Senators call on Biden to protect Haitian immigrants as DHS officials deport them despite fears in return

Haitian immigrants are in fear for their lives due to the actions of the DHS

Recently, in an internal document, it was revealed that Department of Homeland Security officials knew that deporting Haitian immigrants back to their country during these times of political instability would put them in harm’s way – and did it anyway.

Now, lawmakers are asking the Biden administration to step in.

Friday, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and his Republican colleague, Marco Rubio, led the charge calling for a new round of deportation protections for Haitian immigrants in the US after a year of sweeping deportations, citing COVID-19 as the reasoning.

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“We write to express our deep concern about the complicated economic, security, and humanitarian challenges in Haiti and respectfully request that you consider redesignating Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Haiti’s protracted political crisis exacerbates the severe and prolonged humanitarian needs sparked by the 2010 earthquake,” the senators wrote in a letter intended for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

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People from Haiti and others who are seeking asylum in the United States sit and sleep outside the El Chaparral border crossing in the early morning hours on February 19, 2021 in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“While the Government of Haiti has been able to receive limited numbers of Haitian nationals removed from the United States, it lacks the capacity to provide the needed reception and care for tens of thousands of returnees.”

How did it get this bad?

The violence in Haiti spiked over the last few weeks after the opposition party’s calls for President Jovenel Moïse to step down were unsuccessful. This created a unique two-headed monster for the Biden administration which now has to simultaneously roll back the immigration policies of the Trump administration – slammed by critics for being xenophobic – while also attempting to curb the new waves of frightened Haitians seeking asylum.

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According to Buzzfeed, “The Biden administration has continued to use a Trump-era border policy to turn back immigrants at the border, including Haitians, much to the chagrin of advocates who point out that it effectively seals the border.”

Historically, immigrants have been able to cite fear of being returned to their home countries as a reason to be allowed refuge at the border. But last March 11, after the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, border officials were able to use a section of the public health code known as Title 42 to turn back immigrants, characterizing it as a measure to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. 

In the twelve months since then, thousands of people have been turned back using this policy as a blanket reason. Over 900 Haitians were deported back to Haiti by ICE in the first part of February alone, although DHS sent internal messages admitting those people “may face harm” upon their return.

“The situation in Haiti is placing an immense amount of pressure on the new administration, threatening to further strain border resources as they try to move forward with broad reforms,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.

New administration, new approach?

A DHS spokesperson said that while the agency is attempting to restore the asylum system at the border, the change could not feasibly happen overnight.

“The return of a family is a solemn and heartbreaking event. That is especially true when the country of destination suffers instability, violence, lack of economic opportunity, or other challenges,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“I’m afraid I am going to get killed,” said one recently deported immigrant named Marie, who crossed the border with her husband and infant before being sent back. “It has been extremely difficult.”

The 2018 Concordia Annual Summit - Day 2
President of the Republic of Haiti H.E. Jovenel Moise speaks onstage during the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit on September 25, 2018, in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

The 38-year-old said she left Haiti after being kidnapped and raped, but when she crossed the border in late January, she was arrested along with her family and not allowed to plead her case for protection in America before being flown back two weeks later.

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“As a Haitian Pastor ministering in the community for over fifty years, I am shocked by the tragedy our nation is producing for Haitians seeking protections,” Bishop Philius H. Nicolas with Evangelical Crusade of Fishers of Men, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Brooklyn, New York said in a statement sent to theGrio. “By sending at least 17 deportations flights to Haiti since the beginning of February 2021, the U.S. has made the immoral choice to reject, instead of protect, over 1,000 Haitians–including more than 270 children–seeking asylum and security.”

“Detaining and deporting asylum seekers doesn’t just turn our back on immigrants. It shamefully turns our back on God, who calls us to welcome our neighbors. Instead, we must halt the returns of Haitians and many other Black nationality migrants, which are sending them to face danger and which has cost the lives of many. I call on the Administration to re-designate TPS for Haitians, and also to protect Cameroonians and Mauritanians through TPS.”

To his point, the internal DHS report obtained by Buzzfeed states, “Embassy Port au Prince briefed on the deterioration of rule of law in Haiti in recent months, and ongoing gang violence and human rights violations in the country. In light of these developments, DHS US Citizenship and Immigration Services will reevaluate whether expelled Haitians would face harm upon return to Haiti.”

Then it goes on to confirm, “Based on a recent analysis of conditions in Haiti, USCIS believes that Haitians removed to Haiti may face harm upon return to Haiti.”

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