More than 200 Nicaraguans are in U.S. custody and facing imminent deportation back to a country where the White House, the United Nations and human rights organizations say the government of President Daniel Ortega is killing its own people. The Ortega government, in fact, will be assisting in the process as one of a handful of formal, authorized partners of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
More than 300 Nicaraguans have been killed, a large majority at the hands of the state and pro-government paramilitaries, since anti-Ortega protests began in April. The Trump administration has responded to the violence by recently demanding the return of vehicles it had donated to the Nicaraguan police, claiming they were used to put down protests. It has not stopped deporting Nicaraguan nationals back to the violence, however, and despite casting protesters as tools of the U.S. government, Managua continues to assist in expediting the removal of its citizens.
Between October 2017 and August 2018, the U.S. deported at least 719 Nicaraguan nationals, according to ICE spokesperson Brendan Raedy. The agency deported 832 Nicaraguans in the prior fiscal year, and 795 the year before.
“With approximately a month left in the current fiscal year,” Raedy said, “you can clearly see removal numbers are very much in line with years prior.”
That is indeed true. However, other officials claims regarding the deportation of Nicaraguans have proven misleading.
“As you may be aware,” Raedy told me, “the most common manner in which illegal aliens come to the attention of ICE is when they break another law in addition to being in the United States without lawful status.”
But the statistics he provided show that the majority of Nicaraguans deported by ICE are not what the agency refers to as “convicted criminals” — a term that can conjure up images of murderers and rapists but which encompasses those guilty of no more than traffic violations. Of the 219 Nicaraguans in ICE detention with a final order of removal, just 97 had convictions on their record.
Charles Davis is a journalist in Los Angeles. His work has aired on public radio and been published by The Daily Beast, The Guardian and The New Republic.