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Advocates 'in utter disbelief' after Biden resumes Haitian repatriations

Human rights advocates are enraged at the Biden administration for resuming repatriation flights to Haiti, despite the country's ongoing political, economic and environmental disasters.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday expelled 86 Haitian nationals from the United States and flew them back to Haiti.

"That ICE would continue to carry out the mass deportations of our Haitian neighbors-with Haiti in the midst of its worst political, public health and economic crises yet-is cruel and callous," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

ICE did not return a request for comment, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE's parent agency, confirmed the flight took place.

"We are in utter disbelief that the Biden Administration would deport Haitians now. Hours after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, President Joe Biden released a statement saying that the United States was a 'friend' of Haiti. A 'friend' does not continuously inflict pain on another friend," said Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

"And yet, today, just one month after this devastating earthquake and storm that resulted in the deaths of over 2,200 Haitians, injured 12,000 people, damaged or destroyed 120,000 homes and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, the Administration sent a plane full of families to Haiti under Title 42, including children under the age of three, without offering them legal protection and the opportunity to file for asylum," added Jozef.

Migrants expelled under Title 42 are repatriated to their home countries without the possibility of requesting asylum under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Migrant advocates have called on the Biden administration to end Title 42, a border management policy enacted under the Trump administration, but so far those calls have not been heeded.

Haitians subjected to Title 42 are for the most part people who have recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, and many have spent months traveling through Latin America and waiting for an opportunity to claim asylum at Mexican border cities, mainly Tijuana.

Defenders of Haitian migrants are particularly enraged about the Biden administration's decision to repatriate Haitians, as DHS recently designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that suspends deportations to countries that have been hit by natural or manmade disasters.

"The news of renewed Haitian deportation flights is the type of morally indefensible news we would have expected from the Trump Administration, not the Biden Administration. Given the instability and suffering on the ground in Haiti, the last thing we should be doing is deporting Haitians. These deportation flights should stop, full stop," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice.

Haiti, already racked by instability, is struggling to recover from an earthquake in August and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.

Following a devastating earthquake in 2010, the Obama administration halted deportations to Haiti for more than a year, a consideration that has not been repeated by the Biden administration.

"The Biden Administration must immediately halt all deportations to Haiti, return these individuals to the United States, and abandon the harmful Title 42 order that has been weaponized to deny families their fundamental right to seek asylum. The Biden Administration has a moral obligation to lead with compassion and support those fleeing from the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Haiti," said Pressley.

And advocates are accusing the Biden administration of hypocrisy as it moves forward an ambitious immigration liberalization agenda while cracking down on certain groups of immigrants.

"Earlier this week, the White House produced accolades, tweets, statements of support for the immigrant and undocumented communities ahead of the House Judiciary Markup of legalization language. Yesterday, 86 individuals were deported to Haiti, a short few weeks after a major earthquake there and the assassination of the nation's president," said Patrice S. Lawrence, co-director for the UndocuBlack Network.

"The word 'irony' comes to mind and we collectively question which immigrants the Biden-Harris Administration truly supports. Stop the deportation flights now and immediately stand up parole and relief programs for all Haitians fleeing into the United States," added Lawrence.

Although the TPS designation tripled the number of Haitians in the United States eligible for protection from deportation, potentially benefiting around 150,000 people, potentially tens of thousands remain in Mexico or have recently crossed the border after the eligibility date for TPS benefits.

And it's unclear how U.S. officials make the distinction between who to process under Title 42 rather than the regular, nonpandemic process, which allows foreign nationals to apply for asylum once they've reached the United States.

One factor that does play into that decision is the foreign national's country of origin.

While migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador can be returned to Mexico, where they can apply for asylum at U.S. ports of entry, Mexican authorities will not accept the return of nationals of other countries.

In that sense, it's Mexican government policy that's dictating who is allowed to apply for asylum in the United States and who is subjected to Title 42 expulsions.

"Title 42 is a public health authority and not a migration management tool," said Eleanor Acer, director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights first.

"And it's not an effective migration management tool," added Acer.

Advocates say the implementation of Title 42 for Haitian migrants shows cruelty on one hand and a double standard on the other.

"Beyond the injustice of continuing to deport immigrants, and Black immigrants in particular, under a system that is fundamentally unjust and stacked against people of color, deporting 86 people to Haiti when the U.S. government itself has acknowledged the danger and instability of the situation there boggles the mind," said Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

Last month, 433 groups called on the Biden administration to halt deportations to Haiti, given conditions in the country.

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