Immigration / Refugees

Protesters Demand Asylum for Haitian Refugees

See also editorial, “Open the Doors to Haitian Refugees! Asylum, not Deportations.”

By Argiris Malapanis

September 26, 2021— “Let them in! Let them in!” chanted protesters on September 22 in Miami, Florida, demanding asylum for Haitian refugees. Nearly 30,000 Haitians recently flocked to the United States by crossing the Rio Grande and seeking shelter under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas.

“Joe Biden nou fache,” they chanted in Creole, according to the Miami Herald. “Joe Biden le nou fache nou pa jwe,” which roughly translates to “Joe Biden we’re angry. Joe Biden when we’re angry we don’t play.”

About 200 demonstrators took to the streets outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Miami field office, blocking parts of Northwest Seventh Avenue near Little River Drive, the Herald reported.

The Family Action Network Movement (FAMN), an organization based in Miami’s Little Haiti, called the action. It urged people to protest “the illegal expulsions of Haitian refugees and grave human rights abuses in Del Rio, Texas.”

“This is really unspeakable and unacceptable,” said Marleine Bastien, FANM’s executive director, according to the Herald. “The Black Haitian refugees are being singled out because of their race.”

‘You promised and you lied!’

“We are here to fight the deportation of Haitians, our sisters and brothers seeking asylum,” Firmante Peters, a demonstrator, told the media, according to a video of the protest by José Iglesias posted on the Herald’s website. “This is something we can’t hide. The Biden administration promised that, and it’s not keeping its promise. Stop the deportations of Haitians, now! You promised, and you lied!”

Firmante Peters, left, and Santcha Etienne chant slogans on September 22 in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district office at 8801 NW 7th Ave in Miami, as members of the Haitian community protest the Biden administration’s handling of Haitian refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo: José Iglesias / Miami Herald)

On May 21, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians already living in the U.S. Under TPS, people from abroad are allowed to temporarily live and work in the United States if U.S. authorities determine that conditions in their country of origin are too dangerous to return.

Haiti, a nation of nearly 12 million people in the Caribbean with the most severe conditions of poverty and underdevelopment in the western hemisphere, is going through another serious humanitarian crisis.

In the last two months since the assassination of the country’s President Jovenel Moïse, more than 2,000 Haitians have died and many more have been injured and displaced in the aftermath of an earthquake and flash floods. That has only added to the toll that hunger, disease, and increasing violence—all the product of the country’s super-exploitation by Washington and other imperialist powers—already exact on the impoverished island nation.

Haiti has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world, according to the United Nations. The UN estimates that 4.4 million Haitians—nearly 40% of the population—need immediate food assistance. Among them, 1.2 million suffer from severe hunger. Over 1 million people are classified as facing an emergency. The U.S. and other wealthy countries should be providing massive unconditional aid to Haiti now, rather than exacerbating the country’s social ills by forcing refugees back to the horrors they tried to escape from.

When extending TPS to Haitians in May, the Department of Homeland Security said it did so “due to extraordinary and temporary conditions in Haiti that prevent nationals from returning safely, specifically, a political crisis and human rights abuses; serious security concerns; and the COVID-19 pandemic’s exacerbation of a dire economic situation and lack of access to food, water, and healthcare.” That declaration added, “The persistent effects of the 2010 earthquake have also exacerbated the severity of the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Haiti currently.” It concluded, “The designation of Haiti for TPS also is not contrary to the national interest of the United States.”

The Biden administration, however, has stubbornly opposed calls from advocates for Haitian refugees in South Florida and elsewhere to stop the deportations of Haitians from the border. The White House has instead invoked U.S. Code Title 42—a policy instituted by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trumpthat allows federal agents to quickly expel most refugees or immigrants to Mexico or their home countries without a chance to apply for asylum. Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, charged with leading the administration’s immigration policy, claim this is justified as a “public health measure” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, just as Trump did.

After a federal judge blocked these mass expulsions under Title 42, on September 16, the White House immediately appealed the decision. The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals quickly stayed the judge’s injunction, giving Biden a green light to continue using the Trump-era law.

Using a dam, Haitian refugees cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into the United States on September 18. (Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images)
As many as 15,000 Haitian refugees on a given day sought shelter under the Del Rio International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas, after crossing the Rio Grande in mid September. (Photo: Adrees Latif / Reuters)

This policy affects not only Haitians but other working people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. In the first six months of this year, U.S. federal agents have arrested a record of more than 1.1 million people crossing the southern frontier.

The treatment of Haitian refugees is so cruel that even Washington’s top official in Haiti could not support it. On September 23, Daniel Foote, who was appointed in July as the senior U.S. envoy to Haiti, announced his resignation to protest the mass expulsions of Haitians by the federal government.

“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,” Foote wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his resignation letter.

Foote rebuked what he called a “cycle of international political interventions in Haiti” that “has consistently produced catastrophic results.” He warned that the number of desperate people traveling to U.S. borders “will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”

Michael Knowles, president of American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1924 also voiced opposition. “These deterrence [and] expulsion measures deny due process to asylum seekers and place them in harm’s way. That is a human rights violation,” Knowles, whose local represents the asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), told Reuters. The news agency reported that other AFGE members expressed similar views. “Our members are outraged by the mistreatment of migrants and the refusal of our border authorities to allow them to have their asylum claims heard,” Knowles added.

“Trade unions in the region remind our governments that the only way to achieve true security is through humane policies that uphold the rights and dignity of all working people, regardless of where we were born or the color of our skin,” said a September 20 statement by the AFL-CIO. “We call for an immediate end to the forced return of asylum seekers to harm’s way and we call for robust humanitarian aid to provide food and shelter to the Haitian people and support union efforts to rebuild their country.”

Mass expulsions

The Biden administration remained unmoved. “Nearly 30,000 migrants have been encountered at Del Rio since September 9th, with the highest number at one time reaching approximately 15,000,” Mayorkas told the media September 24 in his daily White House briefing. “Today, we have no migrants remaining in the camp under the International Bridge.”

Haitians deported to their country by the U.S. government arrive in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, in late September. Haiti’s government has asked Washington for a halt of mass expulsions as it is having difficulty handling the influx at a time the island nation is facing a serious humanitarian crisis. (Photo: Federico Rios / New York Times)

The Homeland Security Secretary said federal agents had expelled 2,000 to Haiti on 17 flights as of September 24. He also asserted that 8,000 returned to Haiti “voluntarily.” About 17,400 are now incarcerated at federal detention centers where their cases for asylum may be heard. That leaves 2,600 missing, some of whom may have returned to Mexico, according to U.S. officials.

While enforcing this brutal policy, the Biden administration shed crocodile tears over images of horse-mounted agents chasing Haitians at the border in Del Rio. On September 19, some refugees attempted to cross the river and return to the U.S. side of the border after buying food and water in Mexico to bring to their families at the Del Rio camp. Federal agents used their horses then to try to turn them back. In photos and videos that went viral, agents can be seen whirling their horses’ long reins as they try to block men from entering the United States and leaning from horseback to grab some of them from their shirts.

The White House said these scenes were “horrific.” On September 23, the Department of Homeland Security said that the horse patrol unit in Del Rio had been temporarily suspended, and that the agents’ actions were being investigated. Border Patrol agents, however, have ridden horses to keep immigrants out since the agency was created in 1924. They were simply got caught on video doing their job. The “horror” expressed by official Washington over the incident had zero impact on its cruel policy.

A U.S. border patrol agent on horseback uses the reins to try and stop a Haitian immigrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande on September 19, 2021.  (Photo: Paul Ratje / AFP)

Many of the Haitians who arrived at the U.S. border in September had traveled for months from Brazil and Chile, often on foot, sometimes through jungle. They had been allowed to move and work in these countries after an earthquake in 2010 devasted Haiti, resulting in the deaths of more than 300,000 people, according to Haitian government estimates.

As the Spanish daily El Pais and other media have reported, however, employment for many immigrants in these South American countries dried up in recent years after economic slowdowns accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. “The Haitian community has been especially affected and subjected to mistreatment and abuse of all kinds,” sociologist María Emilia Tijoux, an academic at the University of Chile, told El Pais. Those who stay, she said, “know that they must put up with a nationalist and racist way of being.”

Many Haitian immigrants face similar treatment by U.S. authorities, as recent events confirm.

A long record of imperialist intervention

What are the facts behind what Daniel Foote referred to as the “cycle of international political interventions in Haiti”?

Washington and its imperialist allies have a long record of military interventions in Haiti and financial exploitation of its people. These include U.S. backing for the long, brutal Duvalier dictatorship from 1957 to 1986. A popular rebellion toppled that hated regime in 1986.

Four years later Lavalas, a bourgeois nationalist organization promising reforms, won elections by a landslide. Lavalas was headed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had gained popularity for his outspoken criticism of the Duvalier dictatorship and was elected President. A military coup overthrew Aristide’s government seven months after it took office. In 1994, U.S. troops invaded the country and Aristide’s government was re-installed. While many Haitians initially supported that U.S.-led intervention, it soon became clear where Washington and its allies stood.

Far from helping the Haitian masses resolve the fundamental problems confronting them, U.S., French, and other foreign troops intervened to protect the interests of the wealthy capitalists in Haiti and the sharks on Wall Street responsible for the harsh conditions facing most Haitians.

The U.S. government cut off aid and blocked loans to pressure Haiti’s government to speed up selling off nationalized industries to private capitalists. It refused for months to turn over documents taken from the headquarters of the Haitian military and paramilitary groups. (The Pentagon arrogantly claimed these files had become U.S. property!) Washington pressed Aristide’s government to take no further measures to bring to justice those responsible for the murders and torture common under the previous military regime. Eventually Washington forced Aristide to resign and accept exile from the country in 2004.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, a “peace keeping” force established under U.S. aegis in 2004 and operating in the country until 2017, played a similar role.

In contrast to this kind of plunder, socialist Cuba responded to the latest disasters in Haiti by increasing the size of its Henry Reeve International Contingent of doctors in the island. Havana sent an additional 11 physicians specialized in confronting disasters and epidemics. Cuba has maintained a medical brigade in Haiti for 20 uninterrupted years, and at the time of the recent earthquake, 253 professionals were already working there.

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