This week, we are joining the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and other local and national organizations on a week of action in defense of Black immigrants. With waning media coverage of the administration’s horrible treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas since mid-September, the Biden administration believes that it can now sweep ongoing mistreatment of Haitians and other Black migrants under the rug.
Now is the time to mobilize and to show the administration that we are watching—and that we’ve had enough.
Yesterday, our community partners in New Orleans at Unión Migrante organized a march to City Hall for immigrant justice. Later this week, there are actions planned in Washington D.C., California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and North Carolina. Visit the No More Deportations website, or click the link HERE, to find an action in your area.
And if you don’t see an action near you? Get together a few friends and community members, use the Haitian Bridge Alliance toolkit to organize your own, and add click “Host an Event” on the No More Deportations website. An action could be as simple as a small vigil in honor of the families and children deported under Title 42, or a rally in front of a local or federal government building.
Between September 19 and October 5, the Biden administration expelled over 7,200 people to Haiti on 67 flights. Between February 1 and September 15, the Biden administration deported 2,140 people on 37 flights.
So, since taking office Biden has expelled 9,300 people to Haiti on 94 flights. Three-fourths of those expulsions have happened over the last two weeks. The Biden administration has also repatriated 400 people interdicted at sea.
Though the pace of the flights has fallen off considerably from last week, they are ongoing. What this has looked like between September 19 and October 5:
67 flights total
7,200 people expelled,
19% of those expelled have been children, 56% adult men, 25% adult women.
Where did these flights go?
43 flights to Port-au-Prince
24 flights to Cap-Haitien
Where did the flights come from?
1 flight originated in Alexandria, Louisiana
2 flights originated in Brownsville, Texas
3 flights originated in San Antonio, Texas
28 flights originated in Laredo, Texas
33 flights originated in Harlingen, Texas
Immigration policy is also a big business….
6 flights were flown by Global Crossing Airlines
7 flights were flown by Eastern Airlines
22 flights were flown by World Atlantic Airlines
32 flights were flown by iAero Swift Air
Finally, the International Organization on Migration, which provides assistance to people upon their arrival in Haiti, is underfunded. People are supposed to receive 10,000 Hatiain gourde upon their arrival (about $100) to help with resettlement. A ridiculously low amount, all things considered. But IOM has been giving out 1,000 HG instead – enough, maybe, to get a bus from Cap-Haitien back home. In Port-au-Prince, people were reportedly receiving 5,000 HG with a promise of more via Mon Cash. The Biden administration had promised to provide assistance to returned individuals and families, but has not yet delivered that assistance to IOM..
The issue remains Title 42
Underlying the debacle that continues to unfold for Haitians this month, is the Biden administration’s commitment to enforcement of the Trump era policy of expelling asylum seekers under a faux public health order using “Title 42” authority.
While we’ve had plenty to say about Title 42 over the last 18 months, the best thing said about it recently is from Harold Koh, who became the latest member of the administration to resign in disgust over Biden’s treatment of Haitians. From Koh’s resignation letter:
The current Title 42 expulsion policy applies to individuals who are already in the United States, and to whom our legal obligations under the Refugee treaties and parallel statutes have undeniably attached. Migrants who arrive at the border are not screened for fears of persecution upon return unless they affirmatively raise their fear, in what is informally known as the “shout test.” To establish that fear, the migrant show more than a reasonable possibility of fear, but must instead meet a higher “more likely than not” standard, i.e., the standard for ultimately prevailing on the merits by showing that they have at least a 51% chance of being persecuted or tortured if returned. There have also been disturbing reports that some migrants were not even told where they were being taken when placed on deportation flights, learning only when they landed that they had been returned to their home country or place of possible persecution or torture, i.e. the exact act of refoulement that is forbidden by the CAT and the Refugee Convention! In my legal opinion, as former State Department Legal Adviser and as former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the “shout test” and the higher screening standard inevitably create an unacceptably high risk that a great many people deserving of asylum will instead likely be returned to countries where they fear persecution, death, or torture.
On Haiti specifically, Koh has this to say:
Continuation of Title 42 flights to Haiti is particularly unjustifiable in light of its designation for TPS status due to “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that “prevent its nationals from returning safely.” TPS applies to Haitians already present in the United States as of July 30, 2021, regardless of their immigration status. The Haitian TPS designation announcement in May cited “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” And that was before the assassination of President Moïse thrust the country into even greater political instability and a devastating earthquake on August 14, 2021 and Tropical Depression Grace on August 16, 2021 further devastated the impacted area, degrading infrastructure throughout the country. Following the 2010 earthquake, the Obama Administration suspended deportations to Haiti for over a year and thereafter resumed them only on a limited basis for five additional years until 2016, when DHS found that “the situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis.” Yet conditions in Haiti are far worse today than they were then.
Koh’s resignation once again thrusts Biden’s commitment to Title 42 as a policy choice into the spotlight. The administration continues to insist that Title 42 is necessary – even if the practice of Title 42, at least as it has applied to Haitians, makes absolutely no sense from a public health standpoint.
Daniel Foote briefs the House Foreign Affairs Committee
The other high profile resignation from the Biden administration was Daniel Foote. Foote had been appointed by the Biden administration as a Special Envoy to Haiti shortly after Moise’s assassination. He resigned two weeks ago over a combination of disgust at the deportation policy, as well as citing his frustration with the Biden administration’s interference in the political crisis, especially the blanket support of interim (unelected) prime minister Ariel Henry.
On Thursday, Daniel Foote will brief the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the issues that led to his resignation. That hearing will be live-streamed. You can watch that here.
Between Sunday, September 19 Thursday, September 30, the Biden administration sent at least 57 deportation flights to Haiti. That represents more than 6,000 people expelled in less than two weeks. For some perspective, over the previous 11 months, the United States had sent 37 deportation flights to Haiti. With the fiscal year ending September 30th, flights to Haiti from the United States will come to 95, making Haiti the country with the most removal flights this year other than Mexico.
The flights, and other mass removals, are in response to an large increase in Border Patrol encounters in the Del Rio sector in Texas over a two week period. People outside of Texas were made aware of this by the spectacle of close to 15,000 people camped under the bridge between the river and the Del Rio port of entry. In response to this situation, the BIden administration worked quickly to clear people out from under the bridge. Pushing half of them back into Mexico, and then quickly deporting many of the rest, as well as others captured by Border Patrol in mid-September.
Based on the response to this situation, you might be thinking that there is a real crisis with Haitain migration these days. Certainly you are being encouraged to think that. The reality is that Haitians have made up a small proportion of people encountered at the border this year.
From October 1, 2020 to the end of August 2021, Border Patrol “encountered” 1.74 million people. Of these, 30,000 were from Haiti. That is about 1.7% of the total. Over the last two weeks, there were an additional 14,000 or so folk from Haiti encountered by Border Patrol, in a month that will see about 200,000 total encounters, that represents 7% of the total encounters for the month, and may bring the annual portion of Haitians encountered to 2.5-3% of the total.
Almost all of these encounters took place in the Del Rio sector – the crossing of choice in recent months for folk from Haiti, Venezuela, and Cuba as well as the far greater numbers of folk from Central America and Mexico. Del Rio is now the second busiest CBP sector behind only the Rio Grande Valley. That so many people were detained in a relatively short period of time in September strained the system, to be sure, but it was not as though the spectacle that unfolded under and around the Del Rio bridge was necessary. The numbers were not that extraordinary by the standards set over the last 9 months.
We really need to pause and ask why the maybe 45,000 refugees from Haiti encountered this year, out of close to 2 million people detained and/or expelled at the border overall, constitute a crisis of such enormity that common sense and due process have been set aside in such a spectacular manner leading the United States to engage in a level of cruelty unusual even by the very low standards we normally set in this regard.
And now….more Haitians are coming!
“Hipster imperialist” zine, Vice, “broke” this story on Friday. Citing a grad student who studies Caribbean migration, Vice reports that “at least” 20,000 Haitians are currently making their way through Central America at this very moment, intent on coming to the United States. If they make it to the border the result will be a “hot mess.” Since they can’t be allowed in (politics, you know), and mass deportations could “backfire,” Biden may need to reach out to South American countries and others to stem “the flow” at the source.
This analysis was supplemented by Reuters, and then covered in The Hill. By Thursday the number of Haitians reportedly scattered between Panama and the United States border was being estimated at 80,000. Scary numbers. Right? Wrong.
The reality is that thousands of people from Haiti have been leaving Brazil and Chile (where hundreds of thousands resettled after the 2010 earthquake) for about 7 years now. The first period of a significant increase in migration came in 2015-2016 following an economic recession in Brazil. The Obama administration, as noted above, treated them the way the United States always does – they were denied entry, and the US renewed/expanded deportations for those already here as a “deterrent.”
In both Brazil and Chile, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact over the last 18 months, squeezing their economies which in turn has led to a squeeze on migration. Chile had already begun restricting new arrivals from Haiti – and back in January 2020 was conducting its own deportation flights to Haiti.
As a result of border closures, Haitians (and thousands of other migrants) were held up in Panama for much of 2020, where many are again being denied entry. Haitians and others are also currently being held up near Jalapa, Nicaragua because Honduras is restricting access. WIthin Honduras, Haitians and others have been denied use of transportation. And, as we have also been reporting for months now, as many as 30,000 Haitians have been held up in Mexico, some for almost two years.
The story here is not “20,000 Haitians on the move.” The story is that the United States has pushed its own border enforcement measures all the way back to Panama. As a result, Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Pakistanis, Indians, Cameroonians, Nigerians and other “extra-continental” refugees are being targeted by regional governments, detained, and in some cases removed, long before they arrive at the US border. All of this must be understood in the context of a regional migration crisis impacting hundreds of thousands of people.
So, 20,000 Haitians or more may well arrive at the US border in the next few months. But so will 600,000 or more other people who are not from Haiti. And if the folks from Haiti arrive in larger groups, it will be because they have been detained as such along the way.
The treatment of Haitians on our border right now would NOT happen to any other group of immigrants. It’s not like Hondurans, Mexicans and Venezuelans are treated well, mind you. But Haitians are singled out for a special brand of cruelty as Haitian immigration has always been some kind of line in the sand for the US government.
If there is any silver lining to the current mania over more Haitians arriving, it is that the administration has plenty of time to prepare to receive people humanely. Customs and Border Protection brags that they process 650,000 people every day! Certainly they can shift some resources to handle an increase of a 400-500 a day in a sector over a two week period. I mean they know they will need to have more asylum screeners on hand who speak Haitian Creole and can be ready to process people in a safe, efficient manner. Of course they’ve already had plenty of time to do this – like 7 years to be exact – and have thus far failed. But they will have no excuse now.
For the time being!
Keep the pressure up. Contact your members of Congress. Ask them to speak out – you can do that using our form by clicking the take action button below. And keep calling the White House [202-456-1111] with a simple message – Halt the Removals NOW!
International Office on Migration details on removal flights (click to enlarge)
On Friday, September 17, there were 15,000 refugees under a bridge in Texas seeking entry into the United States. Most of them were from Haiti. A week later, they were all gone. What happened to 15,000 migrants in the space of 7 days?
The numbers below are not precise, and, to be clear, people came and went from the camp, so likely more than 15,000 people were there at some point during the week. DHS also reports that there were 30,000 encounters in the Del Rio sector overall (including the camp), starting on September 9 to September 24. So some of the deportation and expulsion numbers reflect that reality as well.
Based on press reports and feedback from folk who have spent the week in Del Rio, this is a rough outline of what has happened to people from the camp, and others arrested by Border Patrol in the area.
Expelled to Mexico: According to Secretary Mayorkas, 8,000 people “voluntarily” returned to Mexico. “Voluntary ” in this case means being told to go back across the river or be deported back to Haiti. Mexico has been reluctant to accept Title 42 expulsions from Haiti until now, yet, received them this time. This is a reminder that Obrador refuses to say “no” to the United States on immigration no matter how abusive the request. Those “voluntarily” expelled back to Mexico were mostly bussed away from the border once there, many to Tapachula, Chiapas. Others were flown from Reynosa to Tapachula or Villahermos in Southern Mexico by Mexican immigration authorities. For those who evaded INM at the border they are now targets for arrest and detention.
Of course, many people had fled from Tapachula over the last few weeks – some after waiting months, or even years, for a decision on their asylum claims within Mexico. Unable to leave the state legally until a having received a decision from COMAR, and with no work available in Tapachula, in desperation people began leaving in large numbers at the beginning of September following a crackdown by INM and national guard on several caravans protesting conditions in Tapachula. The crisis in Tapachula was the precursor to the disaster in Del Rio. By flying and busing people back there now, the situation will simply continue to decline.
Expelled on ICE Air Operation flights: From Sunday, September 19 to Monday, September 26 the United States flew 37 removal flights to Haiti. The flights will continue into this week and possibly beyond. The pace of flights has been so intense that ICE Air Operations began flights to Cap-Haitien in addition to Port-au-Prince, and expanded its roster of sub-contractors. iAero, the company that gets 95% of all ICE Air flights, also got the lion’s share of these flights, but World Atlantic Airline and Global Crossing Airlines were also paid for flights this week. Lest we forget, there is a lot of money in official cruelty – one reason we keep doing it.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees these flights, never gives out details. We can estimate from 32 flights that close to 3,400 people have been deported through Sunday – with 6 flights on Monday the total will be over 4,00o soon. CNN reported 1,424 on 12 flights as of Wednesday last week based on data from the International Organization on Migration office in Haiti – 40 were children who did not hold a Haitian passport).
If Biden keeps up this pace there will be 6,000 to 7,000 people expelled to Haiti over a two week period. I cannot think of another country to receive this heavy concentration of expulsions in such a short period of time – especially considering that Haitians have made up a very small number of encounters at the border so far this year (less than 2%).
It is reported that Mexico will begin removal flights to Haiti next week – so many of the 8,000 people expelled to Mexico may still be deported to Haiti anyway. This is “chain refoulement” and illegal under international law – but then just about everything that happened this week has been illegal under international law.
Detained while awaiting expulsion: Many of the people remaining in the United States are in detention facilities. Early in the week, Border Patrol began bussing, and flying people to other ports of entry to be held pending removal. People have been detained all along the border from Eagle Pass to Pearsall to the family holding center at Dilley. Mayorkas’ comments earlier in the week suggested as many as 6,500 people were transferred to other facilities Those not already part of the deportation total above will likely be included unless they receive support from attorneys.
As much as the bridge captured headlines, it is important to understand that Border Patrol has been encountering 6,500-7,000 people a day all summer. Most are expelled under Title 42 immediately, but because of the new strategy of flying, many of those expelled into the interior of Mexico, and many more are detained for days or weeks while awaiting flights.
The conditions in these Border Patrol facilities are routinely horrendous. Overcrowding hasn’t helped. Reports from inside are of people who are sick, with high fevers, and not getting medical care despite attempted advocacy by attorneys.
The horrendous conditions in the camp in Del Rio, the abuse meted out by Border Patrol agents against migrants, and the horrible detention conditions has led to a civil rights complaint against DHS. The Grio summarized:
Haitian Bridge Alliance, The UndocuBlack Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and African Communities Together on Friday sent a letter of complaint…addressed to the department’s head of Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Katherine Culliton-González.
Highlighting the graphic images and video of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers on horseback hitting migrants with horse reins used as whips, the complaint accuses the department of several violations and demands that DHS stop the deportation of migrants who were either victimized by CBP or were witnesses of abuses at the border.
Some families allowed to stay: Other folk, mostly families, have been allowed to stay in the United States for now. Some have been given an order to report to immigration authorities within 60 days – others are in detention awaiting processing. Reports from attorneys in Del Rio are that the documents many people have been given are improperly filled out by Border Patrol agents and some contain no dates. This kind of sloppy care at intake is often a problem for people who later seek asylum. It is hard to believe it was unintentional.
It is not clear how many people from Del Rio were permitted entry – thousands to be sure. In San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso and Houston, families were arriving all week to temporary facilities set up mostly by volunteers, who received them and helped them along to the next phase of their journey, wherever that might be.
According to the Washington Post, DHS officials estimated that 30,000 people were encountered overall in the Del Rio sector over the two week period starting September 9, and that of those 12,400 were allowed to request asylum or other form of protection. That said, it seems that for the 15,000 people in the camp, the majority were expelled.
While the Associated Press (and any number of Republicans) raised concerns about these admissions undermining Biden’s “deterrent” strategy, it is worth noting that as of September 30th, Biden will not be able to expel families under Title 42 anyway. This follows a Federal court ruling blocking the practice – unless the administration wins an appeal. People allowed to stay will not be expelled any time soon. However, they still face an uphill battle to remain in the United States, as most will likely not be granted asylum in the long run.
If DHS encountered 30,000 people during a two week period, with about half of those ending up under the bridge in Del Rio, the break down is something like this:
12,000+ allowed to apply for asylum or other relief (almost all families w/children). Many of these people are still in detention.
8,000+ summarily expelled to Mexico
6,000 in detention waiting to be expelled – though some might be allowed to stay, certainly people are fighting for them.
4,000 already deported to Haiti as of end of the day, Monday, September 27. (I do not know how many people were expelled to other countries during the last two weeks from Del Rio or the camp specifically).
What to do!
Donate to support legal services: There are a number of groups trying to provide legal support services to those in custody. The folk we work most closely with are with the Haitian Bridge Alliance. They are amazing. You can donate to support their efforts directly here.
Continue to demand that Biden halt these deportations: Call the White House at 202-456-1111, or contact your member of Congress and ask them to speak out against the expulsions. We’ve set up a form to make that easy for you here, or click the take action button below. Following up with a phone call helps, and certainly sharing this update and the alert spreads the word.
This week has been a roller coaster. As of Friday there have been at least 21 deportation flights to Haiti this weekas 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.
Foote is out
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
Developing model transitional shelters built from materials available locally in each of the three geographical departments;
Gathering information about existing models and best practices to inform our response and contribute to the development of a global shelter strategy;
Exploring options for construction of temporary spaces for schools to reopen in a couple of weeks; and
Working with neighborhood associations in Port-au-Prince to create a model for solidarity konbit work teams to help clear rubble and build temporary shelters for families and schools in affected areas.
In addition, we will be working with partners to develop a model for accompanying families currently in tent camps back to their homes and connecting them with support there.
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
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.
We live in a global society of spectacle. Capitalism in its latest stage is fueled by the production of the imaginary. Business, activism, and politics are all played out in virtual spaces, while the world we physically live in becomes experienced primarily in reference to images; the more spectacular, the more entertaining, or the more shocking, the more engaged we become.
In this society of the spectacle, immigration policy has been turned into an absurdity, almost entirely divorced from the world. It is difficult to assemble and respond to all of the ways in which immigration policy is an illogical manifestation of an obsession with spectacle. However, we can look at the situation unfolding in Del Rio, Texas as a start.
Over the last week, we are told that up to 14,000 people have crossed the Rio Grande and are now under a bridge between the river and the Del Rio port of entry. While the people under the bridge come from all over the world, the media is focused primarily on Haitian migrants who make up the largest portion.
The media circus that has resulted is what one would expect with people in a desperate situation, crowded, overheated, without access to sufficient sanitation and so on.
Republicans line up to denounce Biden for being too lenient, using the people under the bridge as a backdrop.
Democrats assure everyone that they do not support an open border, and to make that point, have begun to deport people to Haiti at a pace unheard of even during the nadir of the Trump administration.
It is a spectacle to be sure. So, just to clarify:
The people who are under the bridge in Del Rio crossed the river at a port of entry. They are not “illegal” immigrants; they are seeking authorized admittance into the United States.
More to the point, for those seeking asylum, under US law they have a legal right to do so once inside the United States, no matter how they arrived.
Through the end of August, Haitians made up less than 1.8% of all CBP encounters so far this fiscal year.
Del Rio has become the sector where folk from Haiti (as well as Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere) have increasingly attempted entry.
At the Del Rio crossing, the percent of people encountered who are Haitian is thus higher than the national average—but still a small portion of the 251,000 people encountered in the sector.
In other words, the scene at the bridge has nothing to do with border crossing trends seen in recent months—and one must wonder why it is now that a crisis is declared and that Haitians are the face of it.
To Republicans hand wringing over conditions, a reminder that two years ago the bridge was in El Paso, and the conditions were allowed to ferment for months under a Republican president.
To Biden, note that the horrible treatment meted out to the migrants in 2019 did not stop people from coming. Their desperation outweighs our cruelty. Sending 3 to 4 deportation flights to Haiti a day will not solve anything.
This is not a crisis born of leniency from the Biden administration.
That right to seek asylum has been set aside under a public health order issued by the CDC in March of 2020. The public health disaster unfolding under that bridge is the result of this CDC order.
The reason? Under this public health order, which is referred to as “Title 42,” people are denied access to asylum except under a very narrowly read provision regarding request for protection under the Convention Against Torture.
Operational guidelines from DHS on implementing this order require that people be removed immediately through expulsion to the country from which they arrived.
Haitians, Venezuelans, Cubans, and others cannot be so removed—Mexico will not accept them. And so they are stuck between a river they cannot cross back over, and a port of entry where, with few exceptions, they will not be processed for any other reason than expulsion under Title 42.
Biden never halted deportations to Haiti, and he never made a public commitment to do so, despite being pressed to do this by members of Congress, human rights organizations, and others. There was a brief pause in removal flights following the assassination of President Moïse, and another after the earthquake in August.
Deportation flights to Haiti had already resumed last week before the situation under the bridge in Del Rio blew up in the media.
Biden has continued to enforce Title 42, and has sent his emissaries far and wide with a simple message to people from Haiti and Cuba, to Guatemala and Honduras – DO NOT COME!
Far from being too soft, Biden has summarily expelled far more people than Trump during his last year in office—and though this is certainly the result of an increase in migration, the policies themselves have hardly changed.
The Migrant Protection Protocol was ended briefly—but MPP had already become marginal compared to the scale of Title 42 expulsions. Now, a court is forcing Biden to reinstate MPP.
There is a tremendous amount of information in the media about the situation in Haiti – a political crisis, a spike in violence, the earthquake and its impacts, and an ongoing crisis of food insecurity made worse by all of the above.
The Biden administration is well aware of all of this. For these reasons, his administration re-designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status in July. TPS does not cover anyone under that bridge right now, and does not mean that deportations to Haiti were halted. TPS is not automatic.
Amidst the spectacle, what is not talked about is the grassroots movement for democratic reform in Haiti, and how the United States under both Trump and Biden have set aside the concerns of this movement and their proposals for solutions.
Amidst the spectacle, what is not talked about is the movement against violence from Haitian activists and civil society. A movement manifested in multiple strategies from longstanding intentional work against gender-based violence to impromptu protests against kidnappings.
Amidst the spectacle, what is also not talked about is how weapons fueling this violence are almost all from the United States – which has not only failed to address, in any meaningful way, gun control within its borders, but refuses to address the US gun industries’ complicity in fomenting violence throughout the Americas.
The problem is not that the United States doesn’t care about what happens in Haiti. The problem is that the US government cares about the wrong things.
Every newspaper article about Haiti references the fact that Haiti is the “poorest country in the western hemisphere.” But almost none of those articles will mention the US colonization of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the system of pillage therein established, and how the United States maintained that system of pillage by sponsoring dictatorship for decades.
Rarely will these accounts mention the “independence” debt, whereby France demanded reparations for the lands and the human beings formerly treated as property by French colonists. If this is mentioned at all, never will the follow-up be how the National City Bank of New York assumed that debt in a process engineered by the US State Department, or that this debt was not paid off to the National City Bank of New York until 1947.
Articles never mention how multilateral lenders strangled the elected governments of René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, only to then funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to the US-installed regime of Gérard Latortue, and the PHTK governments under Martelly and Moïse – both elected, but in processes widely viewed as illegitimate and dominated by US pressure.
In other words, Haiti’s impoverishment is the direct result of 100 years of United States government interference and pillage. Haiti surely has many internal contradictions and tremendous inequality as a result of this. Yet, the biggest obstacle to democracy in Haiti remains the US government.
It has been two weeks since an earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti. Assessments of the impact of the earthquake are still being developed as harder to reach communities remain isolated from relief efforts. As of now the numbers of people killed and injured rest at 2,200 and 12,200. Over 300 people are officially still missing. Likely these numbers remain undercounts.
The map below summarizes aid deliveries as of August 23 (at least those tracked by the government). One can see that the areas near Les Cayes have received the most attention, whereas communities in Nippes and the Grande Anse (aside from Jeremie) are still waiting for support.
In terms of Quixote Center activity, we are supporting deliveries of emergency supplies into Baradares through the Fondasyon Mapou and to areas in the south, near Les Cayes with the Kolektif pou Lakay. Both of these efforts are in process. We will share more as we get detailed report-backs from our partners.
From Kolektif pou Lakay: “Here is the list of actions we plan to take on the ground. Your contribution is always important to help people in the South.” If you are on Twitter click below to follow them.
We are also supporting the Haiti Response Coalition’s team of community organizers who are engaged in assessments in underserved communities in Nippes and the Grande Anse departments. Currently, the majority of our emergency response funds are being used to provide direct cash assistance to families in these departments. HRC community organizers are doing household surveys in communities in southern Nippes near the epicenter of the quake. Based on these surveys, funds are delivered direct to families so they can purchase immediate needs – especially food at the local markets.
Aid Accountability: Take the Pledge
Haiti Response Coalition, working in collaboration with a collective of organizations including Nou Pap Dòmi, Ansanm pou Ayiti, Konbit pou yon Ayiti Tèt Anwo (CHW-KATA), and the Haitian Ladies’ Network, developed the Pledge for New Minimum Standards. The pledge invites organizations engaged in emergency response work to abide by a core set of principles in their work. In summary, the key principles in the pledge are:
We pledge to respect the dignity of the Haitian people.
We pledge to use respectful language.
We pledge to be specific, transparent and inclusive.
We pledge to respect Haitian leadership and reinforce Haitian capacity.
We pledge to support the public good.
We pledge to align with and support long-term efforts.
Above all, we pledge to hold ourselves accountable, and invite groups in Haiti, especially the communities in which we work, to hold us accountable.
We are inviting other organizations and individuals to take this pledge – which you can do on the HRC website here.
The companion petition where individuals can call upon organizations to take the pledge is here.
One note on the pledge and our work. You may notice that we are not sharing photos of Haitians living in tents, and standing outside of crumbled houses. For some time we have avoided using such images, but are making this a more intentional standard, by which we do not use the images of people who have not offered their consent. We trust that you can understand the magnitude of the situation without us sharing photos of people in crisis.
If you are able to support the work we are doing, please make a donation to our Haiti Emergency Response Fund here.
In August, the United States began sending Central Americans who had been detained at the US/Mexico border under Title 42 to southern Mexico. There, they were put on buses and taken to the border with Guatemala and dumped. Flights to Tapachula have been taking place near daily for this purpose over the last two weeks, alongside several other flights to Villahermosa in Tabasco. From there people are driven to the border at El Ceibo and expelled.
Earlier this week I spoke with someone who works at La 72 shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco. She had just been to the one shelter in El Ceibo on the Guatemala side of the border that has been receiving people expelled from Mexico. While there, she interviewed several people who had arrived on a removal flight and then been bussed to the border.
One family, a woman and her daughter, had come to the United States to reunite with the father and a sibling. The father and child arrived just before COVID-19 border restrictions took effect last year. They applied for asylum, and were paroled out pending review. When the mother and sister arrived at the US border, their experiences were far different, under Title 42. They were held at a Border Patrol station for five days – in one of the infamous “hieleras” (“coolers”). They were then put on a plane they thought was taking them to another detention facility in the United States. Told nothing, they found themselves in an airport in Villahermosa, then a bus to El Ceibo. While in custody, they requested asylum and were told that it was not available to them.
The denial of asylum, while refusing to explain to people what is happening to them, has been the norm under Title 42. The emphasis in the original CDC order was rapid expulsion. The logic, such as it was, being that the United States lacked the capacity to detain and test people in a manner that was safe. Thus, people were to be removed so quickly that the average time between encounter and expulsion for most people during the Trump period of Title 42 was reportedly two hours. Under Department of Homeland Security guidance for implementing the policy, people encountered by Border Patrol were not to be taken to a regular detention facility at all and only moved by vehicle if separation between migrants and Border Patrol personnel could be maintained. Under these rules, there is no space for asylum claims, or even, apparently, explanation to people about what is happening to them.
From a public health perspective, this is all theater. People are being detained (and yes, those conditions are not safe), for days anyway, before being put on planes – where segregation between those being removed and staff is not really possible. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 in these conditions is actually very high, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement has done a really bad job at managing COVID-19 in its facilities. There is currently a renewed outbreak of the delta variant among those in ICE custody (see here, here and here for examples), including those placed in staging areas while awaiting removal. For over 18 months now, ICE deportations and removal operations have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 around the world. It is still happening. So, in the name of public health, the Biden administration is maintaining a policy that actually increases the risks of COVID-19 spread.
Haiti removals amidst crises
The reader may recall that starting back in February the Biden administration was expelling people from Haiti at an alarming rate. In the space of two months, Biden expelled more Haitians than Trump had during the previous fiscal year (2020). By June this year, Haiti was facing an explosion of COVID-19 cases – the worst since the pandemic started. While the timing corresponded to a new wave of infections throughout Latin America, Haiti had to that point gotten off fairly easily, all things considered. Though testing was clearly limited, by the spring of 2021, Haiti had the lowest mortality rate from COVID-19 in the region. Following the massive removals, that all changed. Coincidence? Perhaps, but certainly the link between these expulsions and the dramatic increase in COVID-19 infections is not far-fetched. After all, it is not as though Haiti’s tourist industry would be driving infections, as happened in Mexico this summer.
COVID-19 Deaths in Haiti
Whatever the case, we joined others, led by the Haitian Bridge Alliance, UndocuBlack and Family Action Network Movement (FANM), in denouncing these removals as unsafe and a violation of human rights. Biden never completely relented — pausing removals briefly, but always restarting them. Then President Moïse (July 7) was assassinated, and it seemed like there would be a reprieve. But it did not last either.
During the second week of August, the United States sent two deportation flights to Haiti. This happened despite an ongoing security crisis that decision makers in Washington D.C. are well aware of — not least because the president had just been gunned down at his own residence. None of those on the flights were so called “criminal removals.” They were all being expelled from the border under Title 42 – including at least one child under two years of age.
Two days after the second flight, an earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, killing over 2,000 people and injuring 12,000.
For now, flights to Haiti have been halted again — for how long, we do not know. A public commitment to stop expulsions to Haiti has not been issued. Back in 2016, when Hurricane Matthew devastated the same part of Haiti struck by last weekend’s earthquake, the Obama administration halted deportations to Haiti…for two weeks. Biden needs to do better.
Fierce urgency of now
Whether it is dumping Central Americans in Mexico’s southern states without explanation, or removing Haitians to a country on the brink of collapse, Biden’s moves under Title 42 are a disaster. If Biden’s commitment to this lousy policy is the desire to maintain a “deterrent,” it is not working. The push factors are too great.
COVID-19 has wrecked the economies of Latin America. In Central America, this has been compounded by hurricanes, and ongoing political crises in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Even Nicaragua, which has not been the source of much migration north, is seeing numbers increase while the United States expands sanctions against the Sandinista government. Migration from Cuba is on the rise, and Haitians from Brazil and Chile are on the move again, as economic woes have been met with racist and xenophobic backlashes in both countries. Venezuela remains the source of a mammoth regional migration crisis —the roots of which are impossible to separate from US sanctions there (even if the media has managed to do so).
So far, Biden has met this new reality with the same draconian approach as Trump. For all of the fanfare about the end of the Migrant Protection Protocols (which might be brought back by Court order), and renewed TPS for Haiti in July (positive moves to be sure), the underlying policy infrastructure of the Biden administration remains Trump’s: A reliance on Title 42 as a workaround to deny asylum and deter migration; increase in the use of removals further and further south, making it hard for people to try to re-enter the US, while also violating every public health rationale the Title 42 policy was supposed to be based on; and the maintenance of a regional dragnet of enforcement agreements to keep people away from the United States/Mexico border.
Nevertheless, migration to the United States is increasing and it is likely going to continue to increase, since this increase has little to do with US border policy. People are fleeing impoverishment and violence, and the sources of both have gotten worse over the past 18 months, especially in Central America and the Caribbean. If the United States is serious about addressing the “roots” of this migration it will have to dig much deeper than the current regurgitation of neo-liberal bromides that Biden has thus far promoted as “new” policy.
In the meantime, at the border we will continue to encounter human beings seeking safety, work, and shelter. The people arriving at our border are not the enemy. They have been forcibly displaced. It is very possible to process people in an orderly fashion that extends to them the legal protections to which they are entitled. It is possible to do all of this in a way that maintains an equal, if not far greater, commitment to public health than is currently being done.
It has now been seven days since an earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, doing tremendous damage in the Sud, Nippes, and Grand Anse departments. According to the latest update from Haiti’s government, 2,189 people are confirmed dead, with another 12,268 injured. Some communities have yet to be reached by government officials and volunteers, and so this toll is likely to climb much higher.
The damage is hard to fathom. Nearly 61,000 homes have been destroyed and 76,000 damaged. Nearly 75,000 families are without housing. The country was already facing a food security crisis, compounded by high fuel prices, and the closing of transportation corridors that connected the south to Port au Prince, which were closed off due to fighting in Martissant and surrounding areas. Emergency support efforts are thus compounded by the intersection of these other, pre-existing crises, draining resources and creating insecurity for the delivery of assistance.
The government announced on Monday that there was a truce with gangs in Martissant. Several aid convoys were able to get through during that time. That truce seemed to be fraying by Thursday, as renewed fighting led to massive traffic jams coming in and out of Port au Prince. Two doctors were apparently kidnapped – one reportedly on his way to perform an emergency cesarean section. Unattended because of his kidnapping, the mother and child both died. Outside the main roads, however, it is not clear that the fighting in Martissant ever really stopped. A friend in the area wrote to me that people are risking their lives every day trying to get relief to the south.
The challenges are very real, to be sure. But it is also important to underscore that in the face of these challenges there has already been a significant response both within Haiti and among international actors. Within Haiti, official coordination is taking place through the National Centre for Emergency Operations (COUN) and Departmental Centres for Emergency Operations (COUD). Both the COUN and COUD meet regularly with local officials and organizations providing assistance in order to coordinate and prioritize aid. It is still in the early phases, and gaps in the delivery of assistance are clear.
Les Cayes, for example, is still accessible by road and the airport is functioning. The response there has been significant. At the same time, Jeremie has been harder to reach, and the hospital is lacking in supplies. Smaller towns in Nippes are reportedly receiving little attention.
Quixote Center response thus far
Thanks to the generosity of many of you, the Quixote Center raised funds this week, and will continue to reach out as the crisis evolves. Our strategy for the use of funds includes short and medium term goals. In the short term we are supporting groups in Haiti that are delivering emergency supplies. Toward that end we have partnered with the Kolektif pou lakay.
The Kolektif pou Lakay is a new organization, and describes itself as, “a team of young professionals, mainly from the south of Haiti, the most heavily impacted area by the August 14, 2021, earthquake. Our objective is to ensure that the victims’ urgent needs are met. Your contribution will help us acquire and distribute, thanks to our team on the ground, drinking water, food, medical assistance, and hygiene kits directly to the victims. Additionally, we look to provide temporary housing to those in need. In the interest of transparency, a report will be drafted every two weeks on our social media platforms.”
The Kolektif pou lakay is receiving donations from individuals through a Gofundme page – which you can access here to donate directly if you are able. We have worked with several members of the collective from Noupapdomi on other projects, and will continue to provide support in the weeks to come.
The Quixote Center is also working in collaboration with the Haiti Response Coalition to establish mechanisms for need assessment and coordination of assistance. The Haiti Response Coalition is a network of mostly US based organizations that work in partnership with organizations in Haiti. The goal of our work with the HRC is to facilitate better coordination so that assistance is reaching some of the areas that might otherwise get looked over. HRC is in the process of investigating and doing some initial mapping of the area to get a better sense of what is needed and where.
Go here to donate to the Quixote Center emergency response fund.
The Quixote Center’s core relationship in Haiti remains the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne. We are reminded over and over again about the need to develop sustainable and equitable food systems. This is the work of the Formation Center and the primary outlet for our resources. Gros Morne was not impacted directly by either the earthquake or the recent tropical depression. Nevertheless, our work there is also an emergency response in many ways. 4.4 million people are impacted by food insecurity in Haiti – and that estimate is prior to the earthquake. Our commitment to the program, and the incredible ingenuity and creativity of the agronomy team is long term. Their work continues in these difficult times, and so does our support. We are keeping our emergency fundraising for the earthquake separate from our general efforts – this is just to let you know this other work continues.
The magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit Haiti on Saturday had severe impact on the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie, and surrounding areas, with further destruction in and near Jacmel. People certainly felt the quake in Port au Prince. Tremors happened all day, bringing back memories of the 2010 quake and sending people out into the streets in fear.
In the areas that saw the worst devastation, hospitals are under enormous stress, many of them suffering damage from the quake. There is a shortage of supplies. Transport out of Port au Prince remains uncertain due to ongoing fighting in and around Carrefour. The government is now saying it can guarantee security there (if so, why not last week?), and, as I am writing, there is talk of a gang “ceasefire.” We hope that this lasts. Bridges into Jeremie were damaged, but the airport is reportedly functional.
Whenever people ask where they should donate funds to help in times of crisis, I always say that the best way is to give to those who are already there, know the area and how to mobilize local resources. When the Quixote Center raises funds they always go to local organizations.
Immediate needs are the basics – food and shelter. There is a tropical storm coming, likely to hit Monday night into Tuesday morning. People need to get out of the rain. So, at the moment, the funds we raise will go to support the purchase and transport of shelter supplies – tents, tarps, rope and so on.
Thank you for whatever support you are able to provide. You may donate here.