‘Obscene’: Rights groups slam US expulsions of Haitian migrants

Rights groups in the United States have blasted the Biden administration for its planned expulsion of some 12,000 mostly Haitian migrants and asylum seekers who have been camped under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, after wading across the Rio Grande River from Mexico.

US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Monday that 6,500 migrants and asylum seekers have been taken into custody in advance of processing and removal from the US. On Sunday, the first flights carrying migrants landed in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince.“It’s completely unconscionable,” Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the US-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told Al Jazeera. “There’s no way Haiti can handle the people that are in Haiti now given the conditions there. It can’t provide for these people.”

Images during the weekend showed hundreds of Haitian migrants trudging waist-deep across the Rio Grande while carrying their belongings over their heads to reach the US, heaping pressure on the Biden administration to rethink its immigration policies.

DHS said the vast majority of the migrants will be expelled under Title 42, a Trump-era health order that cites the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to quickly expel people seeking asylum at the US border.

“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned,” Mayorkas said during a news conference in Del Rio on Monday, adding that the US would conduct up to three deportation flights a day. “Your journey will not succeed and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives.”

Rights groups for months have blasted Title 42 as inhumane, not based on science, and a violation of the US’s own immigration laws – and they have been calling on US President Joe Biden to reverse the policy since he took office in January.

“They should stop deportations,” said Alix Desulme, who is Haitian and serves on city council in the city of North Miami, home to a large Haitian community. “It’s been a cry way before this happened,” Desulme told Al Jazeera, referring to the planned expulsions from the Texas-Mexico border encampment, “and Title 42 needs to be repealed.”

Political, humanitarian crises

The expulsions could not come at a worse time for Haiti.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July, thrusting a country already grappling with political turmoil into deeper uncertainty. A month later, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck, killing over 2,000 people and devastating the southern region of the small Caribbean island.

Even before those events, the US had acknowledged the potential dangers Haitian migrants could face if they are deported back to their country.

On May 22, the Biden administration announced an 18-month Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, shielding them from deportations. But the measure only applies to those in the US before July 29.

“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas said in a statement at the time.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Saturday that he was “very concerned by the extremely difficult conditions” Haitians were living through at the US-Mexico border, but said Haiti would support them upon their return to the country.

During a news briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also said the US government has a “range of programme options as well as financial support in place” that would assist Haitian nationals as well as the Haitian authorities, without specifying further.

‘Nothing to go back to’

Nicole Phillips, legal director at the Haitian Bridge Alliance, another US-based support and advocacy group, said the situation in Haiti has grown worse since the TPS designation.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the south of the country are still without housing and have little access to drinking water after the most recent earthquake, Phillips explained.

The political situation also has grown more volatile with gangs in control of key areas and the country’s top prosecutor – who has since been sacked – last week asking the judge investigating Moise’s killing to charge Henry, the prime minister, for alleged involvement in the assassination.

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