The Truth About Busing Migrants from the Border to DC: A Story of Welcoming

UPDATE: The DC Attorney General’s office, whose funding is separate from that of the mayor’s office, has announced a grant program of $150,000 to aid nonprofits leading the welcoming response. We welcome this news, but unfortunately this level of funding is still woefully inadequate to meet the needs of mutual aid groups. 

In April, Governor Abbott of Texas began sending migrants from the US southern border to Washington, DC, with Arizona joining soon after. So far, Texas and Arizona have collectively bused over 7,000 migrants from the border to DC, and now Texas is beginning to send buses to New York City as well.  

 The narrative cycling around conservative media outlets is that Governors Abbott and Ducey have “stuck it to the Dems” by “bringing the border crisis” to their front doors. Abbott and Ducey are using migrant families, who are real people with hopes, dreams, and unimaginable journeys, as political pawns to spin a media narrative about an “immigrant invasion.” There are anecdotal reports of migrants being coerced onto the buses, told that they will be taken to their desired destination, and then sent to DC or New York instead.  

At the same time, many migrants have also been able to benefit from the program, because DC or New York are much closer to their final destination than the Texas or Arizona border. Others don’t have a final destination in mind. Forced to flee their homes, they are content to board a bus to DC or New York City, where, they are told, there will be resources and jobs waiting for them.  

In the case of DC, it is true that the buses have overwhelmed these resources. But this is not the fault of a “migrant crisis,” or the migrants themselves, but of a lack of institutional will to act.  

From day one, a mutual aid network of volunteers, activists, and immigrants’ rights advocates has been mobilizing to welcome and assist migrants arriving in DC despite a vacuum of institutional support from local or federal government. Though FEMA has provided federal funds to SAMU First Response, the main nonprofit officially in charge of coordinating, it has been woefully inadequate to keep up with the needs of receiving, housing, and transporting migrants.  

Sanctuary DMV, through the organizing and willpower of its volunteers, has been able to welcome thousands without such support. In New York City, a mutual aid and solidarity network led by Team TLC NY  is already assembling volunteers to greet and process migrants.  

Both cities’ governments have struggled with how to respond, further complicated by a lack of communication and cooperation from Texas regarding the arrivals.   

 The DC Department of Human Services has been illegally excluding migrant families from the shelter system despite available bed space, denying them critical resources such as a case manager, who could assist in school enrollment, health insurance, and receiving medical treatment. 

 Neither the city or federal government are willing to play a direct role in addressing what immigrant advocates say is a building humanitarian crisis. Indeed, the government’s failure to act is causing the humanitarian crisis in the first place. DC’s Mayor Bowser has not allocated any local funds or government resources to welcoming efforts, despite being able to apply to FEMA for reimbursement, and city officials have been encouraging nonprofits to seek additional federal aid instead.  

 The federal government declined Mayor Bowser’s request for assistance from the National Guard to process migrants, though she plans to renew this request. Sanctuary DMV has pushed back on this request, noting that doing so only serves to further militarize the reception of migrants, and that the city should instead focus on existing services, such as expanding shelter capacity, social services, and language access.  

 New York’s Mayor Adams claimed that migrants were overwhelming the shelter system before Governor Abbott had even begun sending buses. As aid groups pointed out, the shelter system was already overwhelmed by a variety of factors, such as understaffing and rising evictions.  

 To his credit, Adams quickly mobilized emergency measures to accommodate migrants in the shelter system, and appeared in person to greet migrants. Serious challenges still remain, as a new report shows that migrant families are being separated when entering the NYC shelter system. But perhaps Mayor Bowser can consider following in New York’s example and finally commit to welcoming.  

 It is important to remember despite the murky intersection of city, state, and federal politics, and despite the narrative being further weaponized by anti-immigrant media outlets and politicians, the communities of DC and New York City have stepped up.  

 “We recently learned that people have donated about $160,000 to Governor Abbott’s effort to bus people to DC. And we – the DC community – have raised over $350,000,”  said Amy Fischer, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA, and who has been actively welcoming with Sanctuary DMV. 

 “While politicians on both sides of the aisle use fear-mongering tactics to undermine the human right to seek asylum, we know that is not reflective of communities. When we feel overwhelmed with the numbers arriving, or the lack of capacity, our answer is not to tell people not to come. Our answer is to call for more support to expand our capacity to welcome, not shut the door.” 

 Ways to Help 

There are several ways that anyone, anywhere, can take action today: 

 If you are based in DC, there are a couple of ways to help aside from making a donation:  

  • Click to send a letter, tweet, or phone call 
  • Spanish, French, and Portuguese speakers are greatly needed. Volunteers are also needed to sort donations and for clean-up.  
  • Clothing, toiletries, and baby supplies are most needed.  

 In New York City, Team TLC NYC has been leading the welcoming efforts. Click HERE to support.  

 

 

 

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Title 42’s discriminatory impact on Haitian migrants

Haitian migrants were expelled at much higher rates than the nationals of other countries similarly situated during the twenty-seven months since Title 42 policies were first implemented. Haitians were at least 3X more likely to be expelled compared to nationals of almost all other countries, except for those who could, by agreement between the United States and Mexico, be expelled directly into Mexico. This pattern changed in June of this year, with a significant drop in the percentage of Haitians encountered being expelled, a trend that seems to be continuing into July. We are still demanding that all removals be halted immediately. 

Title 42 refers to a section of the US code that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed gave the Trump and Biden administrations the authority to summarily expel, “persons traveling from Canada or Mexico (regardless of their country of origin) who would otherwise be introduced into a congregate setting in a land or coastal Port of Entry (POE) or Border Patrol station at or near the United States borders with Canada or Mexico.” Title 42 was issued as a means to contain COVID-19, but was immediately denounced by public health officials as a backdoor means to end asylum. It has utterly failed as a public health measure.

For Haitians, Title 42 has been the principal means of their expulsion from the United States over the last 27 months. There have been at least 27,500 Haitians removed from the United States since March of 2020; almost all of whom have been expelled since Biden took office. Of these, 22,832, or 83% were removed under Title 42. 

To understand the discriminatory impact of Title 42 on Haitian immigrants we have to first look at how Title 42 has been implemented overall. There are two sets of countries whose citizens are treated quite differently. The first set of countries (Group A) are those for whom the Trump administration negotiated an agreement with Mexico to accept those expelled. This group includes Mexican nationals, and people from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. Expulsions from just these four countries made up 93% of all Title 42 expulsions between March of 2020 and the end of May 2022.  [All of the figures in this article were derived using Customs and Border Protection’s Database of Nationwide Encounters here]

The citizens of other countries (Group B) could not simply be expelled back to Mexico, though some clearly have been. The main exception is Ecuador. Ecuadorans made up over 50,000 Title 42 expulsions in 2021, with at most 10,000 returned to Ecuador by plane that year. The rest seem to have been expelled back to Mexico, or simply denied admission to the United States at a port of entry.

For other countries, because of the cost and logistical challenges associated with detaining and flying them to their home countries, Border Patrol/DHS processed them under Title 8 authority, or “regular” immigation processing.

The difference between Group A and Group B is stark. For all of the countries in Group A, 74% of those encountered have been expelled under Title 42. For Group B, only 9.2% of those encountered have been expelled under Title 42. The two exceptions are Ecuador, a unique situation discussed above, and Haiti.

The percentage of Haitians expelled in relation to encounters between March of 2020 and May 2022 is 26.6%, the highest in Group B aside from Ecuador. Haitians represent only 5.8% of all Border Patrol encounters in Group B, but they make up 16% of the Group B expulsions under Title 42. 

Table 1: Encounters and Title 42 Expulsions All Countries March 2020 to May 2022

Further, while the ratio of expulsions to total encounters has declined overall since Biden took office, during the last year, the ratio has actually gone up for Haitians. During FY 2021 just over 20% of those Haitians encountered by US border patrol were expelled under Title 42. In the current fiscal year (2022) the ratio of Title 42 expulsions to encounters has reached 34.3%. 

If we use the debacle in Del Rio as a dividing line, the ratio of encounters to expulsions has basically doubled for Haitians since September of 2021. This is a clear indication of the Biden administration’s deterrence strategy, intended to discourage more people from Haiti from trying to enter the United States.

It is important to note that the figures above are all derived from Border Patrol official statistics. What is not known is how many Haitains have been expelled by the US Border Patrol to Mexico. We know this has happened, and until Del Rio, as far as such expulsions could be tracked, it was as a small number. However, during the Del Rio crisis, Mayorkas claimed that “about” 8,000 Haitians “voluntarily” returned to Mexico. These Haitians were not processed, and are not included in official counts. Was it actually 8,000, or more? We don’t know. The point, however, is that the number of Haitians expelled is likely considerably higher than these official statistics represent.

Turning the corner in June?

The data above was compiled for a report on discrimination against Haitains in US boder policy before June 2022 numbers were publicly available. The June numbers have now been released, and the trends identified above do not apply. There were 4,198 encounters of Haitian nationals by the US Border Patrol in June. Only twenty-nine (or 0.69%) of them were processed under Title 42. As far as we can tell, there have been no Title 42 expulsion flights to Haiti since June 3, though smaller “regular” deportation flights have occurred in the weeks since.   

There has been no official policy announcement from the Biden administration on Title 42 and Haiti. However, a federal court ruling now requires baseline screening be made available to those who express fear their lives may be in danger if returned to their home country, or expelled to a third country. The ruling went into effect at the end of May, and the number of Title 42 expulsions for Haitians has dropped radically since. There were still 95,000 Title 42 expulsions overall in June; 91,000 (96%) of them to the Group A countries noted above.

The apparent pause in Title 42 expulsions to Haiti is welcome news. However, we remain concerned that Title 42 expulsions will increase again absent a public commitment to end them. Any removal to Haiti right now is placing lives at risk. Though the number of removals has declined dramatically with the current decline in Title 42 expulsions, it is no less wrong to remove any of those currently being deported. 

You can join our petition to end ALL removals to Haiti here.



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Biden and the deadly stalemate in Haiti

Acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and his “September 11th” coalition met with representatives of the Montana Accord last week to discuss how to end the country’s political stalemate. The Montana Accord is a civil society-led transition proposal negotiated last year at the Montana Hotel that hundreds of national and local organizations have endorsed. A coalition of political parties referred to as the PEN joined the Montana group earlier this year. Close allies of Henry quickly assembled his September 11th coalition last year after the Montana proposal was announced. This latest meeting between the two coalitions ended without agreement.

The main sticking point is the composition of the executive that would oversee a new electoral process. The Montana/PEN accord calls for a presidential committee to work alongside a prime minister, to be elected out of a National Transition Council. This modified dual executive would organize new elections, and provide interim governance. Henry’s coalition says there is no constitutional provision for such a move, and no practical means for selecting a president prior to new elections. The “September 11” position therefore leaves Henry, as acting prime minister, in charge of a new electoral process. This is exactly what the Montana/PEN folks do not want.

Henry’s appeal to constitutionality is interesting. The constitution has long been inoperative, at least in terms of giving form to a functioning government. Moïse was ruling by decree his last 18 months in office after repeatedly blocking parliamentary elections. Henry is in power now largely at the behest of the United States. There was no confirmation process, and no functioning parliament to conduct one. In place of constitutional processes, the “Core Group” (a group of diplomats from the US, Canada, France, Brazil, others, alongside representatives of the UN and OAS) invited Henry to form a government after the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, in a letter announced via Tweet from the US State Department.  

Cité Soleil

Outside the Hotel Karibe where the discussions are happening, Port au Prince is on fire. The latest conflict is in Cite Soleil, home to 300,000 people.  From the Miami Herald

The National Human Rights Defense Network said its investigation shows that the clash was triggered by a 3 a.m. Thursday [July 7] attack against the Brooklyn area of Cité Soleil by the G-9 gang federation with the objective of dislodging leader Jean Pierre, also known as Ti Gabriel or Gabo, and putting the area under G-9’s control. To achieve this, other gang members agreed to combine forces with Chérizier, and use heavy machinery to destroy homes on behalf of his federation.

OCHA’s July 14th update confirmed 99 people killed, 135 injured, and a minimum of 2,500 people displaced as a result of the fighting in Cite Soleil. Port-au-Prince has seen repeated gang warfare over the last few years. Nearly 1,000 people have been murdered in Port-au-Prince since January, with thousands displaced and 650 documented kidnappings. As gangs fight to control commerce into and out of Port-au-Prince, the results are periodic disruptions of trade, creating further shortages of fuel and other necessities around the country. 

Last week the police seized cargo containers at the port in La Saline that contained automatic weapons and ammunition destined for the streets. The gun trade between the United States and Haiti is supposed to be highly restricted. Clearly this has been a failure of enforcement. The guns fueling the violence in Haiti all come from the United States, either directly or through the Dominican Republic. The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on July 15th that calls on all countries “to stop the transfer of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to any party in crisis-torn Haiti supporting gang violence and criminal activity.” The United States voted for the resolution. What steps will it take?  

Where is the United States? 

A political cartoon in La Nouvellist this week shows Henry sitting atop an ice cube while men with guns walk in the background and the streets are on fire. He says, “the country is not hot…the press, the church, the UN, [Doctors without Borders] all just give the bad news.” The ice cube (shielding Henry from the local heat) is stamped “Made in the USA.” 

With US patronage behind him, Henry has a virtual veto over any process that would marginalize him and his allies. At the same time, Henry does not seem to have a large enough political base inside Haiti to move forward on his own. The result is the ongoing stalemate, which is deadly for the majority of Haitians who are simply trying to survive.  

The Quixote Center has joined with other organizations in challenging the Biden administration to change course in Haiti. A current effort is an organizational sign on letter to the Biden administration in which, “We call on the US government to stop supporting de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the PHTK party and its political affiliates, so that a Haitian solution to the crisis can emerge.” You can read and sign the letter here

There is also a petition for individuals to sign here.

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Take Action: One year since Moïse assassination

One year ago today Haiti’s acting president, Jovenal Moïse, was assassinated in his own home. A group of two-dozen mercernaries, most apparently hired from Colombia, were arrested in the days following Moïse’s murder, but the story of who was ultimately behind the plot to kill Moïse continues to unfold. The acting prime-minister, Ariel Henry, anointed to this role by the US State Department and allied members of the so called “Core-Group,” is among the people implicated in the plot. 

The Biden Administration continues to stand by Henry. Efforts to form a new transition government led by a coalition of civil society organizations and political parties continue to move forward, but with no support from the United States government. With US patronage behind him, Henry is given an effective veto over any other process, including the “Montana Process” (so-named after the Hotel Montana where the original transition plan was negotiated, prior to Moïse’s death).

In the year since the assassination of Moïse the security situation for Haitians has deteriorated. Heavily armed criminal groups control transportation routes into and out of Port au Prince. They are also a force to be reckoned with on highways throughout the country. In the capital, the violence has been intense as groups fight over control of key neighborhoods, especially in Martissant, Croix-des-Bouquet, sections of Delmas, and Cite Soleil. 

Insecurity, and a state that feels largely absent, has also deepened a socio-economic crisis impacting access to food and fuel, and has made many livelihoods difficult to sustain. Mix in a COVID-19 recession and a massive earthquake on the Grand Sud peninsula last August, and things are increasingly desperate.

One result is an increase in people leaving Haiti. The US Coast Guard has interdicted and returned nearly 6,000 people this fiscal year. How many others have made it through to other states in the Caribbean, or who have perished in the waters, is not known. 

Haitians continue to arrive seeking relief at the US/Mexico border. The Biden Administration has instead expelled thousands of them back into the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Haiti. The Biden Administration has expelled over 26,500 Haitians during the 18 months he has been in office, more than the last three presidents combined. 24,5000 of those expulsions have occurred just since mid-September 2021.

Take Action!!

To mark this day, we lift up a number of efforts to confront the United States government’s contributions to the instability unfolding in Haiti.

First, as an individual, you can sign this petition calling on the United States government to back down on its unconditional support for Henry

If you are a member of an organization, please seek that organization’s signature on this letter to the Biden administration with the same message.

If you have questions/concerns about the messaging in these statements, you can review a detailed memo that explains the positions here.

Finally, please join us in demanding that the Biden administration halt ALL removals to Haiti. Sign on here.

 

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Migration and Haiti News

IOM Figures, end of May 2022 report. The figure of 25,806 returned from the United States includes Coast Guard repatriations – in addition to flights.

There has been a brief, no doubt temporary, respite from the expulsion of people back to Haiti under Title 42 this week. There was one removal flight to Haiti on Tuesday, which seems to have been “regular” deportations (people removed under normal immigration processing authority, or Title 8). The temporary reprieve is possibly due to the Summit of the Americas taking place in Los Angeles, where a new regional compact on migration is supposed to be announced. Certainly there has been no public commitment from the Biden administration to slow or halt expulsions to Haiti (you can sign our petition demanding a moratorium on removals to Haiti here). In May, the Biden administration expelled over 4,000 Haitians on 36 flights.

The flight this Tuesday (June 7) was the Biden administration’s 268th expulsion flight to Haiti – 231 of which have taken place just since September 19, 2021 when the current wave of mass deportations began. Since September, over 24,000 Haitians have been expelled by air, including families . According to the International Organization on Migration’s office in Haiti, 20% of those expelled from the United States have been children. 

In addition to flights, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Haitians interdicted at sea. The US Coast Guard has captured and returned 5,300 Haitians since the beginning of the current fiscal year (October 1, 2021). As the Miami Herald notes, the actual numbers of Haitians leaving by boat is unknown, as the voyages are often deadly. Many of the people leaving by boat are not trying to come to the United States, but more often to neighboring Caribbean islands. One result is that expulsions from those destinations have increased as well. Cuba, for example, has returned 1,300 Haitians so far this year, the Bahamas, 1,600. 

At the US/Mexico border, confusion reigns. Title 42 is not ending soon. A federal court issued a temporary injunction against the Center for Disease Control and Prevention decision to end Title 42 two weeks ago. Title 42 will end eventually, of course, but it has become a political football, with state leaders using it to bludgeon Biden in courts, and Senate Republicans and some Democrats trying to force a vote on it as a precondition for passing COVID relief (though this strategy may now be on hold). The context here is the midterm elections, which also corresponds with gubernatorial races in many states – including Texas and Arizona.

New asylum processing rules were implemented by the Biden administration this week expanding the use of expedited removal. The new procedures are intended to speed up the process of making asylum decisions. There is deep concern that in doing so, the new rules will limit the ability of people to find representation and build their asylum cases. This means fewer approvals alongside an abbreviated appeals process. More than anything, however, the transition from Trump to Biden continues to be marred by mass confusion about what the rules actually are at the border. 

People from Haiti, and many other countries, are currently waiting in Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Juarez and other border cities confused about when or if to come into the United States. This week the dangers of this were magnified by the murder of a Haitian migrant in Tijuana and the death of another man who was unable to get medical treatment as he was having a heart attack.

Finally, as noted above, the Summit of the Americas is happening this week and there is to be a much anticipated announcement concerning new commitments toward collaboration on regional migration. The two pillars of this agreement seem to be 1.) searching for temporary working opportunities for migrants, and 2.) expanding enforcement throughout the region. As I am writing, the migration declaration has not been finalized, but is expected to include provisions to expand temporary work programs for Haitians in Canada.

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Quixote Center Denounces Preliminary Injunction on Title 42

Quixote Center Denounces Preliminary Injunction on Title 42;  Continues Call for Restoration of Asylum 

 Washington D.C.Today a federal court in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to end Title 42. This decision means that the United States Border Patrol is required to continue to expel migrants immediately upon encounter, thus, denying refugees access to asylum or other humanitarian relief. 

“We are greatly dismayed by the court’s decision to continue to deny asylum seekers their right to seek safety,” stated the Quixote Center in response. “Title 42 is a failed policy that has been proven to do nothing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, nor has it been effective at deterring migration. There have been 1,934,097 expulsions under Title 42 since it went into effect in March of 2020.” 

On April 1, 2021, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the controversial set of public health rules used to close off asylum access would be ended on May 23, 2022.  

In response, the attorneys general of Louisiana, Arizona, and Missouri immediately filed a lawsuit to block the Biden administration from halting Title 42 enforcement. Eventually, seventeen more states joined the suit. U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays of Louisiana issued an injunction in April intended to keep the Biden administration from winding down Title 42 enforcement. Judge Summerhays issued the ruling today, arguing that “the Plaintiff States have established a substantial likelihood of success based on the CDC’s failure to comply with the rulemaking requirements of the [Administrative Procedure Act].” 

“Keeping the cruel and illegal Title 42 policy in place will only serve to place migrant families and adults back into the dangerous conditions they are fleeing,” continued the Quixote Center. “Asylum is a universal human right, and we will not stop working to restore an asylum system that welcomes people fleeing violence and persecution in a humane and dignified manner.” 

 

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DC Welcomes Migrants from the Border—and How to Help

Columbus Circle outside Union Station

At 6 AM on a Wednesday, I joined community organizers and volunteers outside Union Station to greet migrants bused from the US-Mexico border to Washington DC. I expected everyone to arrive haggard and exhausted, as I feel after just a few hours on a bus. Instead, they came bright-faced and smiling, exuberant to have arrived.   

A month ago, Governor Abbott of Texas began sending buses of migrants from the Southern border to DC, in an effort to “take the border to Joe Biden.” While the move may have scored him a few political points with his typical base, it has had far from the intended effect, as DC groups—and the larger community—mobilized rapidly to welcome them.  

I met a woman from Nicaragua who was excited to be in DC and hoped to stay and find work in the District. A young couple from Venezuela was headed to Ohio, where they planned to find treatment for their pregnant sister-in-law. A father from Cuba had come on his own and was already searching for a way to support himself and his family back home.  

During the legal orientation, a representative asked if they had received a cellphone. Everyone there raised a black device, the basis of claims that the administration was “giving away free smartphones.” However, these were part of the so-called “alternatives to detention,” another method of invasive surveillance. The program requires migrants to constantly self-report their location through an app; all other functions on the device are disabled.   

Despite the discourse of Biden’s “open borders,” the reality is that seeking asylum remains the most difficult it has ever been. Title 42 has blocked over a million potential asylum seekers since the start of the pandemic. Though Biden has mostly blocked new border construction under Trump’s plan, he has quietly funneled billions into a digital border wall, from watchtowers and drones to a vast digital surveillance system. While I had seen the reports, it was startling to see this represented in the heart of Washington DC. 

How to Take Action 

That Abbott’s political stunt has not had the intended disrupting effect is in large part due to the organizing and mutual aid efforts by Sanctuary DMV. But it seems that Texas, and now Arizona, plan to ramp up the number of migrants sent to D.C., just as volunteers and organizers are at capacity.  

Now is the time to step up and demonstrate that our communities are capable of welcoming our new neighbors with dignity and respect. Here are just a few ways to help: 

  • Volunteer: If you are in the DMV, there are many ways to volunteer, from sorting donations to greeting new arrivals. Spanish, Portuguese, and French speakers are greatly needed.  
  • Gift supplies: Or ship supplies from anywhere through the wishlist. Undergarments, Men’s clothing, and toiletries are especially needed.
  • Donate to support mutual aid efforts.  

Click HERE for the full list of links.  

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Resources to help understand the gang violence in Port au Prince

[Warning: This post contains descriptions of extreme violence]

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement on March 17, that read, “Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti…It is crucial for urgent steps to be taken to restore the rule of law, to protect people from armed violence and to hold to account the political and economic sponsors of these gangs.”

The statement offered the following account of recent violence:

Between 24 April and 16 May, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs and some 96 alleged to be gang members were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in Port-au-Prince. Another 113 were injured, 12 reported missing, and 49 kidnapped against ransom, according to figures corroborated by UN human rights officers. The actual number of people killed may be much higher.

Extreme violence has been reported, including beheadings, chopping and burning of bodies, and the killing of minors accused of being informants for a rival gang. Sexual violence, including gang rape of children as young as 10, has also been used by armed gang members to terrorize and punish people living in areas controlled by rival gangs. Sources also reported the presence of minors in the gangs.

How to make sense of this? International media accounts of Haiti often focus on the growing power and influence of gangs. The news is presented in shocking, sensational tidbits. Too often, the impression the stories leave is that Haiti is descending into chaos. To the contrary, it is important to remember that the gangs and the violence they employ is an expression of the distribution of power in Haiti, and the conflicts are about the future distribution of power. The violence is truly horrible, but the violence is also purposeful.

There are many resources about gang violence in Haiti. Below I share two recent items that will help contextualize the latest crisis in Coix-des-Bouquets, and point to another collection of essays that situate insecurity in a larger historical context.  

City of Gangs video and podcast series

Dr. Tram Jones of Haiti Health Network released three videos explaining the different gang formations in Port au Prince, their strategic position along trade routes in and out of the city, and the current alliances and points of conflict at root of the extensive violence that has occurred over the last year. The series covers Central Port-au-Prince, Martissant, and Croix-des-Bouquets. It is definitely worth the time. (Below is the first video in the series)

Dr. Jones also has a podcast called Overseas in which he discusses much of this history and overview of recent events in more detail. As he suggests, it helps to watch the videos first to get the geography fixed in your mind. You can find the podcasts here.

RNDDH’s most recent report

The context for this horror is war between the Chen Mechan and the 400 Mawozo gangs in the Plaine du Cul-de-sac communities of Tabarre and Croix-des-Bouquets. The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) issued a report last week that detailed the history of the gangs and this most recent fight over territory and trade. The violence is shocking, intentionally so. Detailing events of April 24 to May 6 in Plaine du Cul-de-sac, RNDDH concludes:

From April 24 to May 6, 2022, two (2) armed gangs, benefiting from the support of state authorities and people around the ruling power, clash. Never have armed attacks been so virulent: people have been murdered by bullets, others beheaded, some others, thrown in latrines and water wells. Women and girls have been raped. Corpses were meticulously chopped and taken in photos that circulated on social networks, with the aim of maintaining an unspeakable terror among the population in general and the community of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac in particular.

RNDDH documents a decade of interaction between gang leaders and government officials. The internecine conflicts in these circles are complex. It is not that the government “controls the gangs” in some uniform way, but it is clearly the case that people allied with the state lean on gangs to get things done. So, when there is political conflict, it plays out on the street in the most brutal of ways:

[RNDDH] will never stop repeating that for several years, successive state authorities have chosen the gangsterization of the state as a new form of governance. They supply arms and ammunition to armed gangs, and they practice and promote smuggling to facilitate the entry of illegal weapons into the national territory, 76% of which pass through the port of Port- au-Prince. And, in order not to have to justify, since 2012, under the presidency of Joseph Michel MARTELLY, the various anti-smuggling brigades that operated in the ports, airports, and border crossings of the country have all been dismantled.

RNDDH has been documenting gang violence in the country for many years now, and has a large repository of reports, many available in English.

New Series from Society for Cultural Anthropology

Finally, there is an amazing, collection of articles curated by Greg Beckett and Laura Wagner for the Society for Cultural Anthropology (free to access) that came out at the beginning of May, titled, Haiti Beyond Crisis, which seeks to contextualize a broad range of current and historical issues. The editors write:

“This series suggests new ways to understand the current situation in Haiti and poses questions about what is, and isn’t, happening in Haiti right now….The contributors to this series—scholars, activists, journalists, and others from inside and outside Haiti—draw on years of experience to write about themes including violence and ensekirite, migration and deportation, exploitation and industrialization, state corruption, international intervention, everyday life, and Haiti as a symbol of collective freedom.”

It is an important work, relevant and crucial for understanding what insecurity means for people’s daily lives. For example, Ritzamarum Zétrenne writes of the journey up into the mountains to avoid “the road to death” through Martissant, (which will be much clearer if you watch Tram Jones’ video above on the gangs in Martissant before reading). Chelsey Kivland writes in the “Semantics of the Gang today in Haiti” of how the language of the gang is adopted by people who have been forcibly repatriated from the United States as a survival strategy. Jennifer Greenburg centers the kreyol term ensekirite, “a term anthropologist Erica James describes as ‘the embodied uncertainty generated by political, criminal, economic, and also spiritual ruptures that many individuals and groups continue to experience in Haiti’” in “Instability or Ensekirite? The Securitization of Haiti as an Object of International Intervention.” 

These are just a few of the articles in this collection. You can view the entire collection here.

Halt the expulsions!

In the context of the ongoing violence discussed above, we continue to denounce the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitian refugees back to Haiti. He has expelled nearly 23,000 Haitians since September of 2021. It is an indefensible policy. Please join us in keeping the pressure on him to stop!

 

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The crisis in Haiti: The United States continues to block reform and the passage of people fleeing

The Biden Administration expelled 450 people to Haiti, including 44 children, 20 of whom were infants, on three flights this week. These flights bring the total to 235 expulsion flights to Haiti since Biden took office, more than 23,000 people in total, and 21,000 in the eight months since the debacle in Del Rio last September. Another 8,000 people were summarily expelled into Mexico during the Del Rio crisis. 

[As a reminder, 30,000 migrants, many of them Haitians, arrived in the Del Rio sector in Texas over the course of a week in early September. Border Patrol kept 15,000 people trapped under a bridge for days and then quickly cleared people out – most through expulsions, though some were allowed to stay and apply for asylum. See our report on this here.]

Over the last few months, the number of people attempting to flee Haiti by boat has also increased dramatically, as measured by those captured and returned to Haiti by the Coast Guard. So far this fiscal year , the Coast Guard has interdicted and returned 3,897 people to Haiti (October 1, 2022 through May 3).  

Within Haiti there is political stagnation and spiraling violence. At last 39 people have been killed in gang violence in the Port au Prince metro area since the end of April, and 10,000 people have been forced from their homes. Hundreds of schools have been forced to close in and around Port au Prince because of the violence, and two hospitals have closed in protest of the kidnapping of a doctor.

As a result of this latest surge in violence, Port au Prince is largely cut off from the rest of the country. It has been difficult to travel south through Martissant because gangs have controlled the roads there for almost a year now; among other issues this has disrupted the humanitarian response to last August’s earthquake. As a result of the most recent violence, it is now nearly impossible to get in and out of the city on the north, making it very difficult for communities in the Artibonite, North and North East departments to get necessities. Fuel prices continue to soar, and hunger, already widespread, is getting worse.

This humanitarian disaster is what Biden is expelling people into; hundreds of people every week are caught in a relentless campaign of mass expulsions. 

At the same time, the Biden Administration has simply not budged in its support of de facto prime minister Ariel Henry. Henry became prime minister following the assassination of president Jovenal Moïse last July. His rise to that office was the result of a US intervention with other international partners. Henry, who had been appointed the day before Moïses assassination but never confirmed, was slected over the acting prime minister Claude Joseph, and invited to form a government in an agreement announced via a Tweet from the US Embassy. Henry has since been implicated in the assassination, as he is known to have been in contact with prime suspects in the killing the morning it happened. 

As a result of the power the US holds over Haiti, and Biden’s intransigence on this question, Henry has a virtual veto on any discussion about transition. For example, a transition process launched by civil society organizations as part of the Montana Accord last year, a process in which the acting government is invited to participate, is blocked from moving forward. Indeed, any process in which Henry’s party, the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale is not in control,  has no prospect of advancing, at least as long as the United States keeps its foot on the scale. 

Any hope of moving out of the violence and ongoing governance crisis requires a new transition agreement; one that is more participatory than the reboot of PHTK controlled elections. The United States is blocking such a participatory alternative. As more people flee the violence created in the resulting vacuum, the United States is also blocking their efforts to reach safety. This has to stop!

Taking action

The Quixote Center is joining with a host of organizations in a campaign demanding that the Biden administration get out of the way in Haiti by withdrawing its support for the Henry government. The reasons are clear (from campaign statement):

  • Despite the continued deterioration of security, governance, basic services and respect for human rights under their rule, the US has persistently supported a decade of Haitian governments dominated by the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale (PHTK). 
  • Haitians have been fighting to reclaim their democracy with a broad-based non-violent mobilization, but US government support has allowed the PHTK to refuse to negotiate in good faith with the popular democratic movement demanding change.
  • Important advocacy by Haitians, Haitian-Americans, members of Congress, and solidarity activists has forced the US to acknowledge the Haitian government’s complicity in chronic impunity, gang violence and corruption over the past six months. But the US has not yet reduced its support enough to force the Haitian government to engage in meaningful negotiations with Haitian civil society. 
  • We feel the role of the US is very simple: The US should not support any particular party or sector or demand that Haitians take a particular path towards democracy. A stable and just Haiti – which is in the interest of Haitians and the US Government alike – requires that Haitians lead and own their democratic process.

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Does Biden really want to end Title 42? From Haiti to Nicaragua, it doesn’t seem like it

As we’ve been discussing now for a few weeks, the Biden Administration decided to bring enforcement of Title 42 policies, which enable the US government to expel asylum-seekers without allowing them to apply for asylum, to a close on May 23. The announcement has led to a political backlash from Republicans and even many Democrats. As a result, several GOP attorneys-general sued the Biden administration for ending Title 42 too quickly. The judge in the case issued a preliminary injunction, basically saying that Biden could not phase out the policy before May 23, and it is an open ended question if the court will let the administration end it very quickly after that. The Biden Administration and the states make their case before the judge on May 12. 

In Congress, Democrats joined Republicans in crafting a bill that would place guideposts on the road to ending Title 42, possibly stretching out its demise for months, at least past the election. 

Although Biden is making his case publicly about ending Title 42, behind the scenes his administration is expanding its use. 

Expanding expulsions to Haiti

Since announcing the end of Title 42, the Biden Administration has increased expulsions of Haitians significantly. Since the April 1st announcement there have been 20 flights to Haiti – with flights nearly every day over the last three weeks. Just this week (May 2-5), of the approximately 400 Haitians expelled, at least 44 were infants under 2 years of age.

The Biden administration had already expelled more Haitians than any president in recent memory; indeed, more than the last three combined. This is the result of using Title 42 in the context of a dramatic increase of people from Haiti attempting entry into the United States. This is due to economic recessions in Chile and Brazil where many Haitians resettled since the 2010 earthquake, the political collapse in Haiti itself, and perhaps COVID. The combination of events is unique; but Biden still needs to be called on this abuse of the fundamental human right to apply for asylum. And he has been. 

We and along with multiple other other human rights, faith-based, civil rights, and social justice organizations have denounced expulsions to Haiti in the current context of civil conflict and economic collapse. Democratic leaders in Congress, including Schumer, have called for the expulsions to end. Even some Republicans, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, have called for the expulsions to end. The editorial boards of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Miami Herald, to name only the better known papers, have called on the administration to stop. Instead, the expulsions have intensified.

In addition to the flights, at the moment the Coast Guard is interdicting and returning hundreds of Haitians every week. The numbers are increasing because the situation on the ground in Haiti continues to deteriorate. 

Another Use of title 42: Expelling Cubans and Nicaragua to Mexico

When the Trump administration forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use its Title 42 authority to derail asylum and permit the immediate expulsion of people back into Mexico, the government of Mexico had a moment of “wait, you want to do what”?  Obviously, the Trump plan required that Mexico agree to accept the people that the administration wanted to expel. President Obrador had already been pressured by the Trump administration to further militarize Mexico’s southern border, and accept people expelled under the Migrant Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico”). As a result, Obrador placed limits on who would be accepted: Mexican nationals, and people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. These four countries accounted for well over 80% of all expulsions, but not all.

Since Title 42 went into effect, Cubans and Nicaraguans, who could not simply be turned back to Mexico, have faced either extended detention or expulsion under the separate Migrant Protection Protocol. One reason is that Cuba has refused expulsion flights, so there is nowhere else to place them. Nicaragua has been accepting flights, though up until last summer the number of people from Nicaragua crossing into the United States was relatively small. 

Since the Biden administration reinstated Remain in Mexico (under court order), Nicaraguans have accounted for 75% of the people enrolled into the program. Cubans and Venezuelans have made up the majority of the remainder.

The Biden administration then negotiated a separate agreement with Mexico in April to accept Nicaraguans and Cubans expelled under Title 42 from three US ports of entry: San Diego, El Paso, and Rio Grande Valley. Which is to say, the Biden administration is expanding expulsions of Title 42 specifically for Cubans and Nicaraguans, while publicly claiming to try and end the program. 

The further absurdity is that the Biden administration is also currently sanctioning Nicaragua and Cuba, and the primary “official” reason for these sanctions is political persecution. And yet, the administration negotiated a side agreement with Mexico to expel people who, if given the chance, might well seek protection due to political persecution

So we have to speak out! Let them know that you support receiving migrants who want to apply for asylum in a way that promotes their dignity and our humanity. We must end Title 42, normalize asylum, and halt all expulsions to Haiti, whether by land or sea.

You can follow this link to send a message to members of Congress, and you can even make a phone call, on us, here

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