by Cindy Hunter, Special to The ARGUS
In a letter obtained by The Hill, Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) summed up their demand to Mayorkas and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky succinctly:
“We write with a request as simple as it is urgent: Stop deporting and expelling people to Haiti. Now.”
At the center of Haitian expulsions is a Trump-era border management policy known as Title 42, which allows the Department of Homeland Security to quickly expel foreign nationals apprehended by U.S. border authorities under the auspices of pandemic sanitary protections regulated by the CDC.
The Biden administration is close to repatriating more Haitians than the last three presidents combined, noted Jones and Pressley.
“Two-thirds of those people have been forcibly flown there after being expelled under Title 42-in clear violation of their legal and fundamental human right to seek asylum here,” they wrote.
The Biden administration’s decision to continue implementing Title 42, even as it draws down pandemic restrictions on the general population, has been a constant source of criticism from immigrant advocates.
But the disproportionate effect the policy has had on Haitian migrants, a majority of whom are Black, has raised questions of racial double standards in immigration enforcement.
“Recently, on March 3, Immigration and Customs Enforcement suspended deportation flights to Ukraine in response to the ‘ongoing humanitarian crisis’ there – a justified and important exercise of your enforcement discretion. There is every reason to extend that same level of compassion and exercise that same discretion to suspend deportations to Haiti – and, in light of your own findings about the ongoing humanitarian crisis there, no excuse not to,” wrote Jones and Pressley.
And the Biden administration faces a unique challenge in Haiti, a Western Hemisphere country undergoing a deep political and humanitarian crisis.
The Biden administration recognized the gravity of the situation in Haiti last fall, listing the country under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that defers deportations or expulsions to a country undergoing man-made or natural disasters.
While that designation spared Haitians in the United States before the July cutoff date from repatriation, Haitians who arrived later are not eligible for TPS protections.
“This Administration cannot have it both ways. It cannot be that Haiti is in so deep a humanitarian crisis that people who have fled Haiti are entitled to Temporary Protected Status, but also that Haiti is safe enough that you can deport and expel people there by the tens of thousands,” wrote the legislators.
The administration’s expulsions increased significantly after the September crisis in Del Rio, Texas, when nearly 15,000 Haitians crossed the Rio Grande and briefly camped under a highway bridge in the United States.
A majority of those migrants, and Haitians who have subsequently arrived, have been returned to Haiti under the auspices of Title 42, preventing them from claiming asylum.
“There is no reason to believe Title 42 expulsions actually protect anyone’s health. In fact, leading public health experts, including former CDC officials, have condemned the use of Title 42 as ‘scientifically baseless and politically motivated,’” wrote Jones and Pressley.
And court cases have further muddied the rationale behind the measure, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled “it’s far from clear that the CDC’s order serves any [public health] purpose,” while a Texas federal judge ruled the administration cannot implement an exception for minors and families it had previously announced.
Jones and Pressley joined advocates in calling for the end of Title 42, but also called for a moratorium on repatriations to Haiti specifically, a measure that the United States took after an earthquake in the country during the Obama administration.
“As Representatives for some of the most vibrant Haitian and Haitian-American communities in the country, we know that our constituents deserve so much better than these deportations,” wrote Jones and Pressley.
“While more than 20,000 people have already been deported or expelled, it is not too late to protect the thousands more who call our communities home. And it is never too late to do right by those who have already been wronged by welcoming them back home,” they added.