Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden’s immigration woes
The growing group of Haitians massing under a bridge in Texas under increasingly squalid conditions is worsening President Biden’s political headache over immigration.
Images of thousands of people camping under a highway overpass have reopened a favorite Republican line of attack against Biden, with Texas GOP officials blaming the president for the rise in Haitian migration.
The Hill on Thursday reported that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plane carrying 86 Haitians landed Wednesday in the ravaged Caribbean nation, which saw its president assassinated in July and suffered a devastating earthquake in August.
Eight further ICE flights scheduled to go to Haiti next week, according to a report by NBC News.
The Border Patrol on Thursday confirmed it would seek the quick expulsion of “the vast majority of single adults and many families” camping under the Del Rio, Texas, bridge.
That drew swift condemnation from immigrant advocates, who were shocked the Biden administration would return people to a country so mired in crisis.
On Friday, Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) led 56 House Democrats in a letter demanding the administration suspend all expulsion and deportation flights to Haiti.
“The Biden Administration cannot claim it is doing everything it can to support the Haitian community while continuing to unjustly deport Haitians as the island weathers its worst political, public health and economic crises yet,” said Pressley.
Republicans have reveled in publicizing conditions in Del Rio as evidence of a failed Biden border policy.
The twin lines of attack from liberals upset about the deportations and Republicans calling for tougher measures have seemingly put Biden between a rock and a hard place at a time when regional migration flows have become unpredictable.
In August, migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador accounted for 147,403 land encounters with U.S. border authorities at the southern border, while nationals of other countries accounted for 61,484.
While most migrants attempting to cross the border without prior authorization are still either Mexican or Central American, migrants from the rest of the world last month outnumbered those from any single country.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not break down the citizenship numbers for people from other countries, but two of the largest components of that group are Haitian and Venezuelan citizens.
Haitian immigration is particularly politically sensitive for the Biden administration, as advocates place some blame for conditions in Haiti on U.S. policy toward the country, particularly during the Obama administration.
“Conditions — and therefore migration from — Haiti is inextricably linked to the elephant in the room, i.e. U.S. foreign policy, which for well over a decade has proactively and recklessly … supported corrupt, anti-democratic leaders instead of civil society, resulting in institutional dysfunction and collapse,” said Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.
Many advocates for Haitian immigrants trace the country’s current political disarray back to the Obama administration’s support for former President Michel Martelly.
Martelly, who in 2011 was the first Haitian president sworn in in a peaceful transfer of power to an opposition party, left political chaos upon his resignation in 2016, designating Jovenel Moïse as his party’s candidate to succeed him.
Moïse became president after a short interim government, but his government descended into chaos amid controversy over when his term should end.
The controversy remained unresolved when Moïse was assassinated in July.
Still, the Biden administration reportedly plans to amp up deportations and expulsions to Haiti, primarily using the Trump-era Title 42 policy, which allows immigration officials to expel foreign nationals without hearing asylum claims under the guise of sanitary protections.
The Biden administration on Friday appealed a federal court’s decision to exempt family units from Title 42.
That’s left advocates and Haitian community leaders doubly frustrated, both because the Biden administration is apparently turning a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis on the island, and because few, if any, steps have been taken to publicly support the country’s robust civil society organizations.
“Meanwhile, in the wings, ready with a serious, competent alternative for Haiti, is the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, an organization of grassroots groups and various sectors of civil society committed to honest governance and real democratic elections, who began working together to deal with Haiti’s dysfunction many months before the assassination. The congressional Haiti caucus in the U.S. supports them, as do many responsible and involved Haitians in the diaspora,” wrote Amy Wilentz in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.
Wilentz is a journalist who’s written extensively about Haiti’s political progression since the ousting of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986.
Still, the crisis in Del Rio is attracting national attention, and feeding the narrative that Biden’s immigration policies have had a magnet effect for Haitian migrants.
But experts say the current concentration of Haitians in Del Rio has been years in the making, and sparked more by restrictionist turns in U.S. and Mexican immigration policy than by Biden’s relative liberalization in certain areas of immigration.
While a census of the migrants in Del Rio is still pending, most are believed to have left Haiti before 2021, and some have potentially spent years in Mexico, especially in Tijuana, more than 1,000 miles west of Del Rio.
In parts of Mexico’s northern border, interactions between Haitian migrants and Mexican authorities have increased, leading many migrants to fear potential deportation from Mexico.
“There are lots of different ways that Haitians in Mexico are being threatened with deportation,” said Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.
And a humanitarian parole process that allowed some Haitians a tenuous shot at temporary legal status ended in August, prompting many Haitians to risk crossing the border to claim asylum on U.S. soil
“A lot of these folks in Del Rio came from other parts of the border where they had been waiting patiently to be allowed lawful entry into the U.S. under the process that sometimes took months and months, but at least there was a chance and now there’s no chance offered,” said Phillips.
And many of those migrants could have qualified for temporary protected status a humanitarian deportation deferral program that Biden expanded for Haiti in August, had they crossed the border before the cut-off date of July 29.
“The increase in asylum claims at this one border crossing is partly a result of our closed borders to migrants who are being apprehended and turned around in large numbers but are not offered safe alternatives to petition for asylum at U.S. ports of entry,” said Douglas Rivlin, director of communication at America’s Voice.
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