In just nine days, the United States deported nearly 4,000 Haitian migrants, including hundreds of families with children, without allowing them to seek asylum in an ongoing deportation blitz to a country ravaged by natural and man-made disasters.
The Biden administration carried out mass evictions as part of a pandemic-era emergency policy known as Title 42 which was first enacted under former President Donald Trump, much to the dismay of advocates for asylum seekers and Democrats.
The pace and scale of deportations to Haiti, a country where deportation flights were suspended last month due to, could make the operation one of America’s fastest and most important campaigns to deport migrants by air.
Between September 19 and September 27, 37 U.S. deportation flights landed in Haiti with 3,936 migrants on board, including 2,300 parents and children who entered U.S. border detention as families, according to Department data. of Homeland Security.
“Many, if not all” of those deported from Haiti previously lived in Chile, Brazil and other countries in South America and have not been to their homelands for years, exacerbating the disruption caused by the American deportations, said Giuseppe Loprete, head of mission. for the Port-au-Prince-based chapter of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
About 44% of the deportees Haiti has received since September 19 are women and children, according to the IOM. More than 210 of the deportees are children born in Chile, Brazil, Venezuela and Panama who were deported along with their Haitian-born parents, Loprete said.
Loprete, whose organization assisted deportees at Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien airports, said he saw Haitian migrants deported by the United States visibly frustrated and distraught after disembarking.
“They’re very distressed. They start to cry as soon as they arrive. I’ve seen some young and strong guys – some panic,” Loprete told CBS News. “Women cry. Children cry because they see women cry.”
At both airports, IOM distributed meals, hygiene kits, feminine products and a per capita allowance equivalent to $ 100 that deportees can use to pay for food, clothing, transportation, appeals. phone calls and other necessities, Loprete said. The organization also has an on-site mental health counselor.
The deportees are being tested for the coronavirus by the Haitian ministry of public health at airports, where Red Cross units have also been deployed. After their treatment is complete, they are taken to a bus station, Loprete said. The deportees are then responsible for reaching their respective destinations in Haiti.
The US Agency for International Development has said it will provide $ 5.5 million to IOM so that it can serve the deported Haitians. Despite financial support from the United States, some experts and officials, including a senior American diplomat in Haiti who resigned this month following the deportations, questioned whether Haiti could adequately absorb thousands of deportees.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, continues to be plagued by widespread insecurity, gang violence and political unrest that has been exacerbated by theof its president.
“I don’t think Haiti can really absorb thousands of homeless people, many of whom have no family or support network in the country, in such a short time,” Adam Isacon, analyst for the Bureau of Washington on Latin America. which monitors migration issues, told CBS News. “It will probably work to the advantage of the gangs and extortionists who run pretty much large parts of Port-au-Prince. These people are going to be exploited.”
The Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants encountered along the southern border has sparked an intense and rare wave of bipartisan criticism.
US authorities last week cleared a huge camp that has become the chaotic symbol of the rapid arrival of 30,000 migrants, many from Haiti, in Del Rio, Texas. But the issue has remained in the national spotlight, with Republicans lambasting the administration for not deporting all migrants and Democrats outraged that the deportations take place in the first place.
About 13,000 of the migrants recently met in Del Rio were treated under US immigration laws and allowed to be heard before a judge, including 3,000 who were sent to detention centers, according to DHS data. An estimated 8,000 have returned voluntarily to Mexico, while another 4,000 remain in detention in the United States pending deportation or release.
Citing the dire conditions in Haiti, leading Democratic lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged the administration to end the deportation policy, which they called a relic of the immigration program President Trump’s “inhuman”.
In July, when it granted temporary protection status, a humanitarian form of deportation aid, to some Haitians already in the United States, the Biden administration acknowledged that Haiti was “in the grip of a political crisis. worsening violence and a dizzying increase in human rights violations. . ”
Asked how this decision matched the recent assessment that deportations to Haiti could continue, DHS secretary Mayorkas said on Monday that the August earthquake was “geographically” limited.
“By working with Haiti, we felt it was possible to return people to Haiti,” Mayorkas said at the annual conference on immigration law and policy, conceding that the assessment did not ” is unanimous in opinion ”.
The Biden administration used the Title 42 public health authority to deport Haitians, DHS officials told reporters last week, noting that some vulnerable migrants, such as pregnant women, could be exempt from the policy in the country. case by case.
The use of this Trump-era policy, however, is currently in legal jeopardy. The United States will no longer be able to process migrant families with children under Title 42 as of Friday, unless an order from a federal judge earlier this month is stayed by an appeals court.
On Monday, Mayorkas said the Biden administration “would not accept” Title 42 deportations if they were part of “immigration policy.” He called for the measure needed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in immigration detention centers, citing “an illness rate of around 20%” among migrants.
In a case filed Monday by a court defending the continued application of Title 42, lawyers for the Department of Justice called the deportation policy a “significant deterrent to entry into family units.”
“The fact that Title 42 deportation policy is in fact about immigration policy, not public health, is clear from the number of medical experts who have aligned themselves to condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Lee Gelernt, the ACLU’s lead lawyer challenging the evictions, told CBS News.