I am an immigrant and I live in New York City. I know now is a time to stay home and be safe, but I work with other immigrants and families who don’t have that option.

So, while we fight for our health and applaud those essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic, we need to also remember that many of those on the COVID-19 battlefront are immigrants, some of whom will have no “normal” to return to when the fight ends.

Right now families across Mexico and the U.S. are being held in unsanitary immigration detention facilities for no good reason. Many of them are parents and children who left home to escape violence and unbearable conditions in their countries of origin. Now, as detainees, they face the deadly risk of infection by COVID-19. They are held in crowded conditions, are unable to socially distance, and lack access to adequate health care, medicine, and, in some cases, even basic things like soap to wash their hands.

This pandemic has reminded us how vulnerable all of us are, even as it casts a harsh light on economic fault lines and festering injustices in our society. Among those injustices is the inhumane nature of the U.S. immigration system. Even during this pandemic, undocumented workers – many of whom are out there doing essential work every day on farms, in warehouses, restaurant kitchens, and in nursing homes – and their families continue to be subject to detention and summary deportation.

As the pandemic began, Global Exchange took the lead to bring together organizations across the U.S., Mexico, and Central America to call on both U.S. President Trump and Mexican President López Obrador to immediately free all immigrants from unsafe detention centers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Our letter underlines that “the health and safety of detainees who have committed mere civil infractions (often in the act of seeking asylum from violence in their homelands) is in the hands of Mexican and U.S. authorities, who are morally and legally bound to take immediate action to minimize their risk of infection without undermining their rights to due process”.

More than a hundred leading human rights, immigrant rights and social justice organizations from both Mexico and the U.S. have signed on.

As of writing, federal courts in Mexico have backed the demands to free detainees due to the public health conditions generated by COVID-19.

To give broader coverage to these issues, we hosted webcasts with immigrant rights leaders from Mexico and the U.S. in both Spanish and English. They addressed thousands of viewers on the pressures immigrants, especially women and indigenous migrants, are facing. They looked at the broad safety and legal issues faced by immigrants with a focus on detention centers in both countries where those imprisoned face greatly elevated risk from the pandemic.

In April, Global Exchange joined a fast-growing national campaign to support the nearly 100 migrants who had started a hunger strike to press their release demands at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in Southern California. The Otay Mesa facility, run by the private prison giant, CoreCivic, is the largest immigrant detention facility in the United States with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Our immigration system has long been broken. There will be no “normal” when this pandemic loses its grip – we will still face a long fight to build a new immigration system that respects basic human values, welcomes refugees, and has open arms for those who have suffered violence in their homelands.

Take Action and Demand an immediate total moratorium on the detention of immigrants.

Marco Castillo is the U.S.-Mexico Program Co-Director at Global Exchange.



The Case for a Universal Mail-In Ballot American democracy was already on a knife’s edge before COVID-19 came on the scene.

As 2020 dawned the U.S. Senate was still debating whether to remove President Trump from office. Political divisions were at an all-time high and progress gridlocked on the momentous challenges we face – slowing global climate change, transforming our economy to meet human needs, ending America’s wars abroad, and fighting the rise of authoritarian nationalism at home and around the globe.

Partisan attacks have already corroded the national consensus on core democratic values. They have devalued our free press, disrupted important institutional traditions, and demeaned evidence as a basis for policy making. As a result, the November 3 elections may be a make or break deal for American democracy. That is why in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic we must do everything in our power to assure this fall’s election not become mired in controversy or suffer from low participation.

Theoretically that should be easy. Voters and communities needn’t choose between good public health practices and their right to vote. Making voting as simple, efficient and sanitary as possible during a time of communicable, life-threatening disease is an obvious and non-partisan priority. Whether you vote Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green or something else, you should be able to do so without putting your health on the line.

Five states, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah, have already moved to 100 percent mail-in voting. These states are probably the best positioned to conduct fair voting and can be an example to other states which have just months to catch up.

In addition to the five full mail-in ballot states, another 28 states (and the District of Columbia) allow “no excuse” absentee voting, meaning that all voters are eligible to apply for a mail-in ballot should they take the initiative to do so.

It is critical that we push hard now to register ourselves and make sure everyone in our community has the information and motivation to do the same. Many states are unprepared for the likely surge in mail-in (or so-called absentee) voting and may need to devote additional staff and resources to make things work. If mail-in ballot applications start surging now it will signal voting officials and state legislators of the need to fund the changes necessary to speedily and accurately tabulate millions of mailed-in ballots.

We have nearly five months and the need is urgent. We can make this work if everyone has the same goal of keeping democracy alive during a national emergency. But of course, there lies the problem. Parties and candidates who have historically thrived by keeping voter turn-out low are not keen on expanding our right to vote. That means they will oppose making mail-in voting easier and more
available even if that means risking the health of millions.

President Trump has made various statements opposing an expansion of mail-in voting saying “Republicans should fight very hard” to prevent “state wide mail-in voting.” He dismissed efforts to facilitate safe voting in harshly partisan terms saying, “Democrats are clamoring for it.” He then repeated the discredited trope that mail-in voting opens, “tremendous potential for voter fraud”.

Democracy works best when every voter can vote. We are hoping for a virus- free election in which no one is afraid to cast a vote, work at a polling place, canvas door-to-door, or volunteer to drive voters to the polls. We hope polling places can be open because some people (like me) prefer that. I like being around people who are exercising their freedom. But this year it may not happen that way. At least in some places, mail-in voting may be the only safe alternative.

Ted Lewis is the Human Rights
Program Director at Global Exchange.


On March 19, 2020, shortly after international institutions made known that millions of dollars would be available to impoverished countries with COVID-19 cases, Haitian authorities finally addressed the coronavirus pandemic by declaring that there were two cases in the country.

People in Haiti were outraged by the silence and inaction of the authorities as news spread of preventative measures being implemented in the neighboring Dominican Republic and other countries. Since the initial declaration, the number of cases in Haiti has remained in doubt, with grassroots health workers and activists distrusting any government figures and demanding action to prevent a catastrophic spike in infections and deaths.

The government of the U.S.-imposed Haitian president Jovenel Moise, together with the U.S.-led Core Group consortium of foreign governments ruling UN-occupied Haiti, have been oblivious to the need to prepare the nation for the COVID-19 calamity. In a video message widely circulated on social media and broadcast on Radio Tele Timoun (Youth RadioTV), a Haitian medical student trained in Cuba charged that the necessary mobilization of hundreds of young trained health care professionals is not taking place. Photos and videos showing dirty rooms, filthy beds and rat-infested trash in the two largest public hospitals in Port-au-Prince have added to people’s outrage.

Summing up the sentiments of the general public, a woman trader in an open-air market commented that, “The authorities care only about lining their pockets…”, “They will not do anything for us; the choice I have is to die of the corona virus or starvation; dying by the corona virus will take me out of this misery…”

A raging discontent with the deepening misery is at the core of the nation-wide grassroots movement. On-going peaceful protests against corruption have been met with brutal repression, long detentions in filthy overcrowded prisons and killings by a deadly security apparatus. These forces, consisting of the UN-trained police, the restored Haitian military and paramilitary groups, have also been responsible for massacres in the impoverished neighborhoods of Granravin, Site Vensan and Lasalin among others.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a spotlight on the deteriorating living conditions in Haiti. The ever-present crisis in the healthcare system is experienced by women laying on the bare floor of non-equipped maternity wards, and by men and children with various ailments unable to get care. According to recent studies, only about 30 percent of the population has direct access to potable water. In this situation, how are people going to wash their hands frequently? The lack of basic sanitation services, including trash and waste removal in densely populated cities, is exacerbating the crisis. The slashed health care budget has resulted in decreased services and closing of a number of health care centers and hospitals. There are now only around 124 intensive care unit beds and less than 100 ventilators for a population of about 11 million.

Medical professionals are bringing these conditions to light, frequently protesting to demand personal protective gear and basic medical equipment and to address the unsanitary conditions in a number of institutions in the country. Sanitation workers, teachers, students, farmers, market vendors and even members of the police who are facing similar working conditions have protested and gone on strike.

While many healthcare workers go unpaid, public funds continue to be lavishly squandered on bogus multi-million dollar projects and the ostentatious lifestyle of government officials and foreign Core Group consultants. Reports of misappropriation and theft include about $4.2 billion stolen from oil sales as part of the Venezuela PetroCaribe program.

Haitians can see through the lies broadcast by those that rule the country. They know that the vast majority of the money raised around the world after the devastating 2010 earthquake, estimated at $11 billion, never reached them. They know that the United Nations denied its responsibility for the cholera epidemic and, after finally admitting culpability, has refused to pay reparations for the over 15,000 Haitians who have died. They have no faith in a government that has stolen elections and then ramped up repression even as the coronavirus has begun its deadly march.

The struggle against the coronavirus is a world-wide fight. It demands that we stand in solidarity with each other, across all borders. Despite the lack of coverage, the people of Haiti are confronting a dual crisis. Their struggle against a corrupt and repressive system and now COVID-19 demands strong advocacy and support. It is essential that we see their struggle as our own.

Written by Pierre Labossiere,  co-founder of the Haiti Action Committee and a Global Exchange board member.



The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation continues to evolve quickly and Reality Tours and our partners are closely monitoring global developments and following the advice of public health authorities, medical experts and officials in the destinations we visit. 

In an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our travelers and partners around the world, Reality Tours, based on updated travel guidance from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has decided to suspend all trips until the fall of 2021. 

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