Story at a glance

  • The Trump administration deported more than 200,000 immigrants in 2020.
  • In recent months, the federal government has increased deportations of Haitians, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
  • The Guardian reported that one man who is being deported is not actually a Haitian citizen.

On President Trump’s last full day in office, his administration is reportedly deporting the child of U.S. citizens to a country he’s never been to before. 

Paul Pierrilus is a 40-year-old financial consultant from Rockland County, N.Y., who was seized by immigration officials on a routine visit to an immigration office. Although he’s Haitian by way of his parents, who are now American citizens, he has lived in the United States since he was 5. 


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“He went there for the appointment and while he was there, he was detained, and he was informed that they have documents stating that he’s a Haitian citizen,” his sister Neomie Pierrilus told The Guardian, which obtained a birth certificate supplied by his family that showed he was born in the French Caribbean territory of Saint Martin. “We don’t really understand how documents were obtained to say that my brother was a citizen of Haiti. My brother has never even been to Haiti. He has the bare minimum of the language, he doesn’t know the culture, he doesn’t know anyone there. So my brother cannot go there.”

Watchdog groups have tracked an increase in deportation flights to Haiti in recent months, as well as several African countries, leading activists to believe that the Trump administration is targeting black migrants. After he was detained on Jan. 11, Pierrilus reportedly told his family he was being transferred to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holding facility in Alexandria, La. ICE would not confirm the flight details, but a spokesperson told The Guardian that "it’s not uncommon for removal flights to stop in multiple locations.”

In the last year, ICE conducted 185,884 "removals" and assisted Customs and Border Protection with 17,000 air charter expulsions, noting that that number may have been higher were it not for the fact that many were simply turned away at the border “to prevent the introduction of [COVID-19].” The department also noted increased deportations to previously "non-cooperative" countries, including Haiti, where instability following the 2010 earthquake has fueled a recent increase in migrations.


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The Trump administration has cited a section of the public health and welfare statute that allows for the "suspension of entries and imports from designated places to prevent spread of communicable diseases" in its deportations since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. But legal critics argue the policy violates constitutional refugee protection obligations and that border detention conditions create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] CDC tries to do so by creating a regime that bars 'introduction' instead of denying admission, that 'expels' and 'moves' instead of deporting and removing, that invokes public health dangers arising from CBP’s own logistical choices, and that returns refugees to persecution on the ground that it is only 'suspending' their introduction. This regime cannot be reconciled with our history, our laws, or the Constitution," wrote Lucas Guttentag, a former senior advisor to the Obama administration, in an essay refuting their reasoning. 

Meanwhile, these return flights pose a potential risk of coronavirus spread to Haiti and other countries, although detainees are supposed to be socially distanced and tested.   

“Since the start of the pandemic, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has taken significant measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, including screening for symptoms and increased testing for many of those scheduled for removal,” said the agency in a statement to The Guardian. “The health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities.”  

On the other end, Haiti has little to no resources to offer those who are returning. 

“There’s so much chaos and disorder in Haiti right now that there’s no infrastructure, economically or socially for reintegration of these families that are coming back in,” Nicole Phillips, the Haitian Bridge Alliance’s legal director, told The Guardian. 


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Published on Jan 19, 2021