Number of Haitian immigrants attempting to cross into US plummets: report

Number of Haitian immigrants attempting to cross into US plummets: report
© Getty

Land border crossings of Haitians into the United States plummeted in October, as the Biden administration cracked down on migrants from the beleaguered Caribbean nation. 

According to figures reported by The Washington Post, only about 1,000 Haitians were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border in October, compared to 17,638 in September.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) releases border crossing figures monthly, and it has not officially released numbers for October.

ADVERTISEMENT

DHS officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

The dramatic increase of crossings by Haitian nationals in September put the Biden administration on the defensive, as its political foes used the event to paint a picture of chaos at the border.

Biden officials quickly cleared out an encampment of more than 15,000 Haitians that sprung up nearly overnight mid-September in Del Rio, Texas, and then proceeded to quickly expel a majority of those Haitians back to their home country.

A majority of repatriated Haitians have been expelled from the United States under Title 42, a Trump-era border management policy that allows U.S. officials to quickly expel foreign nationals caught at the border due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly half of all Haitian expulsion flights have taken place more than two weeks — the recommended coronavirus quarantine period — since U.S. officials responded to the Del Rio crisis.

Since Sept. 19, the Biden administration has chartered 81 flights through Immigration and Customs Enforcement, repatriating about 8,500 Haitians to a country that the United States advises its own citizens to avoid.

Human rights and migrant advocates have denounced the expulsions, which they say are a heavy-handed attempt to dissuade a migration pattern that has more to do with conditions in Haiti and throughout Latin America than with U.S. immigration enforcement.

Still, some policy analysts say the enforcement is effectively dissuading Haitians.

“The Biden administration has pivoted to a clear, definite position on how it’ll be treating arrival of Haitian migrants,” immigration policy analyst Cris Ramon told the Post.

“By leaning heavily on expulsions, it’s making people think twice.”

But the crisis in Del Rio was an exceptional situation, according to most observers.

"The events that unfolded in Del Rio were a unique set of circumstances," said Tom Ricker, program director at the Quixote Center, a social justice organization that focuses on Haiti. 

Ricker added that September's border crossing numbers for Haitians were a dramatic outlier, as apprehensions of Haitians hit a historical peak of around 6,000 in August.

"A lot of what was driving the numbers in August had to do with the crisis unfolding in southern Mexico," said Ricker. 

In August, Mexico stepped up its own immigration enforcement and the country's National Guard descended on Haitians in the southern city of Tapachula, accelerating or inciting the path of many Haitians to the U.S. border.

But there is relatively little information on who or what prompted the Del Rio incident. 

As thousands of Haitians descended on the relatively unknown and remote border crossing in September, U.S. officials were flummoxed about who coordinated the logistics of busing thousands of people at a time on the Mexican side of the border. 

And Haitian migration patterns have fundamentally changed over the past decade, as many Haitians have fled to South America or ended up waiting for a chance to apply for asylum in Mexican border cities.

ADVERTISEMENT

"When the primary means of leaving Haiti was leaving by boat, Coast Guard interdiction worked," said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

The phenomenon of Haitians fleeing their country, regardless of where they land first, "means there's no effective way of stopping migration anymore," added Forester.

According to a report published last month by the U.N. International Organization for Migration, around 100,000 migrants crossed the Darien Gap in Panama between January and October 2021, 62 percent of whom were Haitian, and 10 percent Chilean- or Brazilian-born descendants of Haitians. 

That's in addition to an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Haitians already in transit in Mexico.

And Haiti experts say the low October numbers are likely temporary, as conditions in the country remain inadequate. 

"If it were livable, if conditions weren't atrocious, Haitians are very proud of their history and would want to stay in Haiti," said Forester, adding that U.S. policy toward the nation is too focused on migration, and not enough on fostering democracy. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Some observers say the Biden administration's extension of temporary protected status (TPS) to nearly 150,000 Haitians in the United States before July 29 could have influenced some migrants' decision to cross the border. 

Biden in August announced an extension of TPS for Haiti, expanding the number of eligible people for protection from around 50,000 to 150,000.

TPS is a program that allows citizens of a designated country to live and work in the United States, while their home country is deemed too dangerous or unstable for those citizens to return.

But many argue the decisions to leave South America were taken long before TPS.

"The people who left Brazil and Chile left long before TPS was announced," said Ricker.

"It's an absurd argument to say that people heard there were jobs and decided they were coming," he added.