Haitian-Americans and Allies Unite to Protest Biden's Border Crisis

  • Posted on: 23 September 2021
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Charges of racism swirl as Haitian Americans, allies unite to protest Biden’s border crisis

By Tim Craig, Sean Sullivan and Silvia Foster-Frau

September 23, 2021

MIAMI — The viral images of border agents on horseback rounding up migrants on the Texas line over the weekend triggered disturbing memories for Marleine Bastien. As an immigrant from Haiti in the early 1980s, she had watched similar encounters with law enforcement at the Miami federal detention center, where she protested fellow Haitian immigrants being locked up or deported while Cuban refugees were released. Miami police would show up “on big horses trying to trample” demonstrators to break up the crowds. Now, 40 years later, “history is repeating itself,” she said.

Uproar over treatment of thousands of Haitian immigrants who have encamped at the U.S.-Mexico border is echoing from the streets of U.S. cities to the halls of the Capitol as people mobilize over what they believe is a racist and unequal U.S. immigration system. While the outcry was sparked by the current border crisis, it is a culmination of years of frustration over what is perceived as harsher treatment and extra hurdles faced by Black immigrants coming to the United States vs. lighter-skinned counterparts.  “This is cruel, un-American and inarticulable,” said Bastien, executive director of the Miami-based Family Action Network Movement, which advocates for immigrant causes. “I am getting so many calls from people asking why? What have Haitians ever done to America? All we have done is try to help America, and we are treated like this?”

Why are there thousands of Haitian migrants at the Texas border?  On Tuesday, about 200 Haitian Americans shut down a major thoroughfare in Miami as they demonstrated in front of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services field office. Demonstrators held signs that read “End Racism at the Border” and “Treat All the People the Same” while chanting “Let them breathe,” an effort to link the squalid conditions migrants are facing to George Floyd’s infamous final words before he was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year. Nana Gyamfi, the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants and executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), has long spoken out about what she called “two levels of discrimination” — for being immigrants, and for being Black.  “Black migrants are disproportionately being criminalized just as African Americans are because of their Blackness,” Gyamfi said. “Our Blackness leads us to be racially profiled and puts us in the police-to-deportation pipeline.” She said the proof that the handling of the Haitian asylum seekers — from being charged at by Border Patrol agents on horseback to their mass deportations, many in shackles — is a product of anti-Black racism is clear in the comparison with how Afghan refugees have been received in recent weeks.  “One group is being met with food, cheers, places to live, etc. — which is what welcoming looks like. And the other group is being met with cowboys with leather straps or ropes and detention by force,” Gyamfi said.

For decades, many Haitian Americans say, they have felt that Black asylum seekers have not been granted the same chance as other groups, a feeling that has only intensified in recent weeks amid bipartisan calls for the United States to admit more refugees from Afghanistan. Many in the Haitian American community also blame U.S. foreign policy for spurring Haiti’s humanitarian crisis, saying successive administrations have failed to nurture stable Haitian governments willing to embrace human rights and fight corruption, poverty and criminal gangs.

Civil rights leaders said they are appalled — not only by the rough treatment of Haitian migrants by U.S. border agents, which they say harks back to dark times in U.S. history, but by the administration's continued efforts to use a public health order to deport them during a pandemic. In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding race, a trio of White House officials — all of whom are Black — met with nine members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday to talk about the situation in Del Rio, Tex., where the migrants have gathered.

In an interview after the White House meeting, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said she urged the officials to halt deportations of Haitian migrants. “We know the administration heard us and, in fact, they understand these issues very well,” she said. In addition to protests, Bastien and other activists say the level of anger within the Haitian American community is so intense that some residents have been marching into county offices to sever their affiliation with affiliation with the Democratic Party and registering as independents. Bastien said her own brother, who also lives in Miami, told her Tuesday that he plans to leave the Democratic Party this week. “The betrayal is deep, and this week has shown that the Democratic Party, and its leader Joe Biden, does not care about Black people,” said Leonie Hermantin, an activist who works with the Haitian Neighborhood Center in Miami, where many refugees initially go for services when they arrive in South Florida. “Black lives do matter, even at the border.”

Fewer than 5,000 migrants remained in the Del Rio camp Wednesday, down from a peak of more than 15,000, according to Department of Homeland Security officials. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday the that camp would be emptied within 10 days, but department officials have not said how many migrants they plan to send back to Haiti and how many are likely to be released into the United States and afforded a chance to seek humanitarian protection under U.S. law. Authorities sent three more planeloads of returnees to Haiti on Wednesday and have sent 12 since the Biden administration announced it would ramp up the return flights, part of an effort to deter more border-crossers from coming.

Haitians make up one of the largest Caribbean immigrant populations in the United States, after Cubans, Dominicans and Jamaicans, according to census data. And roughly two-thirds of the Haitian immigrant community is concentrated in Florida — where a neighborhood of Miami has long been known as Little Haiti — and in New York. Nearly a quarter-million live in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area. The Haitian immigrant community in the United States grew in just under four decades from 92,000 in 1980 to 687,000 in 2018, according to an analysis of census data by the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration think tank. Immigration experts say the current flow represents one of the largest waves of Haitian migrants to the United States since the 1990s, fueled by a mix of desperate circumstances, economic pressures and U.S. policy.

Haiti has been plagued by decades of political upheaval, exacerbated by natural disasters and epidemics. And remittances sent home by the Haitian diaspora makes up more than a third of the country’s gross domestic product. The brutal, three-decade-long dictatorship of the Duvaliers fueled some of the first major waves of Haitian refugees and migrants to the United States. The 2010 earthquake also devastated the island nation, killing hundreds of thousands of people and displacing 1.5 million, and prompted the U.S. government to extend temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians, thereby temporarily shielding undocumented Haitian immigrants from deportation. Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended TPS benefits by 15 months to Haitians, Nicaraguans and Hondurans in the United States, which immigration analysts say might have also spurred false hopes among newly arriving migrants they would be granted leniency to stay.

BAJI, which was formed to address the intersection of racial justice and immigration rights, has sent a letter to the Biden administration with other Black leaders demanding that the Haitians be granted humanitarian parole or asylum. Gyamfi, the BAJI executive director, said they’re also demanding that the administration incorporate the racial equity executive order it signed on Biden’s first day in office into immigration policy. “There’s this tendency to marginalize those people who don’t have big numbers,” she said of the Black immigrant population. “But as the experience of African Americans teach us, you don’t have to have big numbers to have big impact, and you don’t have to have big numbers to deserve to be free.”

In Miami, Haitian Americans say they have felt especially marginalized compared with Cuban Americans, who for generations have been had a faster path to American residency. Haitian Americans say that disparate treatment has allowed Cuban Americans in South Florida to more quickly accumulate wealth and political power.  “In the ’70s and ’80s, there were both Cubans and Haitians arriving [in Florida] at the same time by boat, and they were treated very differently,” said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University School of Law. “Haitians were denied asylum, while Cubans were granted green cards. . . . The fact Cubans were not Black made it stark.”

The policy affected a “huge decline” in the number of Haitians reaching the United States, he said. In 1981, there were about 1,000 Haitians arriving per month, he said. By 1982, the monthly arrivals had dropped to below 200. “All we are asking for is due process,” said Santra Denis, 36, founder of Avanse Ansam, a Miami-based group of millennial South Florida Haitian Americans. “We know that is the case for some, but for us, that has never felt like the case.”

Nick Miroff and Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report.

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The New York Times
By Lara Jakes
Sept. 23, 2021

A senior American diplomat who oversees Haiti policy has resigned, two U.S. officials said, submitting a letter to the State Department that excoriated the Biden administration’s “inhumane, counterproductive decision” to send Haitian migrants back to a country that has been wracked this summer by a deadly earthquake and political turmoil.

The diplomat, Daniel Foote, was appointed special envoy to Haiti in July, just weeks after President Jovenel Moïse was shot in his bedroom during a nighttime raid on his residence. Mr. Foote, a former ambassador to Zambia and acting assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, did not respond to messages for comment on Thursday morning.

In his stinging resignation letter, dated Wednesday, Mr. Foote criticized the Biden administration for deporting some of the thousands of the Haitian migrants who had traveled to the Texas border from Mexico and Central America in recent days.

“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life,” Mr. Foote wrote in the letter, which was first reported by PBS NewsHour. Its authenticity was confirmed by a senior State Department official and a congressional official.

Mr. Foote also blasted a “cycle of international political interventions in Haiti” that “has consistently produced catastrophic results,” and he warned that the number of  migrants to American borders “will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”

In May, the Biden administration extended temporary protected status for 150,000 Haitians already living in the United States. But tens of thousands more Haitians have attempted to cross into the United States since then despite not qualifying for the program.

Mr. Foote was said to have pushed for greater oversight and responsibilities in his job as envoy to Haiti, efforts that were rejected by senior State Department officials.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Foote confirmed that “my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed.”

“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed,” he wrote.

The rise in Haitian migration began in the months after President Biden took office and quickly began reversing former President Donald J. Trump’s strictest immigration policies, which was interpreted by many as a sign that the United States would be more welcoming to migrants.

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The U.S. Border Patrol said that more than 9,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, were being held in a temporary staging area under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas as agents worked as quickly as they could to process them.

This week, about 300 Haitians were deported back to Haiti — the first among some 14,000 migrants who authorities in the country expect to be returned over the next month. Haitian officials have pleaded with the United States to grant a “humanitarian moratorium,” amid widespread instability.

But the Biden administration, facing the highest level of border crossings in decades, has enforced policies intended to slow the entry of migrants. On Monday, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said newly-arrived Haitians would not be covered by a temporary residence order that protects those who had entered the United States before July 29.

“We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open or that temporary protected status is available,” Mr. Mayorkas said during a news conference on Monday in Del Rio, Texas. “I want to make sure that it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States.”

Officials at Haiti’s Embassy in Washington did not respond to messages for comment Thursday morning.

Lara Jakes is a diplomatic correspondent based in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. Over the past two decades, Ms. Jakes has reported and edited from more than 40 countries and covered war and sectarian fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, the West Bank and Northern Ireland.

New York Times

By Edgar Sandoval, Simon Romero and Miriam Jordan

Sept. 23, 2021

SAN ANTONIO — In Houston, nearly 2,000 Haitian migrants have arrived this week from the small border community of Del Rio, with buses pulling up to a huge shelter nearly every hour. In San Antonio, hundreds more have been allowed by the U.S. authorities onto flights to destinations as far away as New York, Boston and Miami, paperwork in their pockets permitting them to remain in the country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has deported about 2,000 migrants in recent days on chartered flights to Haiti as the Biden administration tries to deter more people from rushing to the border. But the authorities have also permitted thousands more to travel to cities across America, where they may live for months or years as they await immigration hearings.

“We are so happy to be in America,” said Inso Isaac, 40, who left Haiti years ago and was living in Chile until he, his wife and their 2-year-old son made the dangerous journey across several countries and arrived last week in Del Rio. On Wednesday, the family boarded a flight to New York, where they planned to stay with relatives on Long Island. “We want to start a new life here,” he said.

A chance to settle in the United States, however slim, has driven the latest surge, compelling more than 14,000 migrants to wade across the Rio Grande and into Del Rio over the past week, where they have encountered armed National Guard troops and Border Patrol agents on horseback. On Thursday, about 3,100 remained huddled in squalid conditions under the international bridge that connects Del Rio to Mexico, circumstances that have prompted outrage from both Republicans and Democrats.

Images of the agents on horseback rounding up migrants and of dozens of state police vehicles blocking entrance across the river have fueled criticism from Democratic lawmakers and administration officials that the Haitians are being treated inhumanely. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said the horse patrol unit in Del Rio had been temporarily suspended and that the agents’ actions were being investigated. The U.S. special envoy to Haiti has also resigned in protest of mass deportations, two officials said, and sent a blistering letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.

“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life,” Daniel Foote, who was appointed to the position in July, wrote in a letter dated Wednesday.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Thursday that officials had aimed to rapidly turn away single adults and migrant families. But some groups, including pregnant women and families with young children, have been allowed to remain in the United States because some countries accepting the deportees will not accept migrant families with young, vulnerable children.

Ms. Psaki said that the White House had been “horrified” by the images of the agents on horses rounding up migrants and that Mr. Biden, whose administration has faced the highest level of border crossings in decades, was working to develop a “humane” immigration system.

Still, criticism from immigration advocates continued building on Thursday over the decisions as to who could stay and who could not. More than two in three Haitian migrants who have been expelled from the border and returned to Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, are women and children, according to initial estimates from UNICEF. Meanwhile, conservatives criticized the Biden administration for admitting so many others.

It was unclear on Thursday how many Haitians had been deported as opposed to being allowed to enter the country and await asylum hearings. All told, nearly 2,000 Haitians had been returned to Haiti by late Thursday, about 40 percent of them family units, according to a Department of Homeland Security official. Resettlement groups said they were aware of about a roughly equal number from Del Rio who had been given permission to stay in the country.

Under President Donald J. Trump, the asylum system was essentially brought to a halt, as almost no migrants were allowed to enter the country while their claims for protection were heard; instead, they were required to remain in Mexico, often settling in decrepit camps near the border. By contrast, the Biden administration has allowed more to enter, and remain in, the United States while their asylum cases unfold.

But because the immigration courts are severely backed up, the process can take several years, allowing people to effectively settle in the United States. If they lose their cases or do not attend their court hearings and remain in the country illegally, they would be joining millions of undocumented immigrants already living in the shadows.

At the San Antonio airport on Wednesday evening, a number of Haitian families who had been in Del Rio waited to board planes to various American cities. Mr. Isaac, holding a paper that instructed him to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office within 15 days of arriving in New York, said he would need to find a lawyer. But that felt like an easy task after spending $12,000 and several weeks traversing South and Central America by foot and bus and swimming in dirty rivers.

Nearby, Israel Fleurios, 31, and Widna Azema, 35, waited for a flight to Miami, where they planned to stay with an aunt of Mr. Fleurios’s. The couple fled Haiti five years ago and had spent several years in Brazil before making the journey to Del Rio, an unlikely spot for Haitian migrants but a border crossing that they had heard was accessible.

Ms. Azema was pregnant when they left Brazil, and she gave birth to a daughter, Bruna, in Guatemala, and carried her the rest of the distance to Texas. The couple has another daughter, Valentina, 3, who has a skeletal disorder that prevents her from walking upright.

“I think they let me through because they saw how bad she was,” Ms. Azema said of the border authorities’ reaction to Valentina’s condition. “Everybody with children like us were allowed to get through. We are appreciative.”

In a corner of the airport, many other Haitian migrants sat anxiously with their few belongings. Duperval Marie Ange, 42, watched her 5-year-old son, Mike, run around the terminal while they waited to board a flight to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Like the others, she had spent a grueling week under the International Bridge in Del Rio. She had cringed when she saw images of the agents on horses chasing migrants. The photos were troubling, she said in broken Spanish she had learned while living in Chile, but they also made her grateful to have been allowed into the United States.

“I cannot say anything bad,” she said. “La policia me ayudo. The police helped us. They gave us food. They let us cross. We are here.”

In Houston, hundred of Haitians were taken in at shelters. At one site, about 300 people were arriving every day this week, said Carlos Villarreal, an elder with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates that shelter. His shelter was only receiving families, he said, and many of them included children or pregnant women.

“At least 25 percent of the families include pregnant women,” Mr. Villarreal said. “Some of them have been traveling for weeks from South America in extremely challenging conditions.”

Families are tested for Covid-19 upon arriving at the Houston shelter and are then given food, water and a change of underwear, in addition to access to showers and beds.

“Some of our families have been traveling for weeks, not bathing, not eating properly, without access to feminine hygiene products,” Mr. Villarreal said.

From Houston, many of the families, who typically stay less than 24 hours at Mr. Villarreal’s shelter, then travel to places around the United States where their relatives are living. The relatives are expected to pay for the airfare, but volunteers have mobilized to do so if that isn’t possible.

Mr. Isaac, his young son in his arms, left Haiti in 2017, fleeing what he said was a never-ending cycle of violence, poverty and natural disasters. In Chile, he met his wife, and they had a son, Hans, who was burned in an accident and requires medical attention. There, he worked in construction, hotels and restaurants, and he said he planned to look for similar jobs in New York.

He and his wife had not planned it this way, but Hans celebrated his second birthday on Wednesday — in an American airport that was their near the end of what had been a very long journey.

“I felt bad, because we all came here for the same reasons,” he said of the many Haitian migrants he met in Del Rio. “I knew not everyone was going to make it through. We were lucky.”

James Dobbins contributed reporting from Del Rio, and Eileen Sullivan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington.

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of the U.S. secretary of state. He is Antony J. Blinken, not Anthony J. Blinken.

Edgar Sandoval is a reporter with the National desk, where he writes about South Texas people and places. Previously he was a newspaper reporter in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania and Florida. He is the author of “The New Face of Small Town America.” @edjsandoval

Simon Romero is a national correspondent based in Albuquerque, covering immigration and other issues. He was previously the bureau chief in Brazil and in Caracas, Venezuela, and reported on the global energy industry from Houston. @viaSimonRomero

Miriam Jordan is a national correspondent who reports on the impact of immigration on the society, culture and economy of the United States. Before joining The Times, she covered immigration at the Wall Street Journal and was a correspondent in Brazil, India, Hong Kong and Israel. @mirjordan

24 September 2021

Mayorkas says 8,000 of 15,000 people have returned to Mexico while 5,000 are being processed by US officials

Richard Luscombe

The last of up to 15,000 Haitian migrants have been cleared from their encampment underneath and near a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, the US homeland security secretary announced on Friday, ending one stage of a damaging episode for the Biden administration.

Repercussions continued at the end of a week that brought “horrifying” images of migrants being rounded up by border agents on horseback, and others of pregnant women and children without food or water in blazing desert heat.

“As of this morning, there are no longer any migrants at the camp underneath the Del Rio international bridge,” Alejandro Mayorkas said at a White House briefing, confirming that 2,000 migrants had been “repatriated” to Haiti on 17 flights.

About 8,000 had voluntarily returned to Mexico, he said, and about 5,000 were being processed by homeland security agents.

“Some have been returned to Haiti, indeed,” Mayorkas said. “Others have been moved to different processing facilities along the border in light of operational capacity. And then many of them will be returned to Haiti from there.

“If any of the exceptions apply they will not be returned to Haiti but placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. Some of them are detained, some of them are placed on alternatives to detention. We remain in touch with them, we monitor them to ensure their appearance in court at the designated time.”

The administration has faced blistering criticism for its handling of the crisis, from Republicans and Democrats including Julián Castro, a former presidential candidate and housing secretary under Barack Obama.

He told the Guardian in an interview he was “baffled” why Biden had said little about “images of Haitians being treated like animals”.

Castro said Biden risked the collapse of the coalition that helped to elect him if he didn’t live up to his campaign promise of “compassion and common sense” in immigration.

Mayorkas promised an investigation into conditions in Del Rio and treatment of those who were there.

“In the midst of meeting these challenges, we, our entire nation, saw horrifying images that do not reflect who we are, who we aspire to be, or the integrity and values of our truly heroic personnel in the Department of Homeland Security,” Mayorkas said.

“We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism.”

In response to a question about the scale of the inquiry, Mayorkas promised it would be far-reaching and probably uncomfortable, but said his department would have no problem making its findings public.

“I know how to maintain the integrity of an investigation, and this investigation will have integrity,” he said.

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