Throughout February, as Haiti was facing an ongoing political crisis that has kept much of the country on edge, work continued. For the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center this meant visiting community organizations, presenting workshops, checking in with people and their livestock with the mobile clinic, and talking to farmers about the quality of the recent sweet potato harvest. I capture some of these activities below, with updates from the team.
In the top-left photo above, participants in the goat program bring their goats to a mobile vet clinic led by Songé; in the top-right photo, Songé speaks with a young man who has brought a chicken in for a check-up. The goat program is built around the concept of “paying it forward.” Community groups receive training on the program and care for the goats, and then “cohorts” are formed including 10 female goats and one billy goat. When the goats have kids, they are shared with other members of the community. The chicken program works in a similar fashion, with community organizations involved in the distribution of chickens, which provide another source of food as well as eggs that can be sold in local markets.
On the bottom left, Aneus, a member of the agronomy team, holds a community meeting with people who are using a cistern to water their yard gardens in Bigue. The cistern project has been a major undertaking (funded by Focus on Haiti, a project of the Sisters of Mercy). More on this below. In the bottom right photo, Teligene, another member of the agronomy team, shows workshop participants how to prepare a smoked fish.
In this photo, Teligene & Songé hold a formation about land preparation before the spring planting in Baden. The spring planting is the primary one for the year (there is another in the fall). These kinds of trainings are one of the benefits for participants in the seed bank, through which farmers can purchase seeds at subsidized rates and hold them “in deposit” at the bank until preparations for planting are complete. The timing and success of plantings is highly contingent on rainfall, which has become increasingly unpredictable.
Above is a map of program sites where the agronomy team is involved in training and other support for farming communities. You can see the various places where the goat and chicken programs have been launched, where work is being done with planting gardens, and in training on the planting of weevil free sweet potatoes.
From February 1 to 26, 2021 the Biden administration removed 981 people to Haiti, including at least 270 children. In all of FY2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), the Trump administration removed 895 people to Haiti through ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. Trump did expel an additional 700 Haitians at the beginning of FY 2021, yet even then, the pace of removals was not as high as we are seeing now.
What is going on? The short answer is that the Biden administration is continuing to enforce an order by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shuts off asylum processing at the border. The CDC order was issued in March of 2020, and has provided the justification for the Department of Homeland Security denying people access to asylum processing or other relief. Claiming authority under “Title 42” of the U.S. code, the CDC order directs border agents to expel people as quickly as possible to the last country of transit, or, if that is not possible, to take people into custody briefly until they can be expelled to their home (or third) country. Under this order, 460,000 people have been expelled since March 20, 2020 (as of January 31, 2021).
For people from Haiti, immediate removal to Mexico is not supposed to occur – though it has. Which means most Title 42 removals to Haiti are done by plane. We do not know how many Haitians the Trump administration summarily expelled to Mexico, nor do we know how many have been expelled this way since Biden took office. But we do know it happens – on February 3, for example, 76 Haitians (in additions to number above) were expelled by Border Patrol into Ciudad Juarez, most without papers and their belongings, all wearing the sandals they were issued at a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility prior to their expulsion.
There are many layers to this. One is that Haitians have always been treated poorly by immigration authorities in the United States. The determination of the Reagan administration to detain asylum seekers from Haiti, rather than parole them out as was typically done for other people seeking protection, led to the birth of our modern immigrant detention system. Bush and Clinton interdicted tens of thousands of Haitains at sea, most returned immediately to Haiti, others held at Guantanamo until they could be removed. The Obama administration launched a metering system at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 2015 to slow the entrance of Haitian asylum seekers, while relaunching deportations to Haiti (suspended after the earthquake in 2010) in order to deter more Haitians from trying to come. The list goes on.
Each of these steps eventually led to an erosion of rights for everyone seeking protection at our borders. Metering, for example, was expanded by Trump, and in a twisted turn, underlay the logic of the Migrant Protection Protocols which forced 72,000 people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.
The fact that Haitians are typically treated more harshly is a by-product of the idea that deterrence is an important framework for immigration enforcement measures. In various ways, deterrence has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy for decades. Certainly, jailing Haitians seeking asylum was intended to discourage others from trying. The same “logic” was used by Obama to justify the metering system and expanded deportations.
Of course, deterrence ultimately targets everyone. Trump detained all asylum seekers, to deter more from coming, and his administration explicitly cited deterrence as the reason for the child separation policy employed in 2018. The Migration Protection Protocol was followed by the Transit Ban, which denied people access to asylum if they crossed a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border without first applying for asylum there. The message all around: Don’t bother trying to come here, you won’t get in at all.
This is sadly the same message Biden is currently sending. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday: “To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is: Don’t do it. We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures. The border is closed to irregular migration.” The Secretary of Homeland Security is offering a similar message. From the NY Times:
Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the United States continued to rely, for now, on a measure at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach: a public health rule that requires border agents to quickly deport border crossers to Mexico without a chance to request asylum. “They need to wait,” Mr. Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers. “It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch.”
For the Biden team, this message is justified by two things: 1. COVID-19 is still a threat and thus the CDC order must remain in place. 2. Biden is committed to reforming border policy but, he notes, it will “take time.” In the interim, his administration is afraid that liberalizing rules too quickly will lead to a “surge” of immigration.
There are a number of problems with these arguments. The CDC order was a political stunt from the beginning, not a serious public health measure. A surge in the number of people seeking entry is certainly possible, as a result of the ongoing deterioration of conditions in the countries people are fleeing rather than a misreading Biden’s generosity. The idea that treating people humanely makes for bad politics is a strange notion indeed.
But none of these arguments mean much for folk from Haiti. Haitians apprehended are mostly placed in detention until they can be removed, which means they can be tested, are in effect being quarantined, and so on. There is no reason to then deny them due process, certainly not a public health argument. The deterrent argument, generally flawed to begin with, makes no sense for Haitians either – most of whom left Haiti years ago, and are arriving now via Brazil, Chile and Peru. They no doubt try to read the situation at the border the best they can, so they can decide when it is best to try and cross. But deterrence has little impact on their decision to travel thousands of miles to begin with.
Considering all of the above, and given the ongoing political crisis in Haiti, the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitians at this rate is unconscionable. There are many ongoing efforts to halt the expulsions to Haiti (latest letter here), as well as efforts to end Title 42 enforcement, and deportations more generally. As with Trump’s DHS team, Biden’s folk seem unmoved by these efforts. Congressional outrage, editorials from the New York Times and Washington Post, and even simple reason seem to not matter much – there was another removal flight to Haiti on March 2. Meanwhile, Biden’s administration does seem to fear the daily scorchings they are receiving on Fox News. If Obama’s presidency holds any lessons for Biden, it is that they will be scorched on Fox News no matter what they do – so why not do something bold? Or in this case, do what is right: Halt removals to Haiti!
Over the last week there have been several advances as well as setbacks in the evolution of immigration policy under the Biden administration. The process of bringing the Migration Protection Protocols to a close was launched and the administration’s immigration reform legislation was finally introduced in Congress. Meanwhile, new operational guidance concerning enforcement priorities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement was released to mixed reviews, while a District Court judge overturned the Biden administration’s efforts to implement a 100-day moratorium on most deportations. After 10-months of being largely ignored in Congress, Title 42 is finally getting some attention, with calls for its rescision from 61 members of the House. Finally, as a reminder that U.S. border enforcement extends to Panama an agreement among Central America’s migration authorities was reached on February 23rd to block the entrance of Haitians and others traveling to the United States from South America.
Here’s what’s happening…
On Friday, the administration began implementation of its unwinding of the Trump era (error?) “Remain in Mexico” program. Outside of white nationalist circles, MPP has been a widely unpopular move with deadly consequences. Under the program, people seeking asylum in the United States were enrolled in MPP and then told to wait in Mexico for asylum hearings. The program was launched in January of 2019 and ultimately led over 70,000 people made to wait in Mexico. Hearings did not really begin until April of 2019, and when they did begin, it was something of a farcical process whereby people were escorted from the border into tents for a hearing with a judge via video conference. No legal observers or press were permitted, and representation for people in the MPP program was nearly impossible to organize. Very few people received asylum (only 643). In April of 2020 the hearings were suspended because of COVID-19.
As a result of people being turned back to wait, informal refugee camps were set up near the Mexico side of ports of entry as people were afraid to leave the area and miss their hearing. People in these settings frequently became victims of cartels. Over the course of the two years MPP was in place, Human Rights First has documented 1,300 victims of murder, rape and assault among those enrolled in MPP.
As of January 2021, estimates were that 25,000 people remained on the border waiting for hearings. Upon taking office, Biden suspended new enrollments into MPP, and set about creating a protocol for processing people already enrolled in MPP. That process was announced on February 11, and implementation began on Friday, February 19. People will be screened for COVID-19, and those who test negative allowed entry into the United States to await their asylum hearings. The administration has indicated it will seek to minimize the use of detention, using community support programs and possibly ankle bracelets as alternatives.
The official roll back of MPP began on Friday, as people began to be admitted in California. For some, this comes after two years of waiting.
On the first day of Biden’s presidency, a summary of proposed immigration reform legislation was released to the media. Though submitted to the Senate a couple of days later, it has taken nearly a month for the full text of the legislation to be made public. Now it is. We did a high level review of the contents of the legislation when announced in January. A more thorough review of the details is still to come. Vox’s excellent summary from January is here. Some other analysis and responses to the bill: Detention Watch Network, National Immigration Law Center, and Alianza Americas and Presente.
The full text of the Senate version here. The texts in the House and Senate are essentially the same for now. As the bill proceeds in both chambers, and is sliced up and amended the versions will no doubt begin to drift apart.
On February 23, 61 members of the House of Representatives called on the Biden administration to end the use of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order invoking Title 42 of the U.S. code as a means to shut out asylum seekers. The letter was organized by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), and Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2). The letter says,
We write out of deep concern about continued Title 42 expulsions and deportations that have taken place in recent weeks, seemingly regardless of whether these migrants meet priorities for removals,” the letter reads. “In many cases these deportees are families and children who likely pose no security threat. The Trump administration misused Title 42 to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of migrants while denying them due process and access to the asylum system in contravention of international legal obligations.
The criticism of Title 42 is long overdue. It was inspired in part by the Biden administration’s use of Title 42 to expel close to 1,000 people to Haiti over the first three weeks of February despite the ongoing political crisis.
You can read the press release, and see a full list of Congressional signers, here. If your member of Congress is on the list, be sure to thank them for taking this stand!
The full text of the letter is here.
On Biden’s first day in office, the then acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, David Pekoske, issued a memo that mandated a system-wide review of immigration enforcement policy and practice. The memo also included language on re-orienting enforcement priorities to focus primarily on people with criminal backgrounds. On Thursday, February 18, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued temporary guidance to ICE officers on implementing these new enforcement priorities. This interim guidance is only in place for 90-days. The director of Homeland Security, now Mayorkas, will be issuing new operation guidance at that point, following the review mandated in January.
So, what is in the new guidance? Enforcement priorities are defined under three categories: People who are deemed a threat to 1. national security, 2. border security, and 3. public safety. The priorities:
Behind each of these definitions is a long history of questionable practices and abuses. For example, aggravated felonies as defined under Clinton era immigration law is overly broad. It is one reason why the single largest basis for “criminal” removals are traffic violations. Which is to say, the narrowed focus in the interim guidance will lead to fewer arrests and deportations, but is still problematic. A statement from the We Are Home Campaign, for example, said of the new priorities:
they continue to rely on flawed and racist frameworks that stigmatize all immigrants as potential threats to national security or public safety, with vague and sweeping criteria for identifying such “threats” that will disproportionately harm Black and Brown immigrants, including Muslims. The guidelines also fail to make an explicit commitment to providing meaningful access to asylum for recent border crossers.
I’ll admit my first take at a headline came out something like this, %#^@%$!^& Texas!!!, but I was overruled. “Why the frustration?” you ask. Back on January 20, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a memo – the same memo mentioned above – that also included a 100 day moratorium on deportations. To be clear, the moratorium did not cover all deportations, and did not include people expelled under Title 42, which is the basis upon which the vast majority of people have been removed from the U.S. over the last ten months. But, it was a start. The temporary moratorium was envisioned as part of the system-wide review of immigration enforcement procedures. Halt most deportations, while reviewing the policy. Makes sense, right?
Enter the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton. He decided to make some right wing hay out of this order, (he referred to it as a “ seditious left-wing insurrection”) and sued to block it. His main argument (at least the one out of six specious arguments the court accepted) was that Texas would suffer tremendous cost from the detention of immigrants not deported.* Absolute. Nonsense. There is always executive discretion on who gets deported and when, and most detention costs are carried by the Federal Government, not the state of Texas (whose localities, sadly, actually make money hosting detention facilities). Yet, a district judge, Drew Tipton, appointed by Trump, agreed, and on January 26 to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the order. The TRO was extended until February 23rd. Then, late in the evening on February 23rd, Tipton issued a national injunction on the moratorium.
It is not clear if the Biden administration will appeal.
*Update: To clarify: The question of costs incurred by Texas is the basis upon which Texas claims to have standing in this case as an injured party. The actual legal questions at hand are largely procedural. Texas claims, in various ways, that the Biden Administration did not follow agreed upon procedures in terms of informing/consulting with Texas, seeking alternative measures and so on. For those interested you can read the ruling here.