We may have a new president, but the machinery of government sometimes churns with heartbreaking inertia — as if Joe Biden weren’t in the White House.
Case in point: the deportation of hundreds of Haitians this month, a move straight out of former president Donald Trump’s playbook. For these Haitians, fleeing a country suffering in deep poverty, Trump might as well be in charge. As would-be asylum seekers, the Haitian migrants, most of whom came to the United States recently through Mexico, have been denied the opportunity for due process in an asylum system that’s broken and that the Biden administration is working to fix.
According to immigration advocates who track flights leaving the United States with deportees, since the beginning of February — Black History Month, no less — roughly 900 Haitians have been expelled. It’s a Trump-inspired chaos and cruelty that has its own momentum. President Biden inherited a mess at our borders, and one of his first humane acts was to hit the pause button, including issuing a 100-day moratorium on most deportations. Most, but apparently not all.
The conditions in Haiti are no better than the worst in Honduras and Guatemala. There’s been a wave of brutal kidnappings for ransom by violent gangs as unemployment takes hold of the country, where 60 percent of Haitians live in poverty. Haiti has been experiencing chronic suffering, a condition that natural disasters — the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew, in 2016 — have only exacerbated. And there’s the small irony of its would-be dictator president, Jovenel Moïse, who was supposed to leave power in early February, when his five-year term ended, but instead refused to leave. He has systematically engaged in antidemocratic efforts, such as dismissing most of Congress — and every mayor in the country — and instead has ruled by presidential decree.
Without question, Haiti’s long-term, deep-rooted problems call for long-term solutions. But the Biden administration is only adding to the country’s woes by sending hundreds of Haitians back. “This is no time to deport or expel anyone to Haiti, given the crisis there,” said Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and a longtime advocate for the Haitian diaspora.
And yet families, including pregnant women, were sent home, said Dieufort Fleurissaint, a pastor and the chair of Haitian Americans United, a Boston-based advocacy organization. “These Haitians were not given an opportunity to present their case as part of their due process to apply for asylum. That’s wrong,” he said. These deportations have happened largely through what is called Title 42, after the public health law invoked by Trump last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic that allows the expulsion of recently arrived migrants.
“These Haitian expulsions seem to be intentional policy from the Biden administration,” said Forester. “It’s deterrence on steroids: ‘If you cross the border, you will be put on an airplane to Haiti,’ while the Biden team crafts new protocols for dealing with the border.” But deterrence makes no sense when people are desperate.
It gets worse: Other immigrants have been caught in the mess. Even a Black immigrant who’s not Haitian was allegedly deported there recently. Representative Ayanna Pressley cosigned a letter — along with other US representatives — to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas demanding answers on what they call “a recent string of mass deportation flights of Black people to Haiti.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is also calling for Mayorkas to review the deportations.
“That ICE would carry out the cruel and callous mass deportations of our Haitian neighbors and specifically target Black immigrants — during Black History Month and in the midst of a national reckoning on racial injustice — is further evidence that it is a rogue agency that is beyond reform and will stop at nothing to continue terrorizing our communities,” said Pressley via e-mail.
Pressley is right. Biden should make it a priority to find an intermediate solution while his administration works to fix our asylum system — and make it one that doesn’t include the expedited removals of Black immigrants without any asylum processing at all.