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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