Removal flights continue, Title 42 is the reason

This week the number of deportation flights to Haiti fell to a total of 4 flights. That brings the total number of flights to 74, and the total number of people expelled to Haiti by the Biden administration to 7,800 since September 19, 2021. According to the International Organization on Migration, another 2,200 + Haitians have been deported back to Haiti from other countries during this same time period – over half of them from Cuba. The other countries that have expelled Haitians are the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, and Mexico. This brings the total number of people sent back to Haiti to just over 10,000 in less than one month.  The graphic above includes removals from the United States as of Monday, October 9 (there have been three flights since).

It is just over a year since we wrote about expulsions flights to Haiti in October of 2020. At that point we were talking about 12 flights over the course of the month, totalling about 1,100 people. Then, again in February and March of this year, there was another round of expulsion flights, leading to 2,000 people expelled over a 5 week period. This latest episode is thus the latest in a cycle of crossings, detention and removal that has focused on Haiti. For each of previous peaks in this cycle, outrage was mobilized, members of Congress spoke out, and editorial boards condemned. The practice of mass removal, however, continues. And if the response to the crossings in Del Rio is any indication, it is getting worse. And it is not just Haiti.

Prior to the debacle at Del Rio, we were writing about expulsion flights filled with people from Central America who were being removed to southern Mexico. Those flights have continued throughout the last four weeks as well. A flight every weekday to Villahermosa and Tapachula from McAllen air force base. During August there were 36 flights, and 42 in September. Witness at the Border tracks these flights with monthly reports. The latest numbers are here.

 In addition, the Biden administration has added direct Title 42 expulsion flights to Guatemala over the last month – on top of the regular deportation flights that have been ongoing throughout the pandemic. The direct Title 42 expulsions flights to Guatemala began on September 2. The total number of flights to Guatemala jumped from 10 in August to 34 in September. 

The explosion of flights over the past month are almost all removals under Title 42. As a reminder, Title 42 references an order issued by the CDC that claims authority under Title 42 of the US Code to deny access to regular asylum processing and expel people immediately. The use of removal flights to expel people under Title 42 began with Haitians early on during the pandemic. At the time we argued, and others have raised, that such flights undermine whatever public health justification there is for Title 42. The CDC order (and its updates since) is premised on the supposed need to avoid holding migrants in a congregant setting during the time fo COVID-19, as this poses a risk to Border Patrol agents, and presumably the migrants as well (though their health is not a high priority). For the sake of “public health,” people are denied the right to asylum and expelled immediately. 

However, flights are a whole different thing. To fly people out means detaining them for some amount of time – in  a congregate setting, while they await flights. This will be days or weeks. The Biden administration is thus maintaining the absurdist position that it is obligated to deny people access to asylum because of the dangers to Border Patrol and others of holding them in congregate settings during a pandemic, all while holding them in congregate settings! 

This absurd position had been applied to Haitians ever since the order was first implemented in march of 2020 as Mexico refused to take them back. Now it is being applied to Central Americans and Mexicans as well, who are being detained under Title 42 while awaiting flights designed to get them as far away from the border as possible. It makes absolutely no sense at all. The UNited States government is simply denying people access to asylum because they fear the political fallout from Trumpistas if they return to a semblance of humanity at the border.

There will be more people coming – from Haiti, from Cuba, from Venezuela, and from throughout Central America. These people will not come in steady numbers, but in cycles of larger groups as travel restrictions and the long arm of US border enforcement (which reaches all the way to Panama) means people are held up for periods throughout the Mesoamerican region. They are detained, released, detained and released. It is an absurd system that will continue to generate periodic crises. 

It is time to end this monstrosity. It is a system that has failed, even on its own terms, through a reliance on deterrent strategies that demonstrably do not work – as they do not address the underlying reasons people are on the move to begin with. People will keep coming. We desperately need a new system that is first prefaced on respecting the right of human mobility, and that actually seeks to address public health concerns through screening. 

Title 42 is not that policy. It is a dehumanizing mess, and illegal under international law. Time to end it.

Here is what you can do now to demand an end to Title 42:

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Week of Action Against Deportation

This week, we are joining the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and other local and national organizations on a week of action in defense of Black immigrants. With waning media coverage of the administration’s horrible treatment of Haitian migrants in Texas since mid-September, the Biden administration believes that it can now sweep ongoing mistreatment of Haitians and other Black migrants under the rug.

Now is the time to mobilize and to show the administration that we are watching—and that we’ve had enough.

Yesterday, our community partners in New Orleans at Unión Migrante organized a march to City Hall for immigrant justice. Later this week, there are actions planned in Washington D.C., California, Louisiana, New York, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, and North Carolina. Visit the No More Deportations website, or click the link HERE, to find an action in your area.

And if you don’t see an action near you? Get together a few friends and community members, use the Haitian Bridge Alliance toolkit to organize your own, and add click “Host an Event” on the No More Deportations website. An action could be as simple as a small vigil in honor of the families and children deported under Title 42, or a rally in front of a local or federal government building.

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Removal flights to Haiti continue at a slower pace, Title 42 must be ended!

Between September 19 and October 5, the Biden administration expelled over 7,200 people to Haiti on 67 flights. Between February 1 and September 15, the Biden administration deported 2,140 people on 37 flights.

So, since taking office Biden has expelled 9,300 people to Haiti on 94 flights. Three-fourths of those expulsions have happened over the last two weeks. The Biden administration has also repatriated 400 people interdicted at sea.

Though the pace of the flights has fallen off considerably from last week, they are ongoing. What this has looked like between September 19 and October 5:

  • 67 flights total
  • 7,200 people expelled, 
  • 19% of those expelled have been children, 56% adult men, 25% adult women.

Where did these flights go?

  • 43 flights to Port-au-Prince
  • 24 flights to Cap-Haitien

Where did the flights come from?

  • 1 flight originated in Alexandria, Louisiana
  • 2 flights originated in Brownsville, Texas
  • 3 flights originated in San Antonio, Texas
  • 28 flights originated in Laredo, Texas
  • 33 flights originated in Harlingen, Texas

Immigration policy is also a big business….

  • 6 flights were flown by Global Crossing Airlines
  • 7 flights were flown by Eastern Airlines
  • 22 flights were flown by World Atlantic Airlines
  • 32 flights were flown by iAero Swift Air

Finally, the International Organization on Migration, which provides assistance to people upon their arrival in Haiti, is underfunded. People are supposed to receive 10,000 Hatiain gourde upon their arrival (about $100) to help with resettlement. A ridiculously low amount, all things considered. But IOM has been giving out 1,000 HG instead – enough, maybe, to get a bus from Cap-Haitien back home. In Port-au-Prince, people were reportedly receiving 5,000 HG with a promise of more via Mon Cash. The Biden administration had promised to provide assistance to returned individuals and families, but has not yet delivered that assistance to IOM..

The issue remains Title 42

Underlying the debacle that continues to unfold for Haitians this month, is the Biden administration’s commitment to enforcement of the Trump era policy of expelling asylum seekers under a faux public health order using “Title 42” authority. 

While we’ve had plenty to say about Title 42 over the last 18 months, the best thing said about it recently is from Harold Koh, who became the latest member of the administration to resign in disgust over Biden’s treatment of Haitians. From Koh’s resignation letter:

The current Title 42 expulsion policy applies to individuals who are already in the United States, and to whom our legal obligations under the Refugee treaties and parallel statutes have undeniably attached. Migrants who arrive at the border are not screened for fears of persecution upon return unless they affirmatively raise their fear, in what is informally known as the “shout test.” To establish that fear, the migrant show more than a reasonable possibility of fear, but must instead meet a higher “more likely than not” standard, i.e., the standard for ultimately prevailing on the merits by showing that they have at least a 51% chance of being persecuted or tortured if returned. There have also been disturbing reports that some migrants were not even told where they were being taken when placed on deportation flights, learning only when they landed that they had been returned to their home country or place of possible persecution or torture, i.e. the exact act of refoulement that is forbidden by the CAT and the Refugee Convention! In my legal opinion, as former State Department Legal Adviser and as former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the “shout test” and the higher screening standard inevitably create an unacceptably high risk that a great many people deserving of asylum will instead likely be returned to countries where they fear persecution, death, or torture.

On Haiti specifically, Koh has this to say:

Continuation of Title 42 flights to Haiti is particularly unjustifiable in light of its designation for TPS status due to “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that “prevent its nationals from returning safely.” TPS applies to Haitians already present in the United States as of July 30, 2021, regardless of their immigration status. The Haitian TPS designation announcement in May cited “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” And that was before the assassination of President Moïse thrust the country into even greater political instability and a devastating earthquake on August 14, 2021 and Tropical Depression Grace on August 16, 2021 further devastated the impacted area, degrading infrastructure throughout the country. Following the 2010 earthquake, the Obama Administration suspended deportations to Haiti for over a year and thereafter resumed them only on a limited basis for five additional years until 2016, when DHS found that “the situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis.” Yet conditions in Haiti are far worse today than they were then.

Koh’s resignation once again thrusts Biden’s commitment to Title 42 as a policy choice into the spotlight. The administration continues to insist that Title 42 is necessary – even if the practice of Title 42, at least as it has applied to Haitians, makes absolutely no sense from a public health standpoint.

Daniel Foote briefs the House Foreign Affairs Committee

The other high profile resignation from the Biden administration was Daniel Foote. Foote had been appointed by the Biden administration as a Special Envoy to Haiti shortly after Moise’s assassination. He resigned two weeks ago over a combination of disgust at the deportation policy, as well as citing his frustration with the Biden administration’s interference in the political crisis, especially the blanket support of interim (unelected) prime minister Ariel Henry.

On Thursday, Daniel Foote will brief the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the issues that led to his resignation. That hearing will be live-streamed. You can watch that here.


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United States loses its mind over Haitian migration yet again

Between Sunday, September 19 Thursday, September 30, the Biden administration sent at least 57 deportation flights to Haiti. That represents more than 6,000 people expelled in less than two weeks. For some perspective, over the previous 11 months, the United States had sent 37 deportation flights to Haiti. With the fiscal year ending September 30th, flights to Haiti from the United States will come to 95, making Haiti the country with the most removal flights this year other than Mexico.

The flights, and other mass removals, are in response to an large increase in Border Patrol encounters in the Del Rio sector in Texas over a two week period. People outside of Texas were made aware of this by the spectacle of close to 15,000 people camped under the bridge between the river and the Del Rio port of entry. In response to this situation, the BIden administration worked quickly to clear people out from under the bridge. Pushing half of them back into Mexico, and then quickly deporting many of the rest, as well as others captured by Border Patrol in mid-September.

Based on the response to this situation, you might be thinking that there is a real crisis with Haitain migration these days. Certainly you are being encouraged to think that. The reality is that Haitians have made up a small proportion of people encountered at the border this year. 

From October 1, 2020 to the end of August 2021, Border Patrol “encountered” 1.74 million people. Of these, 30,000 were from Haiti. That is about 1.7% of the total. Over the last two weeks, there were an additional 14,000 or so folk from Haiti encountered by Border Patrol, in a month that will see about 200,000 total encounters, that represents 7% of the total encounters for the month, and may bring the annual portion of Haitians encountered to 2.5-3% of the total.

Almost all of these encounters took place in the Del Rio sector – the crossing of choice in recent months for folk from Haiti, Venezuela, and Cuba as well as the far greater numbers of folk from Central America and Mexico. Del Rio is now the second busiest CBP sector behind only the Rio Grande Valley. That so many people were detained in a relatively short period of time in September strained the system, to be sure, but it was not as though the spectacle that unfolded under and around the Del Rio bridge was necessary. The numbers were not that extraordinary by the standards set over the last 9 months. 

We really need to pause and ask why the maybe 45,000 refugees from Haiti encountered this year, out of close to 2 million people detained and/or expelled at the border overall, constitute a crisis of such enormity that common sense and due process have been set aside in such a spectacular manner leading the United States to engage in a level of cruelty unusual even by the very low standards we normally set in this regard.

And now….more Haitians are coming! 

“Hipster imperialist” zine, Vice, “broke” this story on Friday. Citing a grad student who studies Caribbean migration, Vice reports that “at least” 20,000 Haitians are currently making their way through Central America at this very moment, intent on coming to the United States. If they make it to the border the result will be a “hot mess.” Since they can’t be allowed in (politics, you know), and mass deportations could “backfire,” Biden may need to reach out to South American countries and others to stem “the flow” at the source.

This analysis was supplemented by Reuters, and then covered in The Hill. By Thursday the number of Haitians reportedly scattered between Panama and the United States border was being estimated at 80,000. Scary numbers. Right? Wrong. 

The reality is that thousands of people from Haiti have been leaving Brazil and Chile (where hundreds of thousands resettled after the 2010 earthquake) for about 7 years now. The first period of a significant increase in migration came in 2015-2016 following an economic recession in Brazil. The Obama administration, as noted above, treated them the way the United States always does – they were denied entry, and the US renewed/expanded deportations for those already here as a “deterrent.”

In both Brazil and Chile, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact over the last 18 months, squeezing their economies which in turn has led to a squeeze on migration. Chile had already begun restricting new arrivals from Haiti – and back in January 2020 was conducting its own deportation flights to Haiti.  

As a result of border closures, Haitians (and thousands of other migrants) were held up in Panama for much of 2020, where many are again being denied entry. Haitians and others are also currently being held up near Jalapa, Nicaragua because Honduras is restricting access. WIthin Honduras, Haitians and others have been denied use of transportation. And, as we have also been reporting for months now, as many as 30,000 Haitians have been held up in Mexico, some for almost two years. 

The story here is not “20,000 Haitians on the move.” The story is that the United States has pushed its own border enforcement measures all the way back to Panama. As a result, Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Pakistanis, Indians, Cameroonians, Nigerians and other “extra-continental” refugees are being targeted by regional governments, detained, and in some cases removed, long before they arrive at the US border. All of this must be understood in the context of a regional migration crisis impacting hundreds of thousands of people.

So, 20,000 Haitians or more may well arrive at the US border in the next few months. But so will 600,000 or more other people who are not from Haiti. And if the folks from Haiti arrive in larger groups, it will be because they have been detained as such along the way.

The treatment of Haitians on our border right now would NOT happen to any other group of immigrants. It’s not like Hondurans, Mexicans and Venezuelans are treated well, mind you. But Haitians are singled out for a special brand of cruelty as Haitian immigration has always been some kind of line in the sand for the US government. 

If there is any silver lining to the current mania over more Haitians arriving, it is that the administration has plenty of time to prepare to receive people humanely. Customs and Border Protection brags that they process 650,000 people every day! Certainly they can shift some resources to handle an increase of a 400-500 a day in a sector over a two week period. I mean they know they will need to have more asylum screeners on hand who speak Haitian Creole and can be ready to process people in a safe, efficient manner.  Of course they’ve already had plenty of time to do this – like 7 years to be exact – and have thus far failed.  But they will have no excuse now.

For the time being!

Keep the pressure up. Contact your members of Congress. Ask them to speak out – you can do that using our form by clicking the take action button below. And keep calling the White House [202-456-1111] with a simple message – Halt the Removals NOW!

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Del Rio: How to make 15,000 people disappear in a week

International Office on Migration details on removal flights (click to enlarge)

On Friday, September 17, there were 15,000 refugees under a bridge in Texas seeking entry into the United States. Most of them were from Haiti. A week later, they were all gone. What happened to 15,000 migrants in the space of 7 days? 

The numbers below are not precise, and, to be clear, people came and went from the camp, so likely more than 15,000 people were there at some point during the week. DHS also reports that there were 30,000 encounters in the Del Rio sector overall (including the camp), starting on September 9 to September 24. So some of the deportation and expulsion numbers reflect that reality as well.

Based on press reports and feedback from folk who have spent the week in Del Rio, this is a rough outline of what has happened to people from the camp, and others arrested by Border Patrol in the area.

Expelled to Mexico: According to Secretary Mayorkas, 8,000 people “voluntarily” returned to Mexico. “Voluntary ” in this case means being told to go back across the river or be deported back to Haiti. Mexico has been reluctant to accept Title 42 expulsions from Haiti until now, yet, received them this time. This is a reminder that Obrador refuses to say “no” to the United States on immigration no matter how abusive the request. Those “voluntarily” expelled back to Mexico were mostly bussed away from the border once there, many to Tapachula, Chiapas. Others were flown from Reynosa to Tapachula or Villahermos in Southern Mexico by Mexican immigration authorities. For those who evaded INM at the border they are now targets for arrest and detention.

Of course, many people had fled from Tapachula over the last few weeks – some after waiting months, or even years, for a decision on their asylum claims within Mexico. Unable to leave the state legally until a having received a decision from COMAR, and with no work available in Tapachula, in desperation people began leaving in large numbers at the beginning of September following a crackdown by INM and national guard on several caravans protesting conditions in Tapachula. The crisis in Tapachula was the precursor to the disaster in Del Rio. By flying and busing people back there now, the situation will simply continue to decline. 

Expelled on ICE Air Operation flights: From Sunday, September 19 to Monday, September 26 the United States flew 37 removal flights to Haiti. The flights will continue into this week and possibly beyond. The pace of flights has been so intense that ICE Air Operations began flights to Cap-Haitien in addition to Port-au-Prince, and expanded its roster of sub-contractors. iAero, the company that gets 95% of all ICE Air flights, also got the lion’s share of these flights, but World Atlantic Airline and Global Crossing Airlines were also paid for flights this week. Lest we forget, there is a lot of money in official cruelty – one reason we keep doing it.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees these flights, never gives out details. We can estimate from 32 flights that close to 3,400 people have been deported through Sunday – with 6 flights on Monday the total will be over 4,00o soon. CNN reported 1,424 on 12 flights as of Wednesday last week based on data from the International Organization on Migration office in Haiti – 40 were children who did not hold a Haitian passport). 

If Biden keeps up this pace there will be 6,000 to 7,000 people expelled to Haiti over a two week period. I cannot think of another country to receive this heavy concentration of expulsions in such a short period of time – especially considering that Haitians have made up a very small number of encounters at the border so far this year (less than 2%). 

It is reported that Mexico will begin removal flights to Haiti next week – so many of the 8,000 people expelled to Mexico may still be deported to Haiti anyway. This is “chain refoulement” and illegal under international law – but then just about everything that happened this week has been illegal under international law.

Detained while awaiting expulsion: Many of the people remaining in the United States are in detention facilities. Early in the week, Border Patrol began bussing, and flying people to other ports of entry to be held pending removal. People have been detained all along the border from Eagle Pass to Pearsall to the family holding center at Dilley. Mayorkas’ comments earlier in the week suggested as many as 6,500 people were transferred to other facilities Those not already part of the deportation total above will likely be included unless they receive support from attorneys.

As much as the bridge captured headlines, it is important to understand that Border Patrol has been encountering 6,500-7,000 people a day all summer. Most are expelled under Title 42 immediately, but because of the new strategy of flying, many of those expelled into the interior of Mexico, and many more are detained for days or weeks while awaiting flights. 

The conditions in these Border Patrol facilities are routinely horrendous. Overcrowding hasn’t helped. Reports from inside are of people who are sick, with high fevers, and not getting medical care despite attempted advocacy by attorneys.

The horrendous conditions in the camp in Del Rio, the abuse meted out by Border Patrol agents against migrants, and the horrible detention conditions has led to a civil rights complaint against DHS. The Grio summarized:

Haitian Bridge Alliance, The UndocuBlack Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and African Communities Together on Friday sent a letter of complaint…addressed to the department’s head of Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Katherine Culliton-González.

Highlighting the graphic images and video of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers on horseback hitting migrants with horse reins used as whips, the complaint accuses the department of several violations and demands that DHS stop the deportation of migrants who were either victimized by CBP or were witnesses of abuses at the border.

Some families allowed to stay: Other folk, mostly families, have been allowed to stay in the United States for now. Some have been given an order to report to immigration authorities within 60 days – others are in detention awaiting processing. Reports from attorneys in Del Rio are that the documents many people have been given are improperly filled out by Border Patrol agents and some contain no dates. This kind of sloppy care at intake is often a problem for people who later seek asylum. It is hard to believe it was unintentional. 

It is not clear how many people from Del Rio were permitted entry – thousands to be sure. In San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso and Houston, families were arriving all week to temporary facilities set up mostly by volunteers, who received them and helped them along to the next phase of their journey, wherever that might be. 

According to the Washington Post, DHS officials estimated that 30,000 people were encountered overall in the Del Rio sector over the two week period starting September 9, and that of those 12,400 were allowed to request asylum or other form of protection. That said, it seems that for the 15,000 people in the camp, the majority were expelled. 

While the Associated Press (and any number of Republicans) raised concerns about these admissions undermining Biden’s “deterrent” strategy, it is worth noting that as of September 30th, Biden will not be able to expel families under Title 42 anyway. This follows a Federal court ruling blocking the practice – unless the administration wins an appeal. People allowed to stay will not be expelled any time soon. However, they still face an uphill battle to remain in the United States, as most will likely not be granted asylum in the long run.

Rough summary

If DHS encountered 30,000 people during a two week period, with about half of those ending up under the bridge in Del Rio, the break down is something like this:

12,000+ allowed to apply for asylum or other relief (almost all families w/children). Many of these people are still in detention.

8,000+ summarily expelled to Mexico

6,000 in detention waiting to be expelled – though some might be allowed to stay, certainly people are fighting for them.

4,000 already deported to Haiti as of end of the day, Monday, September 27. (I do not know how many people were expelled to other countries during the last two weeks from Del Rio or the camp specifically).

What to do!

Donate to support legal services: There are a number of groups trying to provide legal support services to those in custody. The folk we work most closely with are with the Haitian Bridge Alliance. They are amazing. You can donate to support their efforts directly here.

Continue to demand that Biden halt these deportations: Call the White House at 202-456-1111, or contact your member of Congress and ask them to speak out against the expulsions. We’ve set up a form to make that easy for you here, or click the take action button below. Following up with a phone call helps, and certainly sharing this update and the alert spreads the word.

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Biden v Trump: When the “lesser of two evils” turns out not to be

Somewhere in this country, Stephen Miller is probably sitting in a grimy basement watching television reports of the debacle unfolding under the Del Rio bridge. Fingers twitching in imitation of the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns, he grins and cackles and gives himself high fives. As Trump’s immigration adviser, Miller handed Biden a time-bomb, and it is now blowing up. I assume Miller is enjoying this.

Of course, Biden is hardly the victim here. Elected on an immigration platform that was one half “I’m not Trump” and the other “I’ve got ideas,” he has had ample opportunity to defuse this bomb. Instead, he chose to double down on some of Miller/Trump’s worst ideas regarding access to asylum in the United States, thus, basically jettisoning both of the guide posts of his platform.

Though saying many of the right things, and making some gestures at reform early on, with a few exceptions, Biden’s administration is indistinct from Trump’s as far as the impact on peoples’ lives. If talking about Haitian migrants, Biden is demonstrably worse.

This is primarily because Biden has kept Title 42 enforcement in place and expanded its reach. This policy is the direct cause of the disaster in Del Rio, and the inhumane solution of mass deportations of refugees back to Haiti.

Title 42 refers to an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) that claims authority under Title 42 of the US code to block people from seeking asylum in the United States so that they may be summarily expelled. The order was issued to avoid holding people in aggregate settings, such as detention facilities, where COVID-19 might spread, and also to protect Border Patrol agents. The original order was issued in March 2020 and has been updated several times since, most recently by the Biden Administration in July 2021.

One look at Del Rio and it is clear that the order was never really meant as a public health order. People are placed in “aggregate settings” all of the time. They are detained, forced onto planes and flown all over the world, put into busses and so on. 

The CDC initially opposed implementing an order under Title 42, claiming the order lacked a public health justification. But after pressure from Miller, and ultimately Vice President Mike Pence, the CDC was forced to issue the order. As Dr. Anthony So, an international public health expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in a letter to Dr. Redfield in April 2020, “The decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science…This order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.”

In January 2021, public health experts pleaded with CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Acting Secretary of HHS Norris Cochran to rescind the CDC policies, stating, “[t]he CDC order does not, nor was it ever intended to, protect public health. Exploiting public health to ban refugees and immigrants was a goal of the Trump administration long before the pandemic. The Trump administration furthered this anti-immigrant agenda when it strong-armed the CDC into authorizing the mass expulsion of asylum seekers.” Biden promised a review of the policy, and in July of 2021 he extended it indefinitely – another evaluation is due in October. 

With Title 42 remaining the operational framework at the border, not only are people still being expelled by the tens of thousands each month, but the impact of other reforms is made moot.

For example, early in his term, Biden cancelled controversial Asylum Cooperation Agreements that Trump had negotiated with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Under these agreements people from Central America who sought asylum in the United States were to be flown to one of these countries. It was a really bad idea, and only implemented briefly with Guatemala (and then shut down due to COVID travel restrictions). Canceling ACAs was thus a smart move by Biden, even if they were not really in effect at the time. 

However, in August, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security started flying people from Central America to southern Mexico under Title 42. From there, they were bussed to the border with Guatemala and dumped by Mexico’s immigration agency, INM, to make their way into Guatemala, or across Guatemala. Some, of course, simply turned around and headed north again after a brief pause because going home was still not an option.

As a result of these flights, Biden has summarily expelled far more people on planes to southern Mexico, and from there into or through Guatemala, than were ever removed under the ACA negotiated with Guatemala in 2019. The effect is thus largely the same – expelling Central American refugees to a third country, but with the important caveat that there is no official process in place for Guatemala (or Mexico for that matter) to receive these people as refugees or asylum seekers. Indeed, Guatemala has pushed back against receiving non-Guatemalan nationals because Mexico and US immigration agencies have been leaving them at remote ports of entry in and near the Lacandon forest where there are few services available. 

Even more Trumpish is the Biden administration’s additional pressure on Mexico to expand its role as the United States’ junior partner in immigration enforcement. Trump threatened tariffs, Biden has blackmailed with AstraZeneca vaccines, but in the end the demands on Mexico have remained the same: Keep immigrants away from the US border.

Obviously Mexico has a limited capacity to do this, but they have tried. The result is further militarization of Mexico’s border with Guatemala, which was closed to non-essential travel in April. Limitations on migrant movement have meant that people, particularly from Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela (the people primarily stuck under the Del Rio bridge right now) have been stuck in Chiapas for months. In some cases, for years. Why? If they have applied for asylum they are not permitted to leave the state they enter – for most that is Chiapas or Tabasco. The agency that makes these decisions (COMAR) is required by law to respond to asylum applications within 45 days. They are very far behind. 

Unable to leave the state, and unable to find work in Tapachula while waiting for COMAR to decide their fates, people frustrated by these obstacles launched a series of caravans in August and early September, some with the goal of reaching Mexico City in order to press COMAR to make decisions. The caravans were brutally attacked by INM and Mexico’s national guard and then forced back into Tapachula (Chiapas). Summary expulsions of people, many with legal status as refugee or asylum applicants has also taken place.

The result of attacking the caravans has been, predictably, that people have simply sought other unauthorized means to leave Chiapas, some to make their way to the United States. It is no accident that the increase in border crossings at Del Rio is taking place 2-3 weeks following the crackdown in Chiapas. People’s desperation outweighs our cruelty. All Biden and Obrador have done with these policies is to make it more dangerous for people to move – they have not stopped them.

In the end, what runs as a consistent theme of US immigration for the last 40 years, the period covering the development of current enforcement and detention institutions, is deterrence. The logic of deterrence is that if you treat migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, in the most inhumane ways imaginable, others will take note and stop coming. Biden is as much a believer in (and implementer of) this approach as Trump.

Look at the images from Del Rio and note that after 40 years, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that deterrence does not work as a means to sustainably reduce migration. All it does achieve is the goal of wrecking people’s lives. That policy makers know this and keep doing it anyway, is truly evil.

If this sounds like hyperbole, consider that as I am writing this, Biden is seeking a private contractor to run an immigrant detention facility at Guantanamo Bay – with the requirement that some guards speak Haitian creole. Not content to double down on the worst policy of the Trump administration, Biden is prepared to add into the mix one of the worst policies of the Clinton administration – detention of Haitian refugees at GITMO – a reminder that the current immigration horror show is a bi-partisan affair. There is no “lesser evil’.’ The whole system stinks. 

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw misquoting Hegel: “What we learn from history is that people learn nothing from history.”

What can we do? For now, we keep up the pressure

Call the White House (202.456.1111), and

Call your member of Congress and ask them to amplify this message to Biden (202.224.3121):

  • Stop all expulsions: Haitian migrants are refugees, fleeing dangerous conditions in Haiti, and shouldn’t be sent back without an opportunity to claim asylum or other protections.
  • Terminate Title 42: don’t defend it and stop using it to unjustifiably expel Haitians.
  • Grant humanitarian parole: Haitians seeking protections must be granted humanitarian parole to allow them to be transferred to safer conditions and away from CBP mistreatment.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance: Provide safe shelter, water, food and health care to Haitians who are in Del Rio awaiting an opportunity to request protection.
  • Investigate CBP: The Office of the Inspector General must immediately start an investigation into the use of whips, or whip-like devices, and other mistreatment of Haitians by Border Patrol.


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Walls and Bridges: Del Rio and immigration policy in the age of spectacle

We live in a global society of spectacle. Capitalism in its latest stage is fueled by the production of the imaginary. Business, activism, and politics are all played out in virtual spaces, while the world we physically live in becomes experienced primarily in reference to images; the more spectacular, the more entertaining, or the more shocking, the more engaged we become. 

In this society of the spectacle, immigration policy has been turned into an absurdity, almost entirely divorced from the world. It is difficult to assemble and respond to all of the ways in which immigration policy is an illogical manifestation of an obsession with spectacle. However, we can look at the situation unfolding in Del Rio, Texas as a start.

Over the last week, we are told that up to 14,000 people have crossed the Rio Grande and are now under a bridge between the river and the Del Rio port of entry. While the people under the bridge come from all over the world, the media is focused primarily on Haitian migrants who make up the largest portion.

The media circus that has resulted is what one would expect with people in a desperate situation, crowded, overheated, without access to sufficient sanitation and so on.

Republicans line up to denounce Biden for being too lenient, using the people under the bridge as a backdrop.

Democrats assure everyone that they do not support an open border, and to make that point, have begun to deport people to Haiti at a pace unheard of even during the nadir of the Trump administration.

It is a spectacle to be sure. So, just to clarify:

The Bridge

The people who are under the bridge in Del Rio crossed the river at a port of entry. They are not “illegal” immigrants; they are seeking authorized admittance into the United States.

More to the point, for those seeking asylum, under US law they have a legal right to do so once inside the United States, no matter how they arrived.

Through the end of August, Haitians made up less than 1.8% of all CBP encounters so far this fiscal year.

Del Rio has become the sector where folk from Haiti (as well as Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere) have increasingly attempted entry. 

At the Del Rio crossing, the percent of people encountered who are Haitian is thus higher than the national average—but still a small portion of the 251,000 people encountered in the sector.

In other words, the scene at the bridge has nothing to do with border crossing trends seen in recent months—and one must wonder why it is now that a crisis is declared and that Haitians are the face of it. 

To Republicans hand wringing over conditions, a reminder that two years ago the bridge was in El Paso, and the conditions were allowed to ferment for months under a Republican president.

To Biden, note that the horrible treatment meted out to the migrants in 2019 did not stop people from coming. Their desperation outweighs our cruelty. Sending 3 to 4 deportation flights to Haiti a day will not solve anything.

This is not a crisis born of leniency from the Biden administration.

The Wall

That right to seek asylum has been set aside under a public health order issued by the CDC in March of 2020. The public health disaster unfolding under that bridge is the result of this CDC order.

The reason? Under this public health order, which is referred to as “Title 42,” people are denied access to asylum except under a very narrowly read provision regarding request for protection under the Convention Against Torture.

Operational guidelines from DHS on implementing this order require that people be removed immediately through expulsion to the country from which they arrived.

Haitians, Venezuelans, Cubans, and others cannot be so removed—Mexico will not accept them. And so they are stuck between a river they cannot cross back over, and a port of entry where, with few exceptions, they will not be processed for any other reason than expulsion under Title 42.

Biden never halted deportations to Haiti, and he never made a public commitment to do so, despite being pressed to do this by members of Congress, human rights organizations, and others. There was a brief pause in removal flights following the assassination of President Moïse, and another after the earthquake in August. 

Deportation flights to Haiti had already resumed last week before the situation under the bridge in Del Rio blew up in the media.

Biden has continued to enforce Title 42, and has sent his emissaries far and wide with a simple message to people from Haiti and Cuba, to Guatemala and Honduras – DO NOT COME!

Far from being too soft, Biden has summarily expelled far more people than Trump during his last year in office—and though this is certainly the result of an increase in migration, the policies themselves have hardly changed.

The Migrant Protection Protocol was ended briefly—but MPP had already become marginal compared to the scale of Title 42 expulsions. Now, a court is forcing Biden to reinstate MPP.


There is a tremendous amount of information in the media about the situation in Haiti – a political crisis, a spike in violence, the earthquake and its impacts, and an ongoing crisis of food insecurity made worse by all of the above.

More spectacle.

The Biden administration is well aware of all of this. For these reasons, his administration re-designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status in July. TPS does not cover anyone under that bridge right now, and does not mean that deportations to Haiti were halted. TPS is not automatic.

Amidst the spectacle, what is not talked about is the grassroots movement for democratic reform in Haiti, and how the United States under both Trump and Biden have set aside the concerns of this movement and their proposals for solutions.

Amidst the spectacle, what is not talked about is the movement against violence from Haitian activists and civil society. A movement manifested in multiple strategies from longstanding intentional work against gender-based violence to impromptu protests against kidnappings. 

Amidst the spectacle, what is also not talked about is how weapons fueling this violence are almost all from the United States – which has not only failed to address, in any meaningful way, gun control within its borders, but refuses to address the US gun industries’ complicity in fomenting violence throughout the Americas.

The problem is not that the United States doesn’t care about what happens in Haiti. The problem is that the US government cares about the wrong things.

“The poorest….”

Every newspaper article about Haiti references the fact that Haiti is the “poorest country in the western hemisphere.” But almost none of those articles will mention the US colonization of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the system of pillage therein established, and how the United States maintained that system of pillage by sponsoring dictatorship for decades. 

Rarely will these accounts mention the “independence” debt, whereby France demanded reparations for the lands and the human beings formerly treated as property by French colonists. If this is mentioned at all, never will the follow-up be how the National City Bank of New York assumed that debt in a process engineered by the US State Department, or that this debt was not paid off to the National City Bank of New York until 1947.

Articles never mention how multilateral lenders strangled the elected governments of René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, only to then funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to the US-installed regime of Gérard Latortue, and the PHTK governments under Martelly and Moïse – both elected, but in processes widely viewed as illegitimate and dominated by US pressure.

In other words, Haiti’s impoverishment is the direct result of 100 years of United States government interference and pillage. Haiti surely has many internal contradictions and tremendous inequality as a result of this. Yet, the biggest obstacle to democracy in Haiti remains the US government.

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The migration crisis in southern Mexico boils over, US policy is making things worse

“What is happening is that human rights are being violated here, refugees are people who left their country because of threats. If we are here it is because we are looking for a better life. People who have papers- they can not take them, put them on a bus and take them to Guatemala, that is a violation of human rights. There are people who have one-year visitor cards, who have residency, who have a document that says Tapachula, Chiapas, those same people are grabbed and taken to Guatemala. That should not be, that is racism, that is a violation of human rights, that is why we are fighting. The caravan is for that, even though we spent a week demonstrating all day, so that we can move around and look for work, because we have to pay for a house, we have to eat, and there are people who are sleeping in the park and are looking for work all day in the rain. Women with children, pregnant women. […] the caravan is because they don’t want to make a decision with us. […] We are looking for a way to get out of Chiapas because in Chiapas there is no way to live because people are treating you like animals, your rights are being violated. So if we are refugees we are fighting so that we can get out and looking for a way to live so that we can eat. ” Haitian migrant statement to the Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Méxicano

Over the past several weeks the situation for Haitians and other migrants in southern Mexico has reached crisis proportions. Last week Haitians, many of whom had been stuck in Tapachula, Chiapas for over a year, launched protests in front of Siglo XXI, Latin America’s largest immigrant detention center. On Saturday hundreds of Haitians, joined by others from Venezuela, Central America, and Africa, left Tapachula in a caravan. Motivations varied. Many expressed the intent to reach Mexico City in the hopes of accelerating their asylum cases, and for others, the goal was simply getting out of Tapachula. 

The caravan has repeatedly been met with violence from the INM and from Mexico’s recently (2019) formed National Guard.  

Saturday, the caravan left Tapachula with people walking 41 kilometers northwest to Huixtla. Along the way, some members of the caravan were beaten and arrested. In an interesting article juxtaposing the treatment of Haitian and Central American migrants with the reception given to Afghan refugees also arriving on Saturday, Vice News reporters spoke with a few of the people whose attacks by INM appeared in cell phone footage circulating on social media. 

“If we stay here, we are going to die of hunger, and we will be sleeping on the street,” Theoburn Derino….told VICE World News. He fled Haiti because of violence and political conflict, and had spent a month in Tapachula before trying to make his way to Mexico City. “I just want to find a place where I can work, and where my daughter can sleep peacefully.”   

INM issued a press release condemning some of the actions that had been caught on film. But the attacks did not stop.

Sunday, the caravan continued from Huixtla to Escuintla, and then onto Mapastepec. Along the road near Sesecapa, anti-riot trucks and INM busses were spotted. Then around 3:00 p.m. on the road section between Ruiz Cortínez and Mapstepec, an anti-riot team from the National Guard was mobilized alongside elements of INM and attempted to trap the caravan between temporary fencing. About half were arrested. Some of those who made it to Mapastepec were attacked Tuesday morning, arrested and detained. From Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Méxicano (COMDHSM):

In less than 20 minutes, they dismantled the small camp. Those who were not detained sought shelter in houses, premises and the Catholic Church; the elements of GN and INM followed them and, in some cases, entered to apprehend them. Approximately 80% of the people in this group were apprehended, leaving their belongings behind and without knowing their whereabouts.

While the INM was beating and arresting refugees in Mapastepec, the government was proposing establishing “humanitarian camps” for Haitian migrants, and trying to enlist the support of the church office on migration – which opposes this.  The Dimensión Episcopal de Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana (DEPMH) of the Episcopal Conference of Mexico is calling instead for the regularization of migrant status, and respecting their freedom of mobility. Likewise COMDHSM is demanding that the government respect the rights of migrants, and provide humanitarian support. In their statement issued on September 1, 2021, they write:

  • Humanitarian aid is urgent to attend to people, in particular pregnant women, children and adolescents who walk. There is not enough water or food, and the absence of instances that provide medical attention stands out. This is aggravated as people have been walking for several days.
  • We denounce the strong presence of the National Guard, the Mexican Army and the National Migration Institute and their absolutely disproportionate and violent action towards people in order to encapsulate and detain them at different points along the way.
  • We demand the cessation of surveillance, harassment and attacks on human rights defenders and the press
  • There is concern about the impact of these violent detentions on people who also forcibly left their countries seeking protection and a dignified life.
  • We demand an end to the abuse of power and acts of repression against people.

Underlying the crisis is ongoing pressure from the Biden administration on Mexico, as well as countries in Central America, to stop as many migrants from reaching the US/Mexico border as possible. This, coupled with the Biden administration’s new strategy of expelling Central Americans and others via plane to Tapachula and Villahermos under Title 42, most of whom eventually end up being expelled by INM to Guatemala, has created a humanitarian disaster in southern Mexico.

Indeed, the mobilizations over the last week by Hatiain migrants was the result of Haitians with asylum claims pending in Mexico being removed to Guatemala anyway amidst this new wave of expulsions.  

The Mexican government has a backlog of 80,000 asylum claims. The government is being pushed by the United States to limit mobility in order to keep people in Mexico, while also being pressed by a dramatic increase in the numbers of people migrating north as the result of a combination of ongoing political instability and COVID-19 induced economic recession. The result of all of this is that people are forced to wait in cramped, unsanitary conditions for months, and for some over a year.

From Dallas Morning News Spanish editor AlDiaDallas:

Haitians now make up the second largest group of people seeking asylum in Mexico. Only Hondurans have a higher number of claims. Yet, much like in the United States, Haitian claims to asylum in Mexico are denied at a much higher rate than other countries. It is creating an untenable situation for people – who are clearly now desperate to leave Tapachula.

We certainly join in the call for the Mexican government to stop the violence against migrants, and to establish an alternative path for people to regularize migration status. However, we equally denounce the Biden administration’s ongoing support for Title 42 expulsions, the new policy of removals to southern Mexico, and ongoing pressure this administration has asserted on countries from Mexico to Colombia, to detain migrants on their journey north. The administration’s stated goal of creating a “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy” with countries in Central America and Mexico is currently looking more like a coordinated war on migrants than an effort to instill collaborative and humane policy processes.

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Haitians, others in caravan attacked in Mexico

On Saturday a caravan of migrants formed in Tapachula in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The group was mostly composed of Haitians, but included others from Venezuela, Central America, and Guinea. The caravan tried to leave Tapachula in protest of the refusal of the Mexican government to grant asylum – or even render a judgement – after a year or more of waiting. The situation in Tapachula has been aggravated by the United States government launching a new round of deportation flights to Tapachula and Villahermosa (in neighboring Tabasco). Those flown in are being bussed to the border with Guatemala and left. In the context of this new round of expulsions, Haitians with legal documentation to stay in Mexico – most having applied for refugee status – have also been removed to Guatemala. 

On Friday we shared a joint statement from groups in Mexico protesting both the US and Mexican governments for their treatment of people seeking a better life.

The caravan in Tapachula was not trying to reach the United States. Rather, people were trying to move to another location within Mexico where they could find work.

“The important thing we need is to leave Chiapas, because there is no work in Chiapas. In Chiapas there is no way to live, people are treating us like animals. If we are refugees, what we are looking for is a way of living to be able to eat,” explained one of the migrants, before starting the caravan.

During the week that passed, the migrants held protests outside the offices of the National Institute of Migration (INM) and COMAR, to ask for the speeding up of their refugee procedures.

As noted most had documentation that would allow them to move within Mexico. Nevertheless, the caravan was brutally attacked on the road between Tapachula and Huixtla on Saturday.

According to the Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Mexicano (COMDHSM) those who made it to Huixtla were now appealing to the government of Mexico to provide transport and safe passage for them to Mexico City. The Colectivo further demanded that the government:

  • Activate inter-institutional mechanisms for the care of people along the route, particularly with regard to medical care and humanitarian aid (footwear, food, hydration and medicines).
  • Collaboration between local authorities and Civil Protection for the reception and care of people in places of rest.
  • Maintain the presence of the National Human Rights Commission and international organizations of the United Nations system for the observance of human rights.

This afternoon the caravan is approaching Mapastepec, along the coast in Chiapas (see pin in map to the right). COMDHSM continues to call for the government to respect the rights of the people in the caravan and those journalists who are accompanying them. 

[COMDHSM  reported earlier that another caravan was planning to leave Tapachula this morning, but I have not seen coverage of that yet today.]

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Haiti Earthquake Response Update #3

It has been two weeks since an earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti. Assessments of the impact of the earthquake are still being developed as harder to reach communities remain isolated from relief efforts.  As of now the numbers of people killed and injured rest at 2,200 and 12,200. Over 300 people are officially still missing. Likely these numbers remain undercounts. 

The map below summarizes aid deliveries as of August 23 (at least those tracked by the government). One can see that the areas near Les Cayes have received the most attention, whereas communities in Nippes and the Grande Anse (aside from Jeremie) are still waiting for support.

In terms of Quixote Center activity, we are supporting deliveries of emergency supplies into Baradares through the Fondasyon Mapou and to areas in the south, near Les Cayes with the Kolektif pou Lakay. Both of these efforts are in process. We will share more as we get detailed report-backs from our partners.

From Kolektif pou Lakay: “Here is the list of actions we plan to take on the ground. Your contribution is always important to help people in the South.” If you are on Twitter click below to follow them.

We are also supporting the Haiti Response Coalition’s team of community organizers who are engaged in assessments in underserved communities in Nippes and the Grande Anse departments. Currently, the majority of our emergency response funds are being used to provide direct cash assistance to families in these departments. HRC community organizers are doing household surveys in communities in southern Nippes near the epicenter of the quake. Based on these surveys, funds are delivered direct to families so they can purchase immediate needs – especially food at the local markets.

Aid Accountability: Take the Pledge

Haiti Response Coalition, working in collaboration with a collective of organizations including Nou Pap Dòmi, Ansanm pou Ayiti, Konbit pou yon Ayiti Tèt Anwo (CHW-KATA), and the Haitian Ladies’ Network, developed the Pledge for New Minimum Standards. The pledge invites organizations engaged in emergency response work to abide by a core set of principles in their work. In summary, the key principles in the pledge are:

  • We pledge to respect the dignity of the Haitian people.
  • We pledge to use respectful language.
  • We pledge to be specific, transparent and inclusive.
  • We pledge to respect Haitian leadership and reinforce Haitian capacity.
  • We pledge to support the public good.
  • We pledge to align with and support long-term efforts.
  • Above all, we pledge to hold ourselves accountable, and invite groups in Haiti, especially the communities in which we work, to hold us accountable.

We are inviting other organizations and individuals to take this pledge – which you can do on the HRC website here.

The companion petition where individuals can call upon organizations to take the pledge is here.

The full pledge is available in English and Creole.

One note on the pledge and our work. You may notice that we are not sharing photos of Haitians living in tents, and standing outside of crumbled houses. For some time we have avoided using such images, but are making this a more intentional standard, by which we do not use the images of people who have not offered their consent. We trust that you can understand the magnitude of the situation without us sharing photos of people in crisis.

If you are able to support the work we are doing, please make a donation to our Haiti Emergency Response Fund here

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

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