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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More people removed to Haiti in last 4 weeks than all of FY2020

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From February 1 to 26, 2021 the Biden administration removed 981 people to Haiti, including at least 270 children.  In all of FY2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), the Trump administration removed 895 people to Haiti through ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations. Trump did expel an additional 700 Haitians at the beginning of FY 2021, yet even then, the pace of removals was not as high as we are seeing now.

What is going on? The short answer is that the Biden administration is continuing to enforce an order by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shuts off asylum processing at the border. The CDC order was issued in March of 2020, and has provided the justification for the Department of Homeland Security denying people access to asylum processing or other relief. Claiming authority under “Title 42” of the U.S. code, the CDC order directs border agents to expel people as quickly as possible to the last country of transit, or, if that is not possible, to take people into custody briefly until they can be expelled to their home (or third) country. Under this order, 460,000 people have been expelled since March 20, 2020 (as of January 31, 2021). 

For people from Haiti, immediate removal to Mexico is not supposed to occur – though it has. Which means most Title 42 removals to Haiti are done by plane. We do not know how many Haitians the Trump administration summarily expelled to Mexico, nor do we know how many have been expelled this way since Biden took office. But we do know it happens – on February 3, for example, 76 Haitians (in additions to number above) were expelled by Border Patrol into Ciudad Juarez, most without papers and their belongings, all wearing the sandals they were issued at a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility prior to their expulsion.

There are many layers to this. One is that Haitians have always been treated poorly by immigration authorities in the United States. The determination of the Reagan administration to detain asylum seekers from Haiti, rather than parole them out as was typically done for other people seeking protection, led to the birth of our modern immigrant detention system. Bush and Clinton interdicted tens of thousands of Haitains at sea, most returned immediately to Haiti, others held at Guantanamo until they could be removed. The Obama administration launched a metering system at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 2015 to slow the entrance of Haitian asylum seekers, while relaunching deportations to Haiti (suspended after the earthquake in 2010) in order to deter more Haitians from trying to come. The list goes on.

Each of these steps eventually led to an erosion of rights for everyone seeking protection at our borders. Metering, for example, was expanded by Trump, and in a twisted turn, underlay the logic of the Migrant Protection Protocols which forced 72,000 people seeking asylum to wait in Mexico for their asylum hearings.  

The fact that Haitians are typically treated more harshly is a by-product of the idea that deterrence is an important framework for immigration enforcement measures. In various ways, deterrence has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy for decades. Certainly, jailing Haitians seeking asylum was intended to discourage others from trying. The same “logic” was used by Obama to justify the metering system and expanded deportations. 

Of course, deterrence ultimately targets everyone. Trump detained all asylum seekers, to deter more from coming, and his administration explicitly cited deterrence as the reason for the child separation policy employed in 2018. The Migration Protection Protocol was followed by the Transit Ban, which denied people access to asylum if they crossed a third country prior to reaching the U.S. border without first applying for asylum there. The message all around: Don’t bother trying to come here, you won’t get in at all.

This is sadly the same message Biden is currently sending. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last Friday: “To anyone thinking about undertaking that journey, our message is:  Don’t do it.  We are strictly enforcing our immigration laws and our border security measures.  The border is closed to irregular migration.”  The Secretary of Homeland Security is offering a similar message. From the NY Times:

Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the United States continued to rely, for now, on a measure at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach: a public health rule that requires border agents to quickly deport border crossers to Mexico without a chance to request asylum. “They need to wait,” Mr. Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers. “It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch.”

For the Biden team, this message is justified by two things: 1. COVID-19 is still a threat and thus the CDC order must remain in place. 2. Biden is committed to reforming border policy but, he notes, it will “take time.” In the interim, his administration is afraid that liberalizing rules too quickly will lead to a “surge” of immigration.

There are a number of problems with these arguments. The CDC order was a political stunt from the beginning, not a serious public health measure. A surge in the number of people seeking entry is certainly possible, as a result of the ongoing deterioration of conditions in the countries people are fleeing rather than a misreading Biden’s generosity. The idea that treating people humanely makes for bad politics is a strange notion indeed. 

But none of these arguments mean much for folk from Haiti. Haitians apprehended are mostly placed in detention until they can be removed, which means they can be tested, are in effect being quarantined, and so on. There is no reason to then deny them due process, certainly not a public health argument. The deterrent argument, generally flawed to begin with, makes no sense for Haitians either – most of whom left Haiti years ago, and are arriving now via Brazil, Chile and Peru. They no doubt try to read the situation at the border the best they can, so they can decide when it is best to try and cross. But deterrence has little impact on their decision to travel thousands of miles to begin with.  

Considering all of the above, and given the ongoing political crisis in Haiti, the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitians at this rate is unconscionable. There are many ongoing efforts to halt the expulsions to Haiti (latest letter here), as well as efforts to end Title 42 enforcement, and deportations more generally. As with Trump’s DHS team, Biden’s folk seem unmoved by these efforts. Congressional outrage, editorials from the New York Times and Washington Post, and even simple reason seem to not matter much – there was another removal flight to Haiti on March 2. Meanwhile, Biden’s administration does seem to fear the daily scorchings they are receiving on Fox News. If Obama’s presidency holds any lessons for Biden, it is that they will be scorched on Fox News no matter what they do – so why not do something bold? Or in this case, do what is right: Halt removals to Haiti! 

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The good, the meh, and the ugly: Another week of immigration politics

Over the last week there have been several advances as well as setbacks in the evolution of immigration policy under the Biden administration. The process of bringing the Migration Protection Protocols to a close was launched and the administration’s immigration reform legislation was finally introduced in Congress. Meanwhile, new operational guidance concerning enforcement priorities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement was released to mixed reviews, while a District Court judge overturned the Biden administration’s efforts to implement a 100-day moratorium on most deportations. After 10-months of being largely ignored in Congress, Title 42 is finally getting some attention, with calls for its rescision from 61 members of the House. Finally, as a reminder that U.S. border enforcement extends to Panama an agreement among Central America’s migration authorities was reached on February 23rd to block the entrance of Haitians and others traveling to the United States from South America.

Here’s what’s happening…

Migration Protection Protocol is rolled back

On Friday, the administration began implementation of its unwinding of the Trump era (error?) “Remain in Mexico” program. Outside of white nationalist circles, MPP has been a widely unpopular move with deadly consequences. Under the program, people seeking asylum in the United States were enrolled in MPP and then told to wait in Mexico for asylum hearings. The program was launched in January of 2019 and ultimately led over 70,000 people made to wait in Mexico. Hearings did not really begin until April of 2019, and when they did begin, it was something of a farcical process whereby people were escorted from the border into tents for a hearing with a judge via video conference. No legal observers or press were permitted, and representation for people in the MPP program was nearly impossible to organize. Very few people received asylum (only 643). In April of 2020 the hearings were suspended because of COVID-19. 

As a result of people being turned back to wait, informal refugee camps were set up near the Mexico side of ports of entry as people were afraid to leave the area and miss their hearing. People in these settings frequently became victims of cartels. Over the course of the two years MPP was in place, Human Rights First has documented 1,300 victims of murder, rape and assault among those enrolled in MPP. 

As of January 2021, estimates were that 25,000 people remained on the border waiting for hearings. Upon taking office, Biden suspended new enrollments into MPP, and set about creating a protocol for processing people already enrolled in MPP. That process was announced on February 11, and implementation began on Friday, February 19. People will be screened for COVID-19, and those who test negative allowed entry into the United States to await their asylum hearings. The administration has indicated it will seek to minimize the use of detention, using community support programs and possibly ankle bracelets as alternatives.

The official roll back of MPP began on Friday, as people began to be admitted in California. For some, this comes after two years of waiting.

The Citizenship Act of 2021

On the first day of Biden’s presidency, a summary of proposed immigration reform legislation was released to the media. Though submitted to the Senate a couple of days later, it has taken nearly a month for the full text of the legislation to be made public. Now it is.  We did a high level review of the contents of the legislation when announced in January. A more thorough review of the details is still to come. Vox’s excellent summary from January is here. Some other analysis and responses to the bill: Detention Watch Network, National Immigration Law Center, and Alianza Americas and Presente.

The full text of the Senate version here. The texts in the House and Senate are essentially the same for now. As the bill proceeds in both chambers, and is sliced up and amended the versions will no doubt begin to drift apart.

Congressional letter calling on Biden administration to Rescind Title 42

On February 23, 61 members of the House of Representatives called on the Biden administration to end the use of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order invoking Title 42 of the U.S. code as a means to shut out asylum seekers. The letter was organized by Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory W. Meeks (NY-5), Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), and Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2).  The letter says,

We write out of deep concern about continued Title 42 expulsions and deportations that have taken place in recent weeks, seemingly regardless of whether these migrants meet priorities for removals,” the letter reads. “In many cases these deportees are families and children who likely pose no security threat. The Trump administration misused Title 42 to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of migrants while denying them due process and access to the asylum system in contravention of international legal obligations.

The criticism of Title 42 is long overdue. It was inspired in part by the Biden administration’s use of Title 42 to expel close to 1,000 people to Haiti over the first three weeks of February despite the ongoing political crisis.

You can read the press release, and see a full list of Congressional signers, here. If your member of Congress is on the list, be sure to thank them for taking this stand!

The full text of the letter is here.

New Operational Guidance for Immigration and Customs Enforcement

On Biden’s first day in office, the then acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, David Pekoske, issued a memo that mandated a system-wide review of immigration enforcement policy and practice. The memo also included language on re-orienting enforcement priorities to focus primarily on people with criminal backgrounds. On Thursday, February 18, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued temporary guidance to ICE officers on implementing these new enforcement priorities. This interim guidance is only in place for 90-days. The director of Homeland Security, now Mayorkas, will be issuing new operation guidance at that point, following the review mandated in January.

So, what is in the new guidance? Enforcement priorities are defined under three categories: People who are deemed a threat to 1. national security, 2. border security, and 3. public safety. The priorities:

  1. National security: people possibly engaging in acts of terrorism, espionage, or whose arrest is otherwise deemed necessary to protect national security;  
  2. Border security: people apprehended after illegally crossing the border since November 1, 2020, or otherwise not present in the United States on or before November 1, 2020;
  3. Public safety: people convicted of “aggravated felonies” or thought to be involved in gang activity

Behind each of these definitions is a long history of questionable practices and abuses. For example, aggravated felonies as defined under Clinton era immigration law is overly broad. It is one reason why the single largest basis for “criminal” removals are traffic violations. Which is to say, the narrowed focus in the interim guidance will lead to fewer arrests and deportations, but is still problematic. A statement from the We Are Home Campaign, for example, said of the new priorities:

they continue to rely on flawed and racist frameworks that stigmatize all immigrants as potential threats to national security or public safety, with vague and sweeping criteria for identifying such “threats” that will disproportionately harm Black and Brown immigrants, including Muslims. The guidelines also fail to make an explicit commitment to providing meaningful access to asylum for recent border crossers.

Other responses to the guidance came from the ACLU, Detention Watch Network, and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center

Texas refuses to come in from the cold…

I’ll admit my first take at a headline came out something like this, %#^@%$!^& Texas!!!, but I was overruled. “Why the frustration?” you ask. Back on January 20, the acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, issued a memo – the same memo mentioned above – that also included a 100 day moratorium on deportations. To be clear, the moratorium did not cover all deportations, and did not include people expelled under Title 42, which is the basis upon which the vast majority of people have been removed from the U.S. over the last ten months. But, it was a start. The temporary moratorium was envisioned as part of the system-wide review of immigration enforcement procedures. Halt most deportations, while reviewing the policy. Makes sense, right? 

Enter the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton. He decided to make some right wing hay out of this order, (he referred to it as a “ seditious left-wing insurrection”) and sued to block it. His main argument (at least the one out of six specious arguments the court accepted) was that Texas would suffer tremendous cost from the detention of immigrants not deported.* Absolute. Nonsense. There is always executive discretion on who gets deported and when, and most detention costs are carried by the Federal Government, not the state of Texas (whose localities, sadly, actually make money hosting detention facilities). Yet, a district judge, Drew Tipton, appointed by Trump, agreed, and on January 26 to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the order. The TRO was extended until February 23rd. Then, late in the evening on February 23rd, Tipton issued a national injunction on the moratorium. 

It is not clear if the Biden administration will appeal. 

*Update:  To clarify: The question of costs incurred by Texas is the basis upon which Texas claims to have standing in this case as an injured party. The actual legal questions at hand are largely procedural. Texas claims, in various ways, that the Biden Administration did not follow agreed upon procedures in terms of informing/consulting with Texas, seeking alternative measures and so on. For those interested you can read the ruling here.

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Haiti update, and call to stop removals!

On February 7, Jovenel Moise refused to step down from the presidency of Haiti. As we reported last week, there has been a flurry of activity since, as Moise has sought to secure his position and attack opponents. On the morning of February 7th, Moise had 20-23 people arrested, including a supreme court justice and police inspector, on charges that they were plotting to kill him and take control of the government. The coup narrative, reported widely around the world that day, served its purpose of deflecting attention away from the source of the crisis (Moise’s refusal to step down) but has mostly been met with skepticism since. 

Later that evening a segment of the opposition selected another supreme court justice, Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis , to serve as a provisional president. The next day, police officers surrounded the Supreme Court building, and Moise, later “retired” three more justices. The retirements were likely not legal, and neither was Moise’s appointment of three replacements on Friday. With the Supreme Court recast in his image, and Parliament defunct, Moise has contained any institutional opposition to his continued rule. 

Not surprisingly, of course, over the past week there have been demonstrations against the government. In several of these demonstrations police very clearly targeted journalists, two of whom were shot. Mobilization from popular neighborhoods in the capital are dangerous, as many of these neighborhoods are under the control of gangs aligned with the government. The biggest demonstration of the week came on Sunday, February 14.

Moise is still holding the executive office, and is pressing ahead with plans for a referendum on a package of constitutional reforms to be held in April (though when or if this happens is still an open question). The reconstitution of the Supreme Court takes on increased relevance here, as the referendum itself is likely unconstitutional. If Moise proceeds, he is likely to use the new court to approve the various measures he is attempting to roll out.

The “opposition”

While many people have rallied behind Justice Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis  as a provisional president, he is hardly a consensus choice. This underscores an important point for all of us reading the crisis from abroad: The opposition is not a singular entity. In March of 2019 Commune published an article by the Kolektif Anakawona that provides background on different facets of the opposition, a rubric that is still largely applicable and worth a review.

There is, of course, a “partisan” opposition, made up of current and former parliamentarians. These folks were the focal point of attention when parliament was still in session, but many of them struggle with legitimacy among grassroots and popular organizations. Youri Latortue, for example, led the charge in investigations of abuse of PetroCaribe funds, yet has himself been the target of corruption investigations. If one focuses solely on the disputes between opposition members of parliament and Moise, it gives the appearance that the crisis is rooted in partisan wrangling. That is certainly how the White House under Trump and now Biden has viewed it. This would be a gross oversimplification.

People have been mobilizing not for a change of party but for structural change. What this means might vary group to group, but ultimately it is a demand for a more inclusive society – not simply better elections. Nou Pap Domi, a grassroots organization that grew out of the PetroCaribe protests, for example, issued a “Message to the Nation” on February 6, 2021 that said, “NOUPAPDÒMI does not recognize the legitimacy of the rest of the senators in parliament, nor some civil society actors as well as some politicians who were involved in all the wasteful negotiations and initiatives that got us into this crisis, to organize any dialogue or play any role in the country’s governance after the presidential term ends. There will be a RUPTURE from all the people, all the groups that never worked for the well-being of the people, who are up to their elbows in everything that got us into this state of turmoil today.”   

Though there is a diversity in the long and medium term vision of where Haiti needs to go – from politicians seeking new elections and new positions in a newly reformed government, to youth organizations seeking a rupture with the past and reconstitution of political and economic forces – there is near unanimity that Moise’s term has expired and a transition must begin immediately. Again, reading the crisis from the United States, we are confronted with the fact that our government’s position stands against the vast majority of Haiti’s political organizations and civil society. That said, we must keep in mind that no one group “speaks for the people of Haiti,” an obvious fact that somehow gets glossed over. From the U.S. then, we should demand that Biden’s State Department drop its support for Moise’s mandate extending to February 7, 2022 – but not argue about who gets to take charge, or how. Under no circumstance should we demand that the U.S. play any role in removing Moise. 

As we’ve said many times, the U.S. needs to get out of the way of a solution rather than promote the one that seems most conducive to U.S. interests. By simply saying, some variation of “the United States supports the people of Haiti in deciding the way forward…,” the Biden administration would make a solution far more likely. Currently, however, what we see is a stream of patronizing platitudes raining down on Haiti from the U.S., O.A.S., and U.N. that endorse Moise’s tenure. The expressions of concern, cautions about constitutionality and the expressed need for dialog all become pretty vacuous when enjoined with, “and we think Moise’s mandate ends February 7, 2022.” 

Biden has removed more people to Haiti in three weeks than Trump did in all of FY2020

Yes that is true. The Biden administration is expelling people to Haiti at an insane rate. And they continue to, After flying people out nearly every day (there were three expulsions flights to Haiti in one day last week!), this week there was a short break due to the weather – not principle – with transportation and energy infrastructure in Texas largely shut down. That said, there were still removal flights to Haiti on Monday and Friday.

According to ICE’s recently released annual report for FY 2020 (which runs from October 1, 2019 to September 30, 2020), 895 people were removed to Haiti during that year – which includes Title 42 removals from March to September. While precise numbers on the flights this month are not known (flight manifests are not public) there have been 13 flights since February 2, some full with 135 people, others with fewer. But estimates are that at least 900 people have been removed so far this month, most of whom have been part of family units. Including infants.

So, Biden’s ICE isn’t any nicer than Trump’s. Amidst the current crisis in Haiti, this level of removal is unconscionable. 

What you can do?

For now, we are very much focused on ending the expulsion of people to Haiti. There are a number of petitions and statements circulating that you can join onto. While these actions do not address the roots of the crisis in Haiti, they are directed at one of the inhumane responses of our government to that crisis – continuing to expel people.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance is circulating a letter calling for a halt to removals to Haiti. It is a strong letter and open to organizations and individuals. You can view the letter hereand sign here.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is circulating a sign-on letter for congregations and other organizations, calling for end to removals. You can sign your group on here.

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is also circulating a letter for individual faith leaders to sign. View that here

Faith in Action is also circulating a statement to end removals to Haiti in the context of the political crisis. You can sign that here.

There is a growing movement to press Biden to revoke Title 42 sooner rather than later. The Latin America Working Group has launched a petition to the effect which you can sign here.

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Good news, bad news: The Biden administration and immigration in week 4

“Sen. Joe Biden campaigns in Ankeny” by IowaPolitics.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’ll start with the bad news. Very bad news. Last Friday we reported that the administration had agreed to a suspension of removal flights to Haiti. They were suspended for one day (Friday), On Monday the flights began again, and have continued every day this week.

Neither, Biden’s team at Homeland Security or at the Domestic Policy Council have provided any kind of convincing public answer about why they are continuing the flights to Haiti – just as they made no public commitment to the suspension to begin with. But where they have talked around it, the response is disingenuous at best.

The first suggestion is that they have no choice. Biden, they will say, attempted to launch a 100 day moratorium on deportation. It was announced on January 20th, implemented on January 22nd, and then blocked by a federal judge “in Texas” on January 26. The judge “paused our pause,” one Biden official explained on a policy call. There are two problems with this answer. Firstly, most of the people being removed to Haiti are in fact being expelled under Title 42; the moratorium was never intended to cover Title 42 expulsions. Which means, 90% of the people being removed to Haiti right now, all other things being equal, would be removed anyway under the terms of the moratorium. We note that during the five days the moratorium was enacted, there were still removal flights everyday except Sunday – Title 42 removals and others not covered by the limited moratorium.

Secondly, the administration has indicated that it is working on “new protocols” at the border that will take a few weeks to prepare. Until then, anyone crossing the border will be expelled. The “we are working on it, and just need time” answer seems reasonable, but provides little actual substance. The Quixote Center was one of 100 organizations to sign a letter to Biden asking for the revocation of Title 42, for example. The response from the White House was not particularly promising:

On behalf of the team at the White House, thank you to you and your signers for this letter. From day one, the President has prioritized taking urgent action to begin to create a more humane and just immigration process, including an executive order announced yesterday which included directing the Secretary of Homeland Security to review the Migrant Protection Protocols.

These measures are only the beginning and demonstrate the President’s commitment to addressing this issue in full. It is important to underscore that the situation at the border will not transform overnight, due in large part to the damage done over the last four years.

Of course, if the various policy reviews do lead to significant change, this will be welcome. But Biden has not been very clear on his vision thus far, nor a timeline. This is contributing to a great deal of confusion at the border. To be clear, if there is a crisis it is largely of Trump’s making. But a good lesson for Biden to take from Trump’s time in office is that a lack of clarity makes things worse.

One final word on unclear messaging about these removals. From Amy Goodman to the New York Times, another line of argument is that ICE has gone rogue, and is continuing to deport families and kids in spite of new guidance from the Department of Homeland Security to change enforcement priorities. This version of events misreads the January 20th memorandum from DHS acting director Pekoske – the same memo that included the deportation memorandum. The shift in priorities, like the moratorium, has nothing to do with Title 42 removals. We keep emphasizing this, and will continue to beat this drum until the policy changes. Title 42 denies people all due process. They are simply expelled. Period.

In the end, these expulsions to Haiti are not the fault of a judge in Texas or a rogue immigration agency. Biden has the power to stop them by either revoking Title 42 completely for everybody, or using the discretion allowed under the CDC order for humanitarian relief to stop the flights to Haiti. He thus far is refusing to use that power. 

So now, some good news! 

Yesterday, Buzzfeed reporter Hamed Aleaziz released details on the Biden administration’s plan to wind down the Migration Protection Protocols. The details of the “plan” from Buzzfeed:

The Biden administration’s plan, which will start slowly at three ports of entry, targets those who were pushed into the Remain in Mexico program and still have active cases in US immigration courts, according to a draft of the plan obtained by BuzzFeed News. Those who qualify after registering online should not come to the border, but instead wait for instructions to start the entry process, a source with knowledge of the plan said.

As they prepare to enter the US, the immigrants will be kept in so-called staging areas in Mexico, where they will receive a medical screening and a COVID-19 test. Those who test positive for the disease will be forced to continue waiting in Mexico until they test negative.

US Customs and Border Protection officials will also assess the capacity to intake those allowed into the US on a daily basis. Officials believe they can process up to 300 people a day within the first few weeks at two of the ports of entry for the initial phase.

“This is an effort that has been months in the planning. I think it absolutely shows that the administration was serious about this commitment,” the source said.

The initial effort will prioritize people based on when their cases were open, but there will be some opportunities for those who are particularly vulnerable to be fast-tracked, the source added. The US government estimates that 25,000 people in the Remain in Mexico program are still awaiting their court hearings.

Department of Homeland Security officials will not allow in people whose US asylum cases were terminated or who already have deportation orders. People who do not follow the reentry plan will also be turned back, in some cases using a public health law that allows for US border officials to quickly turn back immigrants at the border. This week, the White House also warned that most immigrants will still be turned away at the border. (Emphasis added).

The Migration Protection Protocols had resulted in 60,000+ people being forced to wait in Mexico for an asylum hearing. Since April, due to COVID-19, hearings have been suspended. Even when they were happening, they were a bit of a disaster. Setting in motion a process to help people get through this process quickly is thus huge. The devil is, of course, in the details as they say. And while 25,000 may still be enrolled and waiting in Mexico under MPP, January was the fourth month in a row that more than 60,000 people were expelled under Title 42 – and it seems clear that is not ending anytime soon.

Another bit of good news is that the State Department formally suspended Asylum Cooperation Agreements with Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The Trump administration had negotiated these agreements in order to send asylum seekers back to one of these countries. The agreement with Guatemala was the only one operative when COVID-19 restrictions went into place. Hundreds of asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras were sent back to Guatemala to seek asylum in the first part of 2020 under that agreement.

 

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

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6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

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