The Biden administration’s massive efforts to deport thousands of Haitian immigrants living under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, and move others to unnamed locations in the U.S. faces heightened criticism — including from Haitian-Americans.
“All of us are appalled by the images showing the mistreatment of Haitian refugees at the southern border and the continuation of a callous deportation policy,” said Karl Racine, a Haitian immigrant himself who
is attorney general of the District of Columbia.
“As a Haitian immigrant, these photos and articles cut deep. My family fled Haiti when I was 3 years old to escape political violence. Sadly, the serious challenges facing Haiti continue: devastating earthquakes and hurricanes, political upheaval and dangerous gangs and violent crime.”
Racine and 17 of his colleagues sent a letter to President Joseph Biden last week calling for more humane solutions in assisting Haitian migrants. Racine also asked the president to discontinue deportation policies that remain in force since the Trump administration.
The Biden administration’s mass expulsions have been carried out under Title 42, first enacted by President Donald Trump.
Title 42 of the U.S. Code cites the “serious danger of the further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States” and calls for Customs and Border Control agents to prohibit “the entry of certain persons who potentially pose a health risk, either by virtue of being subject to previously announced travel restrictions or because they unlawfully entered the country to bypass health screening measures.”
A federal judge in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia last week ordered the Biden administration to stop expelling migrant families under Title 42. The Biden administration is appealing the ruling.
Racine said, “Our country faces many challenges right now, especially at our borders, but we must treat those seeking admission to the United States with respect, dignity and compassion, which of course means fair and due process under the circumstances.”
Further inflaming the issue was video showing Border Patrol agents on horseback confronting groups of Haitian migrants in Del Rio. Initially it was erroneously reported that the agents were using “whips” against the migrants. The photographer who shot the images confirmed that the agents were not using “whips.” They were using long reins, which are used to control a horse’s movements
“Of course I take responsibility,” Biden said on Sept. 24. “I’m president, but it was horrible what — to see as you saw. … “I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation underway now and there will be consequences.”
While Biden accepted responsibility for the situation prior to removing all of the Haitian immigrants from the crowded, unsanitary encampment at the Mexico-U.S. border, many still question the administration’s actions.
Among the thousands who were expelled, many had not lived in Haiti for years, having fled to South America after the 2010 earthquake and increasing violence.
Jean-Marie Jean Pierre, who works for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, left Haiti as a teenager in search of educational opportunities and a better quality of life. He said the images he’s seen on the news are disturbing.
“I am saddened but also angry and disappointed,” he said. “You don’t see immigrants from Afghanistan or Cuba being treated like Haitians have been — as if we are not human and like our lives don’t matter. But I understand that’s the U.S. policy and how they treat refugees from a country of color.
“America needs an immigration policy that’s more humane. It’s clear that Haitians have nowhere to go — certainly not back to Haiti where their lives will be extremely miserable. America should show more compassion. Haitians have contributed to this country, fought in its wars.
“All Haitians feel impacted by what we’ve seen over the past week because while we may now be American citizens, we were all immigrants once. So, we understand the sacrifices that we made as we traveled to the U.S. in hopes of a better life. To be denied that opportunity is a tragedy,” Jean Pierre said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said at a White House briefing Friday that 12,400 migrants have been released in the U.S. They are allowed to apply for asylum. Another 8,000 were returned to Mexico and 2,000 were deported via flights to Haiti, he said.
He defended the president’s decision to deport the migrants under Title 42, which he described as a “public health policy not an immigrant policy.”
“We remain in the midst of a pandemic and the CDC has Title 42 authority which was exercised to protect migrants themselves, the local community, our personnel and Americans,” he said.
Still, Mayorkas and the Biden administration face an uphill battle in justifying the president’s decision to deport Haitians as well as the way the deportations occurred.
In protesting what he said were the “inhumane” mass expulsions of Haitian immigrants, the Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned last week.
Foote, who was appointed in July, said he “will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.
“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”