“The racism against people and families from Haiti – for those who have been victims of violence, trauma and family separation – is institutional.”
On Saturday, September 11, Mexican immigration authorities working alongside the National Guard launched an operation that led to the arrest and detention of 400 migrants from Central America and Caribbean. Later in the morning, 150 of them, all Haitians, were expelled from Mexico into Guatemala. According to newsource, Arestegui, they were driven to the border crossing at Carmen in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala. “There, they abandoned the more than 150 Haitian migrants, including children, women and men, to block their re-entry to Chiapas.”
On Monday, September 13, hundreds of Haitians, alongside migrants from Cuba and countries of Africa, gathered in the central square in Tapachula demanding permission to leave the state. This follows several caravans of Haitians and others who have tried to leave Tapachula over the past two weeks, only to be turned back, often violently, by INM and the Guardia.
The majority of migrants entering into southern Mexico continue to be from Central America, but there has also been an increase in the number of migrants from Haiti, many of whom have applied for asylum or refugee status. Nearly all of whom have been trapped in or near Tapachula, Tabasco while waiting – some for close to two years. According to Mexican Senator Emilio Álvarez, as of September 7 of the 137,000 migrants present in southern Mexico, 30,000 were Haitian nationals. Other sources show that as of the end of August, of the 55,000 people who have applied for asylum in the Tapachula office of COMAR this year, 19,000 are Haitians.
Haitians arriving in Mexico over the last two years are mostly coming from Brazil and Chile, where economic pressure and nativist/racist backlashes have led to more restrictive immigration laws and declining work opportunities. The ongoing political crisis in Haiti is also leading people to look for a way out, many traveling to South America through the Dominican Republic and then up through Central America. Whether people’s journeys from Haiti started 10 years ago or 10 months ago, the trip is long, extremely dangerous and expensive. In Mexico, people are stuck near the Guatemala border awaiting legal status that will provide mobility within Mexico.
The crisis along Mexico’s southern border is the direct result of pressure from the United States government, which has demanded that Mexico block the passage of Central American migrants and others. Such pressure is not new. Clinton, Bush and Obama pressed the government of Mexico on migration. Trump, however, took it to extremes, blackmailing the government of Mexico under threat of trade sanctions to halt migration. Biden has not relented in this pressure. Though more reliant on carrots (promises of vaccine support) rather than sticks (sanctions), Biden has nevertheless pressed Mexico repeatedly to block the movement of people migrating toward the US-Mexico border.
As a result, since 2019 Mexico has further militarized its southern border and placed restrictions on the movement of migrants. Under pressure from Biden back in April of this year, the Mexican government agreed to send up to 10,000 more National Guardsmen to the southern border to assist with immigration enforcement.
In 2019, Mexico also changed rules covering temporary, oficios de salida or “exit visas.” Prior to the summer of 2019, people arriving in southern Mexico could receive a visa for 15 to 30 days – allowing them time to apply for a change in status. Many traveled to the border with the United States. Visas now require exit through the nearest (for most) southern border, leaving people with the option of applying for asylum, or other change of status within that time frame. If trying to reach the United States immediately, they must do cross Mexico in an unauthorized manner.
For Haitians, Cubans, and others from Africa and Asia, simply returning back to Central America is not really an option; indeed, this was not even possible for most 2020 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
In October of 2020 there were caravans protesting these new visa rules and other restrictions on mobility for asylum seekers; rules that require people to stay within the border of the state within which they sought asylum – for the vast majority of Haitians this is Chiapas. The resulting caravans were violently repressed by the National Guard in a preview of what we are seeing now.
Meanwhile, COMAR is overwhelmed. Legally required to issue asylum decisions within 45 days, COMAR is now taking months, and in some cases, years to make a determination.
The result is a simmering crisis fueled by human rights violations and an asylum system backlogged to the breaking point.
Much of the above may seem episodic in the sense that the backlog and new rules have resulted from a very particular convergence of issues, all exacerbated by COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, for Haitians and other black migrants, there remains a long standing tradition of discriminatory treatment at the hands of Mexico’s immigration authorities.
In September of 2019, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) raised specific concerns regarding the Mexican government’s treatment of migrants as part of its review of the government’s fulfillment of obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Concerns included the “negative impact of the work of the National Guard on migration control and the use of racial profiling by migration authorities, which has led to arbitrary detention and systematic refoulement without adequate legal advice.” Finally, the CERD noted, “concern that the phenomenon of migrant caravans has led to an increase in discourse informed by discriminatory views, racial hatred and xenophobia targeting migrants.”
As a result of these findings, the CERD made several recommendations for reform, including a review of the deployment of the National Guard with a view toward “withdrawing it from that task,” and also called for thorough investigations of “all acts of discrimination, excessive use of force and abuse of authority committed against migrants.”
In June of this year a coalition of organizations in Mexico issued a statement against the government for its failure to implement these recommendations. They wrote,
The racism against people and families from Haiti – for those who have been victims of violence, trauma and family separation – is institutional. One of these cases is Maxene André who died on the 6th of August 2019 inside the Migration Centre “Siglo XXI” in Tapachula, Chiapas. André was sick and isolated for 15 days out of the 20 days that he was in detention.
The response by the Mexican government and institutions has incited xenophobia and discrimination against migrants entering through the southern border, particularly by deploying the INM at the borders in collaboration with the NGF and members from the SEDENA to stop migrants and asylum seekers to enter, especially through the southern border.
The attacks against the migrant caravan earlier this month is thus a reminder of the Mexican government’s ongoing failure to implement necessary reforms to address violations against migrants, including the failure to take steps to respond to the specific needs of migrants from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.
Within Mexico, human rights organizations are speaking out about the situation, and demanding that the government make reform immediately. The calls for reforms include providing migrants work authorizations that would allow them to travel beyond the boundaries of Chiapas while they await a decision on their asylum claims. The United States is also called out for its relentless pressure on Mexico to halt the movement of people approaching the US border.
For those of us in the United States, this last message is crucial. What is being discussed as a border crisis, at both the northern and southern borders of Mexico, cannot be separated from the United States government’s relentless campaign against asylum. Trump launched an all out war against asylum – at a time when border crossing was actually at a low point. Now, with institutions degraded and processes uncertain, Biden seems to simply be doubling down, blocking avenues to asylum in the hopes that doing so will deter enough people from trying to come here that he can buy some time to implement reform.
It is demonstrably not working.
The consequences are tens of thousands of people left stranded in Chiapas, and thousands more left stranded in the United States, as seen under the bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
This week has been a roller coaster. As of Friday there have been at least 21 deportation flights to Haiti this week as the Biden administration tries to clear out thousands of people who have been stuck at the Del Rio port of entry after crossing into Texas – most from Haiti. As a frame of reference, through the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, there were a total of 37 flights to Haiti. As Biden has doubled down on Title 42 expulsions, the vast majority of people processed will simply be expelled without an opportunity to seek asylum.
The mass deportations of Haitians back to a country that is clearly in crisis, reeling from political violence and the recent earthquake, has led to widespread condemnation. Hundreds of organizations have issued statements of opposition to these expulsions and the treatment of Haitians in Del Rio, including UNITE/HERE and the NAACP. Democratic leadership has also spoken out, with both Schumer and Pelosi criticizing the expulsions.
We’ve been writing about about the situation all week. If you’d like to catch up, see our statement denouncing the expulsions here, and some background on the context of the crisis in Del Rio here. Finally, I get a little angry with Biden over all of this here.
The biggest news to emerge from official criticism comes with the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, who quit his post in protest of the Biden administration’s deportation policy, as well as continued US efforts to control the electoral process in Haiti. Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic and Policy Research broke the story early Thursday morning in an excellent article you can read here.
The media has covered Foote’s condemnation of the deportation policy widely, but has downplayed his criticism of US intervention. This is too bad, as he makes clear a point that we and many others have been making for months now: The United States continues to intervene in the electoral process in an attempt to control the outcome. Foote writes,
[W]hat our Haitian friends really want, and need, is the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favored candidates but with genuine support for that course. I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their leaders fairly and acceptably.
Last week, the U.S. and other embassies in Port-au-Prince issued another public statement of support for the unelected, de facto Prime MInister Dr. Ariel Henry as interim leader of Haiti, and have continued to tout his “political agreement” over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society. The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner – again – is impressive. This cycle of international political intervention in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results. [emphasis added].
What impact Foote’s departure will have on US policy is hard to read. He clearly felt that there was little chance of a change – or he would have stayed on. Ambassador Sison and other officials at State continue to call the shots for now, which does not bode well for the majority of people in Haiti. Of course, the administration replied to all of this by throwing Foote under the imperial bus, basically calling him a liar (they never use the actual word, of course). This doesn’t suggest much internal reflection about the demonstrable failure of US policy regarding the political process in Haiti.
Reports from the impacted area suggest that coordination is still limited among some of the major players. The result being that some communities are still being ignored, while others are seeing a duplication of efforts and the resulting waste of resources.
While that general critique is probably to be expected (do we ever actually learn lessons from previous disaster responses?) there are some good things to lift up.
The Quixote Center has directed most of our emergency response funding to the Haiti Response Coalition, of which we are a member. The HRC has gathered a team of community organizers who are engaged in community surveys, analyzing local needs and providing some assistance. A full update of the first month’s activities is available here. An excerpt from the longer report on emergency response:
Haiti Response Coalition is taking steps to respond to each of these priority needs:
Health: We are working with the Haiti Health Network and Barbara Campbell at Dalton Foundation to coordinate with organizations who are able to provide mobile clinics for areas where there is a need for a medical team.
Food and basic necessities: In the first seven communities identified during assessments, locally accessible markets have food and other basic necessities available for sale. In order to support the local economy and small businesswomen, and to avoid the logistical challenges of transporting and distributing these items, Haiti Response Coalition is making direct cash transfers to 600 affected families in the seven communities.
Water: Instead of bringing water into the southwest in plastic bottles, Haiti Response Coalition is looking for long-term water solutions. In several of the target communities, including Pestel and the Cayemites islands, water systems were damaged during the earthquake leading to contaminated water supplies in some cases, and an inability to catch, store and treat water. Family and community cisterns were cracked or destroyed during the quake, and in addition, some farmers in Camp Perrin and Cavaillon are calling for support to repair irrigation canals before the end of the rainy season. Over the coming two weeks, an engineer will visit these communities to provide a technical assessment and recommendations to repair water systems.
Shelter: Unlike the 2010 earthquake which forced people out of their urban neighborhoods into parks and other open spaces, this earthquake has mainly impacted people who have land around their homes and therefore do not necessarily have to move into camps for safety. However, camps have formed throughout the earthquake affected regions and there are several factors contributing to this growing situation. Many people from remote villages have moved down to the camp near the national highways in hopes of benefiting from aid that is being transported along these roads because they have not seen any kind of response where they live in the weeks since the earthquake.
In order to help people get out of the rain as quickly as possible, the Coalition is
As the summary makes clear, there is a strong emphasis in the medium and long term on utilizing local resources, rather than bringing in external supplies except where there are few other options.
The Quixote Center did provide support for other emergency responses during the first couple of weeks after the earthquake: Provision of medical supplies delivered to Baradare by the Fondasyon Mapou, and 400 food and sanitary kits delivered to several smaller communities closer in to Les Cayes; an effort organized by the Kolectif pou Lakay.
A lot has been going on! Here are a few things to read to catch up
Jake Johnston, “US Envoy to Haiti Resigns, Citing Political Intervention and “Inhumane” Deportation Policy” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Jake not only breaks this story, scooping “major” media outlets by a couple of hours, he also provides much needed context to help understand many of the details in the letter of resignation and what the US government has been up to. So, this really is a must read.
Human Rights First and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Biden Administration’s Dangerous Haitian Expulsion Strategy Escalates the U.S. History of Illegal and Discriminatory Mistreatment of Haitians Seeking Safety in the United States. Online here. This “factsheet” provides a great overview of recent border policy (Title 42), and situates current events in the context of a history of abusive immigraiton policies targeting Haitians. The chart on page 2 tells you everything you need to know about the failure of deterrence: Blocking asylum access at points of entry has only led people to cross between ports – it has not stopped them!
Another backgrounder/factsheet from the Latin America Working Groups, Human Rights First and others, Doubling Down on Deterrence: Access to Asylum Under Biden. This came out earlier in the month and does not address the situation at Del Rio directly (nor is it Haiti specific), but it does provide all the background you need to understand what is really happening at the border.
The Quixote Center joins with other human rights and faith-based organizations in unequivocally condemning the Biden administration’s decision to begin the mass expulsion of Haitian refugees who have been detained in Del Rio, Texas.
“The disaster unfolding in Del Rio is the direct result of the Biden administration’s decision to keep Title 42 enforcement in place. By continuing this Trump policy of denying people access to asylum at the border under the guise of public health, Biden has left them no place to go,” says Quixote Center program director, Tom Ricker.
Since taking office the Biden administration has escalated the Trump administration’s policy of misusing Title 42 of the U.S. Code to illegally block asylum at ports of entry and expel families and adults who cross the border seeking protection, including many from Haiti. According to prominent public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and other medical schools and hospitals around the country, there is no sound public health rationale for the Title 42 ban on migrants.
Quixote Center executive director John Marchese says, “Blocking refugees from seeking asylum in the United States is cruel. Expelling Haitians in this way given conditions in Haiti right now, following an earthquake several weeks ago, and the ongoing political instability, manifested in the assassination of the country’s president, is unconscionable.”
The Quixote Center joins in the demand for the Biden administration:
The Quixote Center has partnered with grassroots groups in Haiti for 30 years and also supports migrant shelters in Mexico and Central America.