Biden must halt expulsions to Haiti

Yesterday morning I had two messages on Haiti in my inbox. One noting that the 27th removal flight to Haiti since February 1, 2021 was scheduled to land in Port-au-Prince later that afternoon. The other message was about a gang attack in the Marin 26 neighborhood in Croix-des-Bouquets not far from the airport in Port au Prince. On Wednesday this week (April 7), three young men were shot and at least one of them beheaded. Initial reports indicated that members of the gang “Chen Mechan” were responsible for the attack – one of the victims being the leader of a rival gang. 

The two story threads have been consistent since Biden took office. Two or three times a week (back in February, three times in one day!) expulsion flights are leaving the United States for Port-au-Prince. Meanwhile, there are daily reports of gang attacks, kidnappings, or assassinations in Haiti. I keep wondering how Biden’s folk are unable to connect these dots, and stop the expulsions. 

The sad truth is, Biden’s people know all this – and they keep returning Haitians anyway; Women, children, men, families, are being expelled without having a chance to request asylum. This needs to stop. 

“May face harm…”

Toward the end of February, there was an interagency meeting held to discuss the dangers that people removed to Haiti may face. A document summarizing the meeting was leaked to Hameed Aleaziz of Buzzfeed News. His report of the document’s contents on March 2, 2021, says: 

“[B]ased on a recent analysis of conditions in Haiti, USCIS believes that Haitians removed to Haiti may face harm upon return to Haiti as follows.” The document goes on to explain the conditions in the country and relies exclusively on publicly available information, including a State Department travel advisory from August that recommended not traveling to Haiti due to “crime, civil unrest, kidnapping, and COVID-19.”

By the end of February, the Biden administration had ramped up expulsions to Haiti, deporting more people during the first three weeks of February (963) than Trump had deported in all of Fiscal Year (895). Since this interagency meeting was reported (it is not clear when the meeting itself was held), and despite the clear observation that people “may face harm,” another 700+ people have been expelled to Haiti. 

There is widespread opposition to these expulsions to Haiti within the U.S. Congress, and among human rights organizations, public health experts and others. Nevertheless, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security has been unrelenting. 

Two weeks ago we released a report with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack, The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impact on Haitian Migrants. The report concerns the Trump era Center for Disease Control public health order claiming authority under Title 42 of the U.S. Code to expel people absent an asylum review or access to other humanitarian relief.  Though public health experts have lined up repeatedly to denounce this order as having no public health justification, Biden currently insists on keeping it in place.

For most people, Title 42 policies mean summary expulsion back into Mexico. Well over 90% of the people expelled are removed within 2 hours of first encounter by Border Patrol. One result is that many simply try to come back again. Nearly 40% of those removed this way, try again (this is one reason why the number of apprehensions have been increasing in recent months, even before Biden took office). However, for the vast majority of Haitians, Title 42 does not mean quick expulsion back across a bridge into Mexico. For Haitians, Title 42 means being placed in detention for weeks, and then put on a plane and sent back to Haiti.  

As we document in this report, most of the people arriving at the United States/Mexico border today left Haiti years ago. They are arriving from Brazil, Chile and other countries in Latin America where tens of thousands fled after the Port-au-Prince earthquake in 2010. So, after years of migration, fleeing violence and racism in other countries, on a journey across thousands of miles and seven to ten countries, people arrive at the U.S. border to make a claim for asylum. This they are denied. They are summarily expelled to Haiti without being heard

Another distinction for Haitian removals is that a large portion of them are families. Title 42 policies have no exemption for families and as a result, families have been expelled along with everyone else. Though there is some evidence that Biden is expelling fewer families overall in recent weeks, Haitian families are still being removed at alarming rates. Again, they are not allowed to request asylum or another kind of humanitarian relief. They are denied access to attorneys. They are held in very poor conditions. Most are not able to communicate with the people detaining them. From The Invisible Wall:

“Roseline” is a 37-year-old wife and mother who fled Haiti after being kidnapped, beaten, and raped by a group because of her political affiliations.“They had kidnapped me so I could give information about the political group I was a coordinator of. They beat me up, they raped me… I said I didn’t know any- thing. They let me go and asked me to search for information to bring to them.” After the attack, Rose- line tried to go to the Haitian police, but they refused to provide any form of protection.“I went to the police with what had happened, the police just laughed. They act just like bandits and said I didn’t get killed but I’m still complaining.”

Roseline and her husband fled Haiti in July of 2016. She gave birth to their first son while they were traveling through Mexico. After a long and grueling journey, Roseline entered the United States on Feb- ruary 1, 2021, and was expelled on February 11, 2021 under the Title 42 policy.

In the United States Roseline did not have a chance to speak to an immigration officer about her fear of returning to Haiti. She was never given a Haitian Creole interpreter nor were any of the documents she was given translated into Creole. Roseline did not get an opportunity to speak to a lawyer nor present her case to a judge. She was detained for 11 days without access to a shower or to brush her teeth:

I was in prison, they kept me there and did not give me access to a shower or to brush my teeth or wash myself. I couldn’t do anything and they put me on a plane back to Haiti…. Anywhere in the world it’s known that a woman cannot go two days without bathing. I spent 11 days there without any access to clean myself with a 4-month-old baby. When I got wipes for the baby, I had to use the wipes to wash my private parts. The baby had pooped on the clothes. I asked if I could change the baby’s clothes and I had to put the dirty clothes in a plastic bag, and they said they had no clothes for me. I wanted to get access to our stuff to get clean clothes but they didn’t allow me so I had to put the clothes with the poop on the baby again, and those are the clothes the baby wore on the plane…. I had in- fection when I returned to Haiti because I spent the whole time without bathing.

Roselyn’s case is not unique. While difficult to confirm with DHS, we estimate that Haitian families make up at least half of these expulsions. Advocates working to halt removals have encountered full expulsion flights of all family units, including dozens of young children. The optics of expelling children, some just months old to Haiti are not great for the administration. However, the optics of treating them decently seems to scare Biden more. So, while there is often buzz about this or that deal on Title 42, the only public gesture Biden’s administration has made regarding Haiti immigration is the U.S. Embassy posting warnings to Twitter, telling people not to come to the United States.

Meanwhile, the conditions in Haiti that people are being returned to are deteriorating rapidly.

The psychosis of fear

The administration’s observation that people returned to Haiti “may face harm” seems laughably obtuse – except that there is nothing funny about the collapse of governance and rising insecurity in Haiti.

“Practically every Haitian is living in a psychosis of fear,” [Michelle] Obas told the Miami Herald. “Every time you see a vehicle, you jump. Even your child. You are taking them to school and they are afraid. … The country’s traumatizing and we are in a situation that is chaotic with no idea when we will get out of it.” 

The topic on everyone’s mind at the moment is the rise in gang violence. The reality is that gangs are a manifestation of a deep structural crisis involving long-term unemployment, crowded, underserviced cities, and the parallel collapse of state capacity, as public agencies have been gutted by decades of neo-liberal reform. All of this has occurred alongside an utter refusal to stem the flow of weaponry to the country (despite a “weapons embargo” thousands of small arms have entered Haiti since 2004/5, most from the United States and the Dominican Republic).  

The result is that gang violence has been steadily on the rise over the past few years, and shows no sign of abating. While the refrain that the government is “behind the gangs” is probably not true across the board, there have been multiple reports that some armed groups, such as the federation G-9 under the control of Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, are backed by – or at least tolerated by – the government in exchange for keeping a lid on opposition activity. 

Just this week the situation in Port-au-Prince exploded again, as Cherizier’s gang attacked the community of Bel Air, burning out families in a rampage that left an untold number of people dead. From the Miami Herald,

They arrived unannounced, brandishing heavy artillery as they scaled the rooftops of houses, firing shots and setting homes ablaze.

While some residents managed to escape amid the billows of black smoke and tear gas, others became trapped and died inside their burning houses. The Thursday assault on residents inside the poor, pro-opposition neighborhood of Bel Air in Haiti’s capital was the third large attack in less than two years.

It occurred within walking distance of Haiti’s presidential palace and was perpetrated by gang members affiliated with Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a fired policeman-turned-powerful gang chief who is wanted in several massacres, including the slaughter of dozens of men, women and children in a 2018 attack in Port-au-Prince’s La Saline slum.

Cherizier does not deny attacking Bel Air, but claims he was defending his neighborhood (Delmas) against attacks from rival gangs in Bel Air. Cherizier argues that Haiti’s opposition is “supplying guns and cash to Bel Air so residents could attack his alliance.”

Human rights leaders said it had nothing to do with gang rivalry, but “was to break the resistance of Bel Air, which is considered an opposition stronghold, and to prevent residents from taking to the streets in anti-government protests, which have increased in recent weeks. . . . The attack is also the result of the impunity that Chérizier and his fellow gang members have come to enjoy under the administration of President Jovenel Moïse, Gilles added.” 

It is worth noting that days before the attack, people mobilized in large demonstrations against the government.

While the motivations and alliances underlying the gang phenomenon are multi-faceted, and vary in different parts of the country, one thing that should be abundantly clear to the U.S. Embassy and thus the Biden administration is that gang violence in Haiti right now, whatever criminal activity accompanies it, is political violence. Period. People who are fleeing this situation are as much refugees as people fleeing a war zone. 

For the time being, however, Biden’s team keeps sending people back into the heart of the conflict. And, to be clear, not just sending them back, but doing so without even allowing them a chance to make a claim for humanitarian relief. It is infuriating to watch, and it must stop. What political calamity does Biden fear so much that he is willing to send families back to Haiti without even pausing to ask them why they fled? 

What can be done?

Among the recommendations we make in our report, the big ticket items are 1. Rescind Title 42 policies, 2. Re-designate temporary protected status (TPS) for Haiti, and 3. Halt all expulsions and deportations to Haiti.

Title 42 is just lousy policy. When implemented it was widely viewed as a political stunt by Steven Miller, Trump’s anti-immigration advisor, to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an end around federal courts, which had blocked several Trump efforts to shut down asylum. Title 42 also bypasses Congress altogether.  Public health experts have repeatedly bashed the CDC order as unnecessary, and have offered multiple sets of recommendations that could replace it and actually provide enhanced public health measures at the border without closing off asylum claims.

Biden has agreed to review the policy – and the CDC order will have to be revoked eventually, one would think. For now, every day thousands of people are being expelled with no due process by the president who promised to rebuild asylum. He needs more time, he says, and blames the whole situation on Trump. We don’t think this is good enough.

The message to Biden: Revoke Title 42, and replace it with real public health protections and expanded asylum processing.

Second, re-designate TPS for Haiti. Temporary Protected Status is a designation that the president can make that protects most people currently in the United States from a specific country from removal. People who are unauthorized, or unable to return home, can get permission to work for some period of time, rather than be deported. Haiti was granted TPS following the earthquake in 2010, and it was redesignated in 2011 (meaning anyone from Haiti living in the United States as of July 23, 2011 was protected from removal). 

Trump tried to kill TPS for Haiti by refusing to renew it in 2018. This set off a court battle that is still underway.

The demand being made now is that Biden re-designate TPS for Haiti. This would end the uncertainty Haitians previously designated have been living with since Trump starting dismantling TPS, and it would also protect others currently in the United State who are more recent arrivals.

Politically speaking, there is no reason not to do this! Members of the Senate, including Republican Marco Rubio, have called for redesignating TPS for Haiti.This week, House leadership on the foreign relations committee joined in the call for a redesignation of TPS for Haiti. This seems to be the most likely remedy. 

Unfortunately redesignation does nothing about the Title 42 expulsions. Anyone from Haiti arriving after the re-designation date, will still be expelled. At the same time, halting Title 42 expulsions, while reducing the number of people being removed, does not mean people get to stay unless Haitian asylum claims are taken more seriously.

So, we support all of the above. But the simplest demand is to stop the expulsion of Haitians! No more removals until the political situation stabilizes. 

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Border Update: March numbers and what they show

In March the Border Patrol “encountered” 172,000 people – the highest monthly total in years. This surpasses the June 2019 peak of close to 150,000 under the Trump administration, the highest level in over ten years at the time. As we reported last Friday, however, there are some significant differences between now and 2019.

Of the 172,000 people encountered in March, 101,000 were expelled almost immediately under Title 42 policies – a set of regulations imposed by the Trump administration requiring the summary expulsion of most people encountered by Border Patrol. With the March 2021 figures included,  637,000 people have been summarily expelled in the year since Title 42 was enacted (March 20, 2020). 

It is also important to remember when looking at these numbers, many people are still removed quickly under traditional authorities (e.g. Title 8, not Title 42) if it is determined they do not have a valid claim under current law to stay. So, under traditional Title 8 enforcement authority, those wishing to do have a chance to make an asylum claim or present another basis for humanitarian relief, but most will still eventually be removed from the country.

As originally written, Title 42 included expulsion of children, either as part of a family group, or by themselves. A court temporarily blocked the expulsion of unaccompanied children in October of 2020, though the government won an appeal allowing the expulsion of children to resume in January 2021 just before Biden took office. Biden’s administration has determined not to expel unaccompanied children. 

Further, although Biden has continued to otherwise enforce Title 42 – including summary expulsion of families – fewer families are being expelled. In March, 52,000 people who were part of a family group were apprehended by Border Patrol crossing. Along with children (18,000), this accounts for most of the 70,000 people encountered, but NOT expelled, under Title 42.

As the number of encounters has increased in recent months, the number of children in custody has also increased rapidly. According to figures from Homeland Security, the number of children in custody of Health and Human Services is now well over 14,000 while another 4,700 remain in the custody of Customs and Border Protection.  These figures now exceed the number of kids being detained on average for any month in 2019. The total number of children taken into HHS custody in Fiscal Year 2019 reached 76,000. Halfway through the current fiscal year, we are not close to that number…yet. 

At the same time, overall detention numbers are well below 2019 figures. The number of people in ICE detention has dropped below 14,000 as of mid-March, for example. It was 55,000 in August of 2019. This mostly reflects the ongoing summary expulsion of single adults. Children are not transferred to ICE (rather, they are transferred to HHS), and families, if detained by ICE at all, are only held in one of three facilities (Berks in Pennsylvania, or Karnes and Dilley in Texas) and generally cannot be held longer than 20 days. 

The current stress in the system is the need to process the unaccompanied kids so they can be transferred to HHS, and out of Border Patrol custody. Most have been, of course, but there are still too many in Border Patrol facilities awaiting transfer. As has happened in the past, the government is turning to less than optimal solutions, including opening large tent facilities, often on military bases. Nominally under HHS control, these “influx facilities” have been deeply problematic in the past. They bypass state regulatory controls and oversight, and once the kids are in HHS custody, they can languish there far too long (close to three months on average during 2019). 

 

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Demand Justice for Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza

Photo: Red Franciscana para Migrantes

Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza was murdered on March 27 in the Tumbe Ka neighborhood of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. She was killed by members of a municipal public security patrol, who first handcuffed her and then continued to press on her body to subdue her, breaking her neck in the process. Victoria was originally from El Salvador and was in Mexico with her two youngest daughters, as refugees.

Victoria’s case is not isolated. Thousands of migrant women fleeing violence in their countries of origin paradoxically become victims of direct, structural, and symbolic violence in Mexican territory, making them a vulnerable group, making urgent the call for dignified care and respect for their human rights, in accordance with the law, as established in Article 1 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States and in various International Treaties signed and ratified by the Mexican State.

Violence, brought about by immigration policies applied by the Military and the National Guard, exacerbates racism and xenophobia on the part of the authorities at all three levels of government: municipal, state and federal.

The Quixote Center, as a member of the Franciscan Network on Migration, joins with them in rejecting this femicide, which is fraught with xenophobia, racism and discrimination on the part of the police authorities. 

Migrants are not criminals, they are not a criminal threat; but in cases such as this one, they are victims of corrupt police and local governments. We join the call by her relatives in demanding justice — zero tolerance for impunity in this case, which has drawn attention and been publicized on social networks. The officers involved have been detained at this time, but justice, as we know, still requires much more work.

Accordingly, we join the Franciscan Network on Migration in demanding from the Mexican authorities at all three levels:

  1. Respect for the human rights of each and every migrant regardless of their immigration status.

  2. Policies aimed at preventing and eliminating all types of discrimination and xenophobia by the authorities.

  3. The intervention of the Consulate of El Salvador and Mexican authorities, to provide protection to the daughters of Victoria Esperanza Salazar Arriaza, exposed to physical and psychological violence, where the best interests of minors prevail.

  4. To the Attorney General of Quintana Roo, the correct handling of the investigation file, with respect for due process, as well as reparation for damages and non-repetition of the violation of the human rights of migrants.

  5. In conformity with the rule of law, we strongly urge that victims be offered adequate reparation, including compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction (including restitution of reputation and public recognition of the damage suffered).

For more information on this case:

“Who Was Victoria Salazar? Woman’s Death at Tulum Police Hands Evokes George Floyd” in Newsweek, March 29, 2021

“Missing Teen, Daughter of Woman Killed in Mexican Police Custody, Is Found” in VOANews, March 31, 2021

“Comunicado público sobre asesinato de Victoria Salazar” Franciscan Network on Migration, April 1, 2021. 

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At the border: 2019 was worse. What can we learn from this?

CNN reported on Thursday, April 1, “There were about 17,650 unaccompanied migrant children in US government custody….including 5,767 in CBP custody.” So, 5,767 in Border Patrol custody, leaving “about” 11,883 in the custody of Health and Human Services (or in the process of being transferred into HHS custody).

In July of 2019, there were well over 14,000 children in HHS custody. Indeed, between October of 2018 and September of 2019, the average daily population of kids in HHS custody never dropped below 11,000!! 

Meanwhile, Border Patrol facilities were packed: A daily average of people in custody hovered at 16,000 in June of 2019 – including children, families and single adults. The people evaluating detention practices at Border Patrol stations were shocked at conditions, and the publication of their findings led to a widespread outcry.  In an interview with The Atlantic, Warren Binford, an attorney inspecting facilities, said:

Children described to us that they’ve been there for three weeks or longer. And so, immediately from that population that we were trying to triage, they were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts, the shirts were dirty. We saw breast milk on the shirts. There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

At the border today, there are again a large number of unaccompanied minors, in numbers that apparently exceed current capacity at HHS shelters to receive them (though it is not clear why). The scenes of kids in crowded pods are a striking reminder of the sorry state of U.S. border policy. However bad that it is, it does not approach the catastrophe that faced migrants, including children, on our border in the late spring and summer of 2019. 

One reason is that there are fewer people in custody today. While the number of kids in custody is high today, this is not true of the overall population – which is actually very low by historical standards. In fact, the vast majority of migrants apprehended attempting to cross the border are single adults and they are being expelled immediately under “Title 42.” Title 42 is an abusive policy which claims authority under public health provisions of the federal code to expel people. 536,000 people since last March. We oppose this program. Last week we released a report with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack Network documenting multiple problems with Title 42, with a particular focus on harms to Haitian migrants. The fact that people are being summarily expelled in this manner is a shocking abdication of responsibility. 

What this also means, however, is that there are far fewer people in custody right now than any point in recent history. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention soared during the summer of 2019, reaching an all time peak of 55,000 people in custody a day by August. Currently the number of people in ICE custody is less than 14,000 (data sheet linked here – updated weekly) – the lowest level in over 20 years.

As noted, Border Patrol facilities were well over-capacity in 2019 – above and beyond the number of kids in custody. In addition, record numbers of people were being redirected for Federal Prosecution for “illegal entry” or “illegal re-entry” at the time as part of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy. As a result, at least 23,000 people were either in Federal Bureau of Prison or Marshall Service custody on any given day serving time or in pre-trial detention. Indeed, as we reported at the time, there were approximately 100,000 people in some form of immigration detention in July of 2019. We are nowhere close to that now.  In addition, there were tens of thousands of other people (approximately 50,000 in summer 2019) waiting in Mexico to make an asylum claim under the Migrant Protection Protocol. 

Comparing 2019 to today raises a couple of important points. 

First, the U.S. immigration system remains broken. It is a disgrace that people are treated this way. But the situation now is by no measure worse than we saw in 2019. Talks of a 20-year high in apprehensions ignore that 80% of the people apprehended are pushed back out of the country within two hours of being encountered by Border Patrol under Title 42. Ignoring this fact also seriously mischaracterizes what is happening right now compared to other periods in history, when detention was much higher and conditions far worse. Also, while we may hit a 20 year high in total apprehensions before the year is over, we are still below 2019 at this point (April 2, 2021).

Secondly, we want to shout at Biden and his team with every decibel we can muster: Deterrence DOES NOT WORK!!! It is increasingly infuriating to hear the media talk about this increase in numbers as a result of the perception that Biden is going easy on people. There is anecdotal evidence of this, of course. Reporters can always find people who will say they expect Biden to be nicer. The administration needs to ignore this narrative, which implies generosity is an invitation to crisis, and, therefore, deterrence works.

A far worse human rights debacle was visited upon migrants, amidst a larger increase in border crossings while Trump was president. Trump’s DHS brutalized people, proudly and on camera, under the delusion that doing so would keep others from trying to come. It did not work! The twenty year peak in apprehensions actually happened while Trump was president – the year after his administration decided that taking people’s children would be an effective deterrent. If Trump’s immigration program failed to “deter,” Biden needs to rethink the idea that staying tough-ish is the answer. 

People are fleeing desperate circumstances and their decisions to leave home generally have nothing to do with U.S. border policy! For example, people from Haiti arriving at the border today generally left Haiti years ago, and are actually arriving from Brazil, Chile, and elsewhere. Yet, the U.S. embassy in Haiti this week is posting pictures of Biden telling Haitians “not to leave.” It is a patronizing and frankly ignorant response to the criticism Biden has received for expanding removals to Haiti.

Finally, Border and Customs Services proudly proclaims it processes 650,000 people a day. Given that, I have to ask how on earth 400 unaccompanied kids crossing a day is crippling the system? So, rather than doubling down on Title 42 expulsions, and co-opting Mexico to yet again play enforcement partner, as Biden is currently doing, resources should be redirected to facilities that improve processing  at the border so these kids are spending minimal time in custody (more asylum screeners and less Border Patrol for example). Also we need to be sure that adults and families can also be interviewed quickly, screened for COVID-19 and released safely upon the revocation of Title 42 – which must happen now.  People will keep coming – we need to be clear on that and adapt our approach to be far more humane. The media sensationalizing the border situation, however, is not helping.

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Media Release: The Invisible Wall: New Report on Title 42 and impact on Haitian migrants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Media Contact:

Nicole Phillips, Legal Director, Haitiian Bridge Alliance, nmp.law@gmail.com, +1 (510) 715-2855

Tom Ricker, Policy Director, The Quixote Center, tomr.quixote@gmail.com, (301) 922-8909

Biden’s Invisible Wall: New Report Describes the Hardships that Title 42 Expulsions Create for Haitian Migrant Families and Calls on Biden to Stop Expelling Migrants to Haiti

San Diego, California, March 25, 2021 — Today, one year after the “Title 42” policy was enacted, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Quixote Center and UndocuBlack release the report, The Invisible Wall: Title 42 and its Impacts on Haitian Migrants, and call on the Biden-Harris Administration to immediately revoke Title 42 and end expulsions to Haiti. According to Guerline Jozef, Executive Director of Haitan Bridge Alliance, “Most if not all of the expulsions to Haiti are per the Title 42 policy, which was adopted  under a false pretext of the coronavirus pandemic. Title 42 is Trump’s invisible wall that effectively closed the U.S.-Mexico border to migrants.” “Our Report,” says Ms. Jozef, “presents the voices and hardships of Haitian migrant families who have been abused in immigration custody and then expelled under the Title 42 policy without the opportunity to seek legal counsel or request asylum or other protection.”

On February 1, 2021, the first day of Black History Month, the U.S. government drastically expanded removals and expulsions to Haiti. Rather than dismantle the Trump Administration’s invisible wall, the Biden-Harris Administration doubled down. More Haitians have been removed per the Title 42 policy in the weeks since President Joe Biden took office than during all of Fiscal Year 2020. The Report provides the narratives of Haitian families who were apprehended at the U.S. Mexico border within the last year under the Title 42 policy and were subject to expulsion to Haiti or Mexico. 

The Report explains how Haitian migrants are expelled under the Title 42 policy without being informed whether or when they will be expelled, and without the opportunity to seek asylum or other forms of protection.  “Abigale” (name changed), a Haitian woman interviewed for the Report, describes the cruelty of immigration officials during her family’s expulsion, “None of the officers ever confirmed that we were being deported. No one would even say the word deportation. None of them, through this whole process. All the families were crying on the bus, for over an hour. My husband and others kept asking what was going on, if they were deporting us. They would not tell us anything despite our desperation. It was all extremely emotional.”

“The Biden-Harris Administration has continued cruelty against immigrants,” said Patrice Lawrence, Co-director of the UndocuBLack Network. “We hope that this will not be their legacy. It is cruel to use Title 42 as a loophole for deporting immigrants in general and Black migrants in particular. It is a euphemism for removals and deportation of immigrants which the Trump Administration deemed expendable in the wider context of its eugenic agenda of creating a Whiter America and atmosphere of nativism. The invisible wall named Title 42 keeps at bay brown and Black people fleeting war, violence, poverty and disasters under the pretext of protecting Border Protection officers from COVID-19 and to minimize the number of persons in congregate settings, such as immigration detention centers. The Biden-Harris Administration continues to ignore the cry and plight of immigrants that are being forced to board a plane and are taken to the very places they escaped from. The xenophobic language of the previous Administration might be gone, but the practices still remain.”

“There is no sound public health rationale for the Title 42 ban on migrants,” says Tom Ricker, Policy Director with the Quixote Center.  “The idea for the policy came not from public health officials, but from the Trump White House. The entire justification for the Title 42 policy is the claim that the United States lacks the capacity to safely detain people. Yet, the United States is holding people for weeks only to then put them on crowded planes. How do you deny someone asylum who has been placed in detention – with no legal representation at all – based on the argument that there is no capacity to detain them?”

The Report also describes the high security risks that Haitian migrants face when they are expelled to Haiti or Mexico. As one woman who was recently expelled to Haiti under Title 42 describes, Now the country is in more turmoil so I’m even more afraid to leave [my home]. If these people find us, they would just kill us this time around.” 

“Haitian migrants flee violence, instability and persecution in Haiti, then travel a long and treacherous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border seeking safety and security in the United States,” says Nicole Phillips, Legal Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Instead of security, they are abused by immigration officers and – under the Title 42 policy – summarily expelled back to the country they fled without any chance to seek protection. As this Report explains, these expulsions are not only tragic, they are illegal.”

The authors offer nine recommendations. “First,” says Ms. Phillips, “the Title 42 policy must be revoked immediately. It is also critical that asylum processing resumes, while migrants are released to shelter in place with their loved ones in the United States rather than being detained. Incarceration must stop.”

The Full report can be read here.

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

The Biden administration has negotiated an agreement with the government of Mexico for expanded immigration enforcement within Mexico in order to keep unaccompanied children and other migrants away from the U.S./Mexico border.  From Reuters

The people familiar with the plan said Mexico would deploy security forces to cut the flow of migrants, the bulk of whom come from Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, whose economies were battered by the coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes last year.

Two of the people said the National Guard militarized police, which led efforts to bring down the number of illegal immigrants entering Mexico from Central America during an increase in 2019, would be at the fore of the containment drive.

“The operations will be more frequent, more continuous and we will be taking part,” from next week, a member of the National Guard said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Biden is not the first president to get concessions from Mexico for expanded immigration enforcement. Mexico has been pressured to adjust its own enforcement priorities and practices numerous times in deference to U.S. border policy – Obama pressed Mexico to expand enforcement when his administration faced an increase in unaccompanied children as well. Most recently, Trump threatened tariffs on products from Mexico unless President Obrador agreed to expand enforcement measures back in 2019. 

Biden is now doing the same, but offering assistance with COVID-19 vaccines, instead of threatening tariffs. Though the Biden administration is denying a quid pro quo here, the implication is clearly that absent agreement from Mexico there would be no extra COVID-19 vaccines coming from the United States. According to the Washington Post

“It’s not a quid pro quo, it’s a parallel negotiation,” said a senior Mexican diplomat who was not authorized to discuss the conversations. “If there is no mass vaccination campaign in Mexico, it makes it more difficult to open the border to nonessential activities. So vaccinations in Mexico are a benefit to the U.S.” Similarly, the diplomat added, “if migration is under control, it diminishes the image of a crisis, and facilitates the approval of immigration reforms that are key for both countries.”

Whatever the case may be, Mexico is going along for now, and this is concerning. The reason is that Mexico’s immigration laws, while very far from perfect, are, on paper at least, more in line with international norms than those in the United States. For example, in November, Mexico passed legislation that makes it illegal to hold children in detention facilities. That law went into effect in January, just before Biden came into the White House. What should be celebrated as an advance in human rights, has been received as a nuisance by U.S. immigration authorities, as the Department of Homeland Security is now frustrated it can’t send families back into Mexico with the ease it did under Trump. 

Enter the promise of delivery of AstraZeneca (stockpiled by the United States, even though it has not been approved for use here – itself a highly immoral practice, given the global shortage of vaccines), and “Mexican officials have told the Biden administration they are willing to alter or delay the implementation of a law passed in November that limits their ability to detain minors.” Bravo.

Of course, the “crisis” for Biden at the moment involves the kids that come here without families. The narrative of this manufactured crisis goes something like this. From the New York Times:

Biden and his homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, are balancing their desire to reject Trump’s uncompromising approach — particularly with regard to unaccompanied minors, who have arrived at the border this month at a rate of roughly 400 people a day — with an acknowledgment that proceeding with business as usual simply isn’t an option, as tens of thousands of migrants, fleeing insecurity and poverty at home, require housing and processing. 

400 children a day? Are these crisis numbers? While overall apprehensions are up, for unaccompanied children the numbers are still below 2019 and 2014 peaks. To keep this in perspective, we are talking about the entire border now, including scores of ports of entry, and Border Patrol stations. In speaking with a friend at Witness at the Border a few weeks ago about numbers, he mentioned that in late spring of 2019 he was volunteering at a border shelter that assisted 800 migrants a day. One shelter. So what’s up?

A couple of context clues here. First, up to 13,000 kids were simply expelled from the United States between March and October 2020 under a public health order, “Title 42,” that has effectively closed the border to asylum seekers, even children and families. Then, a federal court told DHS it had to stop expelling the (unaccompanied) kids. The Trump administration sort of stopped – only expelling 1,500 kids in November before slowing to double digits in December and January. In January, an appellate court said that it was okay for the government to expel these kids after all (WTF?!?!?). However, Biden decided not to. 

As a result, immigration authorities are being challenged to reimagine life before it was okay to summarily expel unaccompanied children from the United States. Given that the summary expulsion of children was only approved for seven months, such an exercise in ethical excavation seems possible for a freedom loving nation of immigrants. Right?

Well, it gets more complicated. Unaccompanied children, unlike kids with families (who are, by the way, still being summarily expelled) need to be held some place while the government locates family or community sponsors. Again, this is a process that has existed for years, managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Yes, Trump messed this up like everything else, but not irreparably. Trump’s main fault with these kids was to detain them as long as possible by making it harder for families to come forward. Longer detention time was intended to be a deterrent. That never really worked. It never does. 

That said, the shelters still exist. The “non-profits” that run them are still around (though, to be honest, some have lousy reputations). While there is a debate about shelter space at the moment, capacity seems to be close to 13,000 beds – more than enough to manage the current cases. Of course, not detaining these kids for extended periods of time is the answer. In most cases, family can be identified within days, and when not, other sponsors exist and can be pre-cleared. 

There is no perfect solution, of course, but the point is that capacity exists, and so the numbers seem manageable with a little bit of foresight. The media hand-wringing, however, seems to be scaring the administration, which has called in FEMA and is talking about re-opening highly controversial temporary camps to detain the kids. The optics of all of this is bad, and what this means for some of these kids, is even worse. 

So, back to Mexico. Unable to summarily expel these kids back to Mexico once they cross the border, the solution seems to be to keep them there, or even block their passage further south. Which is to say, if the optics are bad, get the kids out of the picture altogether. On Thursday, March 18, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry announced that it was closing its borders with Guatemala and Belize to all but “essential” travel, while also announcing new regulations on the treatment of unaccompanied minors. Immigration authorities also arrested, and detained 84 minors last week, in violation of the new law banning such detentions. Though possibly an isolated incident, in context, many are concerned this presages the next few months of “increased enforcement” for kids trying to cross Mexico for the United States. 

Hopefully, they can at least get a vaccine now.

Is Biden as bad as Trump? Of course not. The Biden administration seems to sincerely want to make immigration reform that is an advance over what we’ve seen in recent years (including from Biden’s former boss, Obama). Yet, Biden, and thus the country as a whole, is still being held captive by the logic of deterrence as the cornerstone of immigration policy: If we are tough on immigrants, fewer will come! Trump’s DHS argued. Biden is not saying this exactly, but is clearly being guided by the obverse: If we treat people decently, we risk a “surge” and a “border crisis,” so we must be cautious. 

Sadly, the results are the same. 

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A “State of Emergency” Declared in Haiti

On Monday, March 15, Jovenel Moise declared a “state of emergency” in Haiti in a decree endorsed by his Council of Ministers. According to news reports,

A decree adopted by the Council of Ministers said:  “The state of emergency is instituted in gangsterized areas for one month, during which certain rights can be suspended in neighborhoods concerned, in order to allow the PNH (National Police of Haiti) to regain control of the situation.”

The decree defines the state of emergency as “a situation in which a regime applies restricting certain fundamental freedoms and exceptional powers of the executive which are justified by a situation of proven or imminent national disaster, terrorist attack or serious breach of public order challenging the police and endangering national security and requiring the adoption of urgent measures.”

Though a “State of Emergency” is defined legislatively, the Council of Ministers amended legislative provisions in order “to give the Superior Council of the National Police (CSPN) the means to combat banditry and crime, and to empower the PNH and the Armed Forces of Haiti (FADH) to work in synergy to combat.” 

Specific areas named in the decree include: Village de Dieu, Grand-Ravine, Delmas 2, and Savien (in the Artibonite). However, the decree allows for the emergency declaration to be applied in other areas defined by the Council, so enforcement could ultimately reach anywhere.

With declaration in hand, Moise met with officials at the Organization of American States on Monday, and the United Nations on Tuesday to ask for “technical and logistical” support for police activity. 

Meanwhile, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, restated U.S. qualified support for Moise during hearings last week. Blinken’s statement was shared on Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti on Monday: “I share concern about some of the authoritarian and undemocratic actions that we’ve seen. Decrees need to be limited to essential functions. We need to see the Haitians organize, with international support, genuinely free and fair elections this year.”

The moves this week all point toward Moise attempting to consolidate his grip on power in the wake of the bloody and disastrous police invasion of Village de Dieu last Friday. The police effort to take control of Village de Dieu, reportedly a location where many kidnapping victims are held, and under the control of the “5 Seconds” gang, ended in disaster. Armed groups in the area seized one of the police’s armed vehicles, burned another, and killed four police officers, while wounding another eight – three of whom required emergency surgeries. Gang members shot video of the violence, including desecration of the bodies of the police officers; videos were shared widely on social media.

The whole episode has magnified criticism of the government – including, now, from members of the police force. For over a year, some members of the national police have been organizing periodic protests against the government in disputes over pay and dismissals. Formally, demands for better pay and treatment have come from the Syndicat de la Police Nationale d’Haiti (SPNH17). Informally, some members of the police have mobilized under the banner of Phantom 509, which has ridden through sectors of Port-au-Prince on motorcycles and burned vehicles during various protests over the past year.

This week, Phantom 509 issued an ultimatum to the gangs in Village de Dieu to hand over the bodies of police officers killed in the operation last Friday. Then on Thursday, Phantom 509 marched again with other police officers. Under the auspices of SPNH17 some police officers issued a call for the resignation of Chief of Police Leon Charles. Members of Phantom 509 also invaded a police station to set free members arrested in other actions.

Where does this all lead? If one interprets the police operation in Village de Dieu last Friday as an effort to establish credibility on Moise’s part, it clearly backfired – massively. Moise is now seen as even more inept, with calls for his removal widening even further (see #FreeHaiti). Among rank and file police officers Friday’s disastrous attack has only widened divisions further.

So, now Moise is retreating to where he always has – seeking support from international bodies and the U.S. government. 

Over the weekend the U.S. Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere stated, “The vile murder of Haitian National Police officers in Village de Dieu highlights the broader insecurity challenges in Haiti. We call on the Haitian government to provide the police with the resources it needs to protect the Haitian people from gangs.” (emphasis added). Moise has taken this “advice” to heart with the declaration of a State of Emergency, providing expanded powers to the police, alongside the prospect of joint operations with the Armed Forces of Haiti (presumed to be loyal to Moise). 

Biden may well tire of standing with Moise, as the situation continues to unravel. Of course, Moise would not be in power were it not for the machinations of the last administration of which Biden was a part. Obama’s team at the State Department under then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped put the PHTK in power back in 2010-2011, and U.S. pressure helped put Moise himself in power. Accountability for such interventions being foreign to the United States, I don’t expect Biden to actually change course now. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Haitians are left to reap what the elite and their allies in D.C. have sown.

 

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Next steps on Haiti: What will Biden do?

This week there was greater attention put toward U.S. policy in Haiti. The Biden administration continues to support the Moise government, despite the broad based opposition to his continued rule in Haiti. The crisis in Haiti seems to be at a stalemate at the moment, in part, as a result of Biden’s State Department backing Moise. Protests continue – as do the kidnappings. Meanwhile, Biden continues to remove people to Haiti despite outcries from all sectors: Congress, editorial boards across the country (for example, NY Times, WaPo, Miami Herald), human rights advocates and faith leaders.

While we, and most of the people mentioned below, argue that the solution to the current crisis must come from within Haiti, this cannot happen until the Biden administration changes course.  With that in mind, below I share some of the latest discussions on the crisis and U.S. policy.

Removals Continue!

As I am writing, there is a flight on the way to Port-au-Prince from Laredo, Texas (Friday, March 12). Like many of the other 19 flights that have left for Haiti from the U.S. since February 1, 2021, the people on this flight are being expelled under a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order referred to as “Title 42.” Under Title 42 people encountered at the border are summarily expelled, given no chance to seek asylum or other relief. Most are expelled back into Mexico. The majority of people from Haiti, however, are taken into custody where they are detained until they can be flown out.

In February, the Biden administration expelled 984 Haitians to Haiti. Another 76 Haitians (at least) were expelled into Mexico. Almost all under Title 42. Vice ran a story about these expulsions which you can watch here.

So far in March, the Biden administration has expelled at least 300 people by plane to Haiti.

As we noted last week, by comparison, the Trump administration removed 895 people in all of FY2020.

Haiti is the focus of Foreign Affairs Committee

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing today (March 12): Policy Recommendations on Haiti for the Biden Administration. The message was clear: the infrastructure is not in place for elections this year; Haitian civil society should lead on any transition, though the United States government has some role to play in speaking out against violations of rights and sanctioning individuals; the United States should not be defending Moise’s position on tenure. Guerline Jozef specifically testified on the need to halt removals to Haiti.

Testifying at the hearing were

Ms. Emmanuela Douyon, Policy Expert and Activist – Nou Pap Dòmi

Ms. Guerline Jozef, President – Haitian Bridge Alliance

Ms. Rosy Auguste, Program Director – National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH)

The Honorable Pamela A. Whie, Former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti- U.S. Department of State

You can watch the hearing here.

Some notable op-eds this week

“Is the White House greenlighting Haiti’s descent into dictatorship?”

Brian Concannon of Project Blueprint (former director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) wrote an excellent opinion piece for Responsible Statecraft, published this week, on March 9th. He writes, 

As thousands of Haitians protest each Sunday against Jovenel Moïse, their embattled and increasingly authoritarian president, their protest signs and songs exhort the U.S. ambassador and the head of the United Nations mission in Haiti, who is also a career U.S. diplomat, “to stop supporting a dictatorship.” The protests reflect a broad consensus among politicians, intellectuals, lawyers and others in Haiti, supported by human rights experts and members of the U.S. Congress, that the Biden administration is propping up Moïse and preventing the emergence of a Haitian-led solution to the political crisis.….Further descent into autocracy in Haiti, however, is not inevitable, and the Biden administration can help stop it. Washington does not have to — and should not — bring Moïse down; rather, it should just stop propping him up. 

You can read the full article here

In Haiti’s Political Crisis, US Should Support Democracy and Human Rights

Pierre Esperance and Rosy Auguste Ducena of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights offer their reflections on the U.S. role in a piece published by Just Security on March 10th.

We see hope in the fact that some powerful Democrats in the U.S. Congress don’t agree with the Biden administration’s approach to Moïse. As Haitian human rights leaders, we know one thing for sure: the status quo is unacceptable. Under the Moïse regime, we are living in a dictatorship. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the proliferation of gangs and kidnappers supported by the Moïse regime. We have become victims of a state of terror.

It is time for the Biden administration to align its policies with its principles. The United States needs to reverse its policy of standing by Moïse, consult with Haitian civil society to help inform its approach going forward, and take the powerful step of placing democracy and human rights at the center of its foreign policy towards Haiti.

You can read the full article here.

Why is Biden continuing a cruel Trump policy? He should stop expelling Haitian migrants immediately

Finally, a forceful editorial from the Miami Herald calling on the administration to end Title 42 and suspend removals to Haiti:

A Feb. 23 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, spearheaded by Miami U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson — and signed by 61 House colleagues — said: ”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.

“Numerous public health experts have also called on the CDC to rescind the Title 42 order as it has no scientific basis as a public health measure.”

Both are salient points. We will add a third: Immigrants are not the enemy here. And to deny them any semblance of due process is simply wrong. (emphasis added)

You can read the full editorial here.

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From the Archive: Bill and Maureen Testify before Congress (1987)

Over the weekend, I stumbled across a C-Span clip of Maureen Fiedler and Bill Callahan testifying before Congress about the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua and humanitarian aid shipments.

You can watch (or skim) the entire hearing on C-Span here.  A clip of Bill and Maureen’s testimony is can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

A little bit of context: In 1985 the United States launched an embargo against Nicaragua as part of its broader effort to destroy the Sandinista revolution. The Quixote Center began humanitarian aid shipments to Nicaragua in 1983 (following the CIA bombing of the Nicaraguan port at Corinto) and continued to ship to Nicaragua despite the embargo. For this, the Quixote Center was investigated by U.S. Customs in 1986. Though hassled, the shipments were never halted, as they met the humanitarian exceptions written into the embargo order. 

It was also in 1985 that Congress agreed to fund the Contras, after years of denying this request. The FY1986 appropriation was $30 million and contained some restrictions on CIA and Department of Defense support for the opposition in Nicaragua. In 1987 appropriations expanded to $100 million, and though some funds were designated for “humanitarian aid” to the Contras, military assistance was approved. 

The response from the Quixote Center was to launch the “Quest for Peace.” The Quest for Peace was a campaign to track the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to the people of Nicaragua. The goal was to outspend the U.S. government, or more to the point, to demonstrate that grassroots support for the people of Nicaragua within the United States was greater than the U.S. government’s determination to destroy the Sandinista government. Hence the closing of Bill’s testimony, “We are building a policy of peace and friendship between the people of Nicaragua and the United States.”

At the time this testimony was taking place, the campaign was at its peak. Bill, who tracked assistance from the Quixote Center and other grassroots organizations as the coordinator of the “National Tally” was just back from one of his many trips to Nicaragua when he testified. That year, Bill was able to document $100 million in humanitarian assistance raised for the people of Nicaragua, matching funds appropriated by Congress for the Contras in FY1987.

While all of this seems ancient history, the United States government is once again leveling sanctions against Nicaragua in an effort to remove a Sandinista government. Though the scale of the current U.S. effort is small compared to the 1980s, and the contexts are quite different, it is nevertheless useful to remind ourselves of the sense of entitlement the United States government feels in shaping political outcomes in Central America – an entitlement it has exercised for decades with deadly results. At the Quixote Center we continue to oppose all sanctions and other forms of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. It is the one consistent feature of our work for last 38 years. 

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Amidst the political turmoil, life goes on Gros Morne

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. 

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)