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Haitian-American activists bash Biden for resuming Haitian deportation flights

Haitians displaced by armed gangs from their homes in the Tabarre neighborhood take refuge outside the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, July 25, 2023.
Odelyn Joseph
/
AP
Haitians displaced by armed gangs from their homes in the Tabarre neighborhood take refuge outside the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, July 25, 2023.

The administration repatriated about 50 Haitians on Thursday, authorities said, marking the first deportation flight in several months to the Caribbean nation struggling with surging gang violence.

The Florida Immigration Coalition is blasting the Biden administration for renewing deportation flights of Haitians to their homeland at a time when the Caribbean nation is suffering its worst humanitarian and security crisis in decades.

“This deportation flight is another example of the hypocritical position of the Biden administration towards Haiti,” said Tessa Petit, the Miami-based coalition’s executive director, in a statement on Friday. “Haitians have suffered enough and need humanitarian actions from the Biden administration.”

The administration repatriated about 50 Haitians on Thursday, authorities said, marking the first deportation flight in several months to the Caribbean nation struggling with surging gang violence.

The Homeland Security Department said in a statement that it “will continue to enforce U.S. laws and policy throughout the Florida Straits and the Caribbean region, as well as at the southwest border. U.S. policy is to return noncitizens who do not establish a legal basis to remain in the United States.”

Authorities didn't offer details of the flight beyond how many deported Haitians were aboard.

Thomas Cartwright of Witness at the Border, an advocacy group that tracks flight data, said a plane left Alexandria, Louisiana, a hub for deportation operations, and arrived in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, after a stop in Miami.

Marjorie Dorsaninvil, a U.S. citizen, said her Haitian fiancé, Gerson Joseph, called in tears from the Miami airport Thursday morning to say he was being deported on a flight to Cap-Haitien with other Haitians and some from other countries, including the Bahamas.

He promised to call when he arrived but hadn't done so by early evening.

Joseph lived in the U.S more than 20 years and has a 7-year-old U.S. citizen daughter with another woman. He had a deportation order dating from 2005 after losing an asylum bid that his attorney, Philip Issa, said was a result of poor legal representation at the time. Though Joseph wasn’t deported previously, his lawyer was seeking to have that order overturned.

Joseph was convicted of theft and burglary, and ordered to pay restitution of $270, Issa said. He has been detained since last year.

Dorsaninvil said her fiancé has “nobody” in Haiti. "It is devastating for me. We were planning a wedding and now he is gone,” she said.

More than 33,000 people fled Haiti’s capital in a span of less than two weeks as gangs pillaged homes and attacked state institutions, according to a report last month from the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.

The majority of those displaced traveled to Haiti’s southern region, which is generally peaceful compared with Port-au-Prince, which has an estimated population of 3 million and is largely paralyzed by gang violence.

Haiti’s National Police is understaffed and overwhelmed by gangs with powerful arsenals. Many hospitals ceased operations amid a shortage of medical supplies.

The U.S. operated one deportation flight a month to Haiti from December 2022 through last January, according to Witness at the Border. It said deportation flights were frequent after a camp of 16,000 largely Haitian migrants assembled on the riverbanks of Del Rio, Texas, in September 2021 but became rare as fewer Haitians crossed the border illegally from Mexico.

Haitians were arrested crossing the border from Mexico 286 times during the first three months of the year, less than 0.1% of the more than 400,000 arrests among all nationalities.

More than 150,000 have entered the U.S. legally since January 2023 under presidential powers to grant entry for humanitarian reasons, and many others came legally using an online appointment system at land crossings with Mexico called CBP One.

Homeland Security said Thursday that it was “monitoring the situation” in Haiti." The U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 65 Haitians who were stopped at sea off the Bahamas coast last month.

With Republicans seizing on the issue in an election year, the Biden administration has emphasized enforcement, most notably through a failed attempt at legislation, after record-high border arrests in December.

Arrests for illegal crossings dropped by half in January and have held pretty steady since then after Mexico stepped up enforcement south of the U.S. border. Biden says he is considering executive action to halt asylum at the border during times when illegal crossings reach certain thresholds.

The U.S. is the top destination for Haitian migrants, and Biden's carrot-and-stick approach to immigration — promoting new and expanded legal pathways while discouraging illegal crossings — has largely worked as intended with Haitians, despite critics of his unprecedented use of “parole” authority to grant entry on humanitarian grounds.

About 151,000 Haitians arrived at a U.S. airport after applying online with a financial sponsor through February, an option that is also available to Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans.

Illegal land crossings from Mexico by Haitians plunged as more entered on two-year parole with eligibility to work. Haitians accounted for only 0.02% of 140,000 Border Patrol arrests in February.

The administration also renewed and expanded Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for about 150,000 Haitians under a law that allows people already in the United States to remain if conditions created by natural disaster or civil strife are considered unsafe.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas must decide whether to renew Temporary Protected Status before it expires this year, but he told McClatchy newspapers and the Miami Heraldthat the administration is not considering a renewal or expansion of TPS.

“It’s particularly disappointing to see the Biden administration take this action while people are in despair, said the Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Petit. “It is a loud message that Haitian lives do not matter to this administration.”

“The decision by the Biden administration to deport Haitians is not just cruel; it's a policy contradiction that breaks international norms, human decency, and goes against USCIS very own internal rules of deportation priorities,” added Petit.

In a separate statement issued through the coalition, Nattacha Wyllie, founder and executive director of the Haitian American Art Network, condemned the administration’s actions.

“This deportation shows how disrespectful the administration is towards Haitian migrants," she said. “They removed U.S. citizens out of Haiti because of the deadly crisis, yet the administration decided to start deporting Haitians back.”

“The administration is showing that they do not care about the lives of Haitian immigrants," she said. "To say that this is senseless and inhumane would be an understatement.”

Marleine Bastien, executive director for Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, a leading nonprofits providing legal and social services to Miami's Haitian community, echoed Wyllie and other Haitian-American leaders in South Florida. Bastien is also a member of the Miami-Dade Commission.

"It is unconscionable that, while the U.S. government is evacuating its citizens from Haiti and has a Level 4 Travel Advisory in place to Haiti, the administration is still returning Haitians to Haiti and not extending the planned evacuations to Haitians in Haiti who have been approved by [U.S. immigration officials] to travel to the US."

WLRN News Staff contributed to this story.

Copyright 2024 WLRN. To see more, visit WLRN.

Elliot Spagat | The Associated Press
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