personnel from 20 states have remained. A February 2021 Government Accountability Office report found fault with the deployment’s cost estimates and internal monitoring.
The Biden administration has maintained the deployment but cut back its law enforcement role; most personnel now maintain vehicles and equipment, perform light construction, and sit in vehicles all day observing the border, alerting Border Patrol to any suspicious crossings they witness. This is distinct from the National Guard deployment ordered earlier this year Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which is funded from Texas’s state treasury and—in an unusual move—empowers soldiers to arrest civilians.
The Army Times article includes a series of bombshell revelations provided by anonymous guardsmen who had been deployed at the border. While the entire article is a rewarding read, some highlights include:
The irrelevance of the mission: Guardsmen “stared into the darkness and fell asleep on the job while awaiting shipments of equipment for months, and only assisted in less than one in every five apprehensions. Legal restrictions on the use of Guardsmen left them with little more than watching as a mission.” Most troops are manning 24-hour lookout sites; “most consist of two soldiers in the front seat of a borrowed vehicle, peering through binoculars.” The 2021 units went months without night-vision goggles, reduced to peering into whatever was visible within range of their headlights. An officer who served at the border last year says, “We’re useless and CBP treats us like we’re useless. We cost the taxpayer millions of dollars in pay, benefits, per diem, hotels, [and] vehicle rentals.”
Personnel deaths: Three members of a 1,000-soldier battalion-level task force died, in motor vehicle and alcohol-related incidents, while based in McAllen, Texas in 2021. “For comparison, only three Army Guard troops died on overseas deployments in 2021, out of tens of thousands.”
Severe discipline problems among bored troops included widespread alcohol and drug use—so bad that local police brought drug dogs to sniff the south Texas hotels where Guardsmen were staying. Commanders carried out more than 1,200 legal actions “including nonjudicial punishments, property loss investigations, Army Regulation 15-6 investigations and more. That’s nearly one legal action for every three soldiers.” A staff officer said, “We are literally the biggest threat to ourselves down here.”
Vehicle accidents: “Troops at the border had more than three times as many car accidents over the past year—at least 500 incidents totaling roughly $630,000 in damages—than the 147 ‘illegal substance seizures’ they reported assisting.”
“If we want to secure the border, 100 customs officers is better than 100 National Guardsmen,” Rep. Rubén Gallego (D-Arizona), a former Marine, told Army Times.
“It feels warm and fuzzy to say that we have guys with camouflage down on the border, but it’s just politicians playing with people’s emotions. [The troops] don’t actually end up being effective, and you’re eroding our military capability for real threats. All you’re doing is, basically, taking [Guardsmen] away from their families [and] taking people from actual training. You’re screwing with readiness. You’re screwing with morale.”
Winkie’s article cites an anonymous letter a soldier slipped under doors at a brigade headquarters in September. “‘Someone please wave the white flag and send us all home,’ the letter pleaded. ‘I would like to jump off a bridge headfirst into a pile of rocks after seeing the good ol’ boy system and f—ed up leadership I have witnessed here.’”
Now that the U.S. government has entered fiscal year 2022, the 2021 hodgepodge of units from 20 states has been replaced by a 3,000-person mission coordinated out of the Kentucky Army National Guard. The officer who commanded the Guard units during the first five months of fiscal 2021, “then-Col. Martin Clay, was promoted to brigadier general in May.”
- The International Organization on Migration estimates that 5,755 migrants have died along North American and Caribbean routes since 2014, with more than 1,060 perishing so far in 2021. Of this year’s victims, at least 650 people have died along the U.S.-Mexico border, usually of dehydration or exposure. That is the most IOM has counted since the organization began documenting deaths in 2014. Over this eight-year period, IOM counts 3,575 deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border, far more than the 2,580 remains the U.S. Border Patrol reports finding.
- A tractor-trailer carrying about 150 migrants, most from Guatemala, hit a barrier and flipped over on a highway outside Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Mexico’s state of Chiapas, on December 9. More than 50 people died, a number that is likely to increase.
- The mayor of Yuma, Arizona says that more than 6,000 migrants arrived at his city’s border with Mexico between December 4 and December 9, seeking to be apprehended and petition for asylum.
- In a two-part series at Border Report, Sandra Sánchez tells the story of a Honduran family that was placed into the Remain in Mexico program in July 2019.
- For about a week, Tijuana shelters have noticed an increase in arrivals of Haitian migrants.
- An internal August memo from the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) recommended against expelling or deporting Haitian migrants back to their home country given the criminal violence and political turmoil being suffered there, BuzzFeed reports. The CRCL memo was not taken into account, as about 9,600 Haitians have been expelled under Title 42, aboard 91 flights, since September 19.
- Nicaragua has abruptly dropped visa requirements for visitors from Cuba, leading Univision to predict an increased flow of Cuban migrants through Central America and Mexico toward the U.S. border.
- Mexican migration authorities have vastly stepped up their operations against bus transportation: Animal Político accessed internal documents showing “an increase in the number of operations against public transport, which went from one check in March to an average of 400 in August and September.” 12,000 migrants have been detained while aboard buses in Mexico so far this year. (In a much-cited 2019 article, CBP sources had told the Washington Post’sNick Miroff of a phenomenon of “express buses” leaving hundreds of asylum seekers at the border at a time.)
- DHS is requesting public comments on policy changes to prevent any future implementation of border policies that separate families, as happened thousands of times during the Trump administration. Los Angeles Times reporter Molly O’Toole remarked on Twitter that the request for comments is “bizarre” because it “sure as hell opens itself up rhetorically to: Just don’t?”
- Our April 16 update discussed the Biden Justice Department’s persistence in a Trump-era border wall land seizure lawsuit against the Cavazos family, which has held riverfront property in Mission, Texas for centuries. This week the family, represented by the Texas Civil Rights Project, got good news: a federal judge ordered the Biden administration to return the family’s land.
WOLA Podcast: Is Mexico Prepared to be a Country of Refuge?
I MC’d a conversation between four very smart colleagues this afternoon, who helped make sense of a remarkable, and remarkably difficult, moment for migrants in Mexico. Here’s the text from WOLA’s podcast landing page:
Mexico had always been considered a source of migrants, or a country through which other countries’ citizens transited. Not anymore: so far in 2021, more than 120,000 migrants have applied for asylum or other protection in Mexico. And now, the U.S. government’s restart of the “Remain in Mexico” program means Mexico will be hosting even more people who’ve fled their countries.
Mexico’s transition to being a country of refuge has not been smooth. Its refugee agency, COMAR, is overwhelmed. The emphasis continues to be on deterrence and detention, in what has been a record-breaking year for Mexico’s migrant detentions. Mexico’s government has begun employing the military in a migration enforcement role, with serious human rights consequences. And U.S. pressure to curtail migrant flows continues to be intense.
We discuss Mexico’s difficult transition to being a country of refuge with a four-person panel of experts:
- Gretchen Kuhner is the founder and director of the Mexico City-based Institute for Women in Migration (IMUMI – Twitter/Facebook), a civil society research, advocacy, and legal aid organization.
- Daniel Berlin is the deputy director of Asylum Access Mexico (Twitter/Facebook), the largest refugee legal aid organization in Mexico, with offices in 7 parts of the country.
- Maureen Meyer is WOLA’s vice president for programs. (Twitter)
- Stephanie Brewer is WOLA’s director for Mexico and migrant rights. (Twitter)
Download the podcast .mp3 file here. Listen to WOLA’s Latin America Today podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you subscribe to podcasts. The main feed is here.
5 links: December 7, 2021
- Rafael Moro Martins, “Documento de Treinamento Anti-Esquerda Do Exercito Tem Mlt, Partido Dos Operarios e Midia Samurai Como Inimigos” (The Intercept, December 7, 2021).
Simulação feita em 2020 revela como a tropa de elite do Exército está sendo treinada para combater a esquerda e movimentos sociais
- Bram Ebus, “Five Years After ‘Peace’, the Colombian Communities Living in Forced Confinement” (The New Humanitarian, December 7, 2021).
Many Afro-Colombian and Indigenous settlements in Chocó province are trapped by a fresh wave of violence by non-state armed groups
- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), “Statement on Cuba” (U.S. Senate, December 7, 2021).
I find the situation between our two countries today bewildering, tragic, and exasperating
Haiti, U.S.-Mexico Border
- Hamed Aleaziz, “An Internal Document Shows Dhs Officials Advised Against Haitian Deportations, Fearing They Could Violate Human Rights Obligations” (BuzzFeed, December 7, 2021).
The existence of a late summer internal warning about removals to Haiti from DHS’ Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), including discussions of violating international standards, sheds new light on how some within the department had deep concerns
- “Control Ciudadano: Al Menos 73 Personas Fueron “Abatidas” por Policias y Militares en Venezuela Durante el Mes de Noviembre” (Asociación Civil Control Ciudadano (Venezuela), December 7, 2021).
La práctica de ejecutar presuntos delincuentes se ha convertido en una política de Estado
5 links: December 6, 2021
- Adam Isacson, “¿Que Implica Que las Farc Ya No Esten en la Lista de Terroristas de Estados Unidos?” (Washington Office on Latin America, Razon Publica (Colombia), December 6, 2021).
El gobierno de Biden sacó a las antiguas FARC de esta lista e incluyó a las disidencias. Qué significa para los desmovilizados y para las víctimas
- David C Adams, “A Migration Timebomb? What’s Behind Nicaragua’s Announcement to Allow Cubans to Enter Without Visas?” (Univision, December 6, 2021).
Veteran analysts of Cuba see the hallmarks of well-tried strategy by Havana’s ruling Communist Party to create an escape valve for growing political pressure on the island after mass protests in July
- “Xiomara Castro Pedira Comision de la Onu Contra la Impunidad en Honduras” (Agence France Presse, El Heraldo (Honduras), December 6, 2021).
La mandataria electa anunció además que su gobierno enviará una iniciativa al Congreso para derogar las leyes aprobadas durante el gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernández
- Anna-Catherine Brigida, “How Citizen Observers Saved Honduran Democracy From Violence” (The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2021).
It’s a surprising advance for a country ranked one of the four weakest democracies in Latin America just two years ago
- Valerie Gonzalez, “Uncertainty Clouds Mpp’s Restart for Agencies, Attorneys, Migrants” (The Monitor, December 6, 2021).
This time, MPP’s intersection with the pandemic has led to closed international bridges sending asylum seekers to look for other ways into the U.S.