Biden accused of breaking campaign promises as Haiti deportations resume
Haitian migrants deported from the US pick up their luggage at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Thousands of Haitian migrants have been arriving to Del Rio, Texas, to ask for asylum in the U.S., as authorities begin to deported them to back to Haiti which is in a worse shape than when they left. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Biden administration’s efforts to address a sudden spike of migration in Del Rio, Texas by sending hundreds of Haitians back to their home country has sparked anger from activists and some Democrats, as officials struggle to keep a political and humanitarian crisis from spiraling beyond the White House’s control.

The Department of Homeland Security placed 327 people on flights to Haiti Sunday, with up to seven flights per day expected by midweek. More than 12,000 migrants remained under the Del Rio International Bridge, as Customs and Border Protection surged additional staff to the sector to assist with processing and transported thousands of people to be detained in other cities.

“At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate, but some people are going to be deported and for many of the Haitian people who are here today, that may happen sooner than later,” said Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Del Rio.

DHS outlined several steps Saturday intended to reduce the strain on Border Patrol staff and “to ensure that irregular migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed, and removed from the United States.” Most detainees are expected to be expelled under Title 42, the public health authority the federal government has used to expedite deportations without considering asylum claims since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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“We have sent a very clear message early on in light of the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic that the border is not open, and people should not take the perilous journey here,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who traveled to Del Rio Monday, said in an interview with CNN. “We are returning people to other countries.”

A Border Patrol official said Sunday new crossings appeared to have slowed, and authorities hoped to have most of the migrants under the bridge either deported or transferred to detention facilities by the end of the week. Mexico has also stepped up border enforcement and deportations, but the U.S. response has already stirred controversy.

“The Biden administration needs to act according to campaign promises to welcome with dignity, to restore meaningful asylum protection, and to fight racism on all levels,” said Lindsay Harris, director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia.

Haitians interviewed by reporters upon their arrival in Port-au-Prince Sunday expressed shock and dismay at having been sent back, as well as fear and confusion about what to do next. Many said they had left the country years ago after a devastating 2010 earthquake and no longer had homes or other resources available to them there.

Some who had resettled in Chile in recent years recounted traveling north after hearing the Biden administration would allow Haitians into the country. U.S. officials say the deportations are necessary to counter that erroneous impression before thousands of additional migrants arrive at the border.

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Critics have blamed the influx of Haitian migrants in Del Rio partly on a recent DHS decision not to remove several hundred migrants who were set to be expelled under Title 42. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, told KFOX that move sent a signal to Haitians in Central America that they would be welcomed into America.

"This kind of chaos is not good for anybody," Ron Vitiello, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said on Fox News Monday. "It's not good for our cities and towns and homeland, and it's not good for the border community."

It remains to be seen if the deportations will dissuade more Haitian migrants from crossing the border in Del Rio, but the decision angered progressives. As word spread Friday that the White House was resuming flights to Haiti, more than 50 House Democrats signed a letter urging the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to halt all deportations to the crisis-stricken country.

“We have a moral obligation to lead with compassion,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “I’m calling on the Biden Administration to immediately halt the deportations of our Haitian neighbors and work with us to support the Haitian diaspora.”

Human rights organizations also raised concerns about dropping hundreds of desperate people in a country plagued by violence and instability without first giving them a chance to pursue legal asylum claims. Immigrant advocacy group America’s Voice called the flights “unconscionable.”

“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,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, in a statement.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration had extended temporary protected status to many undocumented Haitians already in the U.S. due to security concerns, poverty, and unrest – and that was before the country’s president was assassinated and 2,200 people were killed in an earthquake. Still, Mayorkas maintained Sunday that the earthquake damage was “geographically limited” and DHS had determined other conditions were stable enough to send people back.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic. We have been exercising this Centers for Disease Controls Title 42 authority for quite some time now,” Mayorkas told CNN. “It is a public health authority, not only to protect the American public, not only to protect the communities along the border, but also to protect the migrants themselves.”

A federal judge ruled last week the federal government could no longer rely on Title 42 to expel migrant families, but DHS said Friday it would appeal that decision. Since the policy was first imposed under former President Donald Trump, critics have alleged it is a thinly veiled immigration control measure that violates migrants’ right to pursue legitimate asylum claims.

“The use of Title 42 and not providing any process for the asylum seekers from Haiti or any other country to seek asylum is contrary to both domestic and international law,” Harris said.

In addition to legal concerns, Harris also questioned whether deportations to Haiti will accomplish the White House’s goal of reducing migration. The use of Title 42 has not discouraged Central Americans from crossing the border in large numbers since January, and many will likely still choose to take a chance on reaching the U.S. rather than remaining in countries besieged by crime, corruption, and natural disasters.

“Where the option is to remain in a situation where lives are in danger, migrants will choose to flee even if there is a risk of deportation,” she said. “Human beings, by nature, will flee from a burning house.”

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