• Leslie Dorantes

Why are Haitian Migrants Coming to the U.S.-Mexico Border?

Haiti’s unfortunate history includes political unrest and natural disasters that have affected thousands of the residents for many years. Haiti’s population is one of the most exposed countries in the world to natural disasters including hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. The German Global Climate Risk Index even ranks Haiti as the third in the world for impacts from climate events. Headlines from 2019 and 2020 have expressed the worsening humanitarian crisis in Haiti. Specifically, in 2021, an earthquake and a political crisis has led to migrants coming to the United States, seeking asylum.

Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in October 2016, and was the strongest storm to hit Haiti since 1964. The effects from the Category 4 Hurricane included coastal flooding and heavy flooding,, along with landslides, and the destruction of infrastructure, agricultural crops and natural ecosystems. Around 546 people were killed in the storm, along with 175,500 people seeking refuge in shelters. Over 1.4 million people required immediate humanitarian assistance. The damage from the hurricane was estimated to be equivalent to 22% of Haiti’s GDP. While the United Nations contributed to Haiti with humanitarian aid, in 2019, they reported only meeting 30% of its funding goals for Haiti as many donors fell behind on financial commitments.

Since that report, COVID-19 has hit Haiti and has made the residents struggle with more income loss as well asfood and political insecurity. On August 14th, 2021, a major earthquake struck Haiti, destroying and damaging thousands of buildings leaving 2,207 people dead, with 12,000 more injured and 344 missing. After the 7.2 earthquake, the country received emergency aid from the US, Venezuela, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic, who worked to transport critically injured patients, ran search & rescue teams, and transported medical staff and supplies. In total, 53,000 homes were destroyed and 77,000 were damaged, 127 schools and 60 churches were knocked down or damaged and hospitals were overwhelmed with the number of injuries.

A few days later, on August 16th, tropical depression Grace brought heavy rain and strong winds to Southern Haiti, where many of the people whose homes had been destroyed or damaged were sleeping in tents or under tarpaulins. The rain added to the misery of those who had lost their homes in the earthquake, but also stopped rescue efforts for a day. The rain also caused mudslides and flooding, due to Haiti’s widespread deforestation.

The earthquake hit Haiti at the same time that it was dealing with a major political situation; the assassination of their President, Jovenel Moise. In July 2021, the president was shot 12 times in his home in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The president’s left eye was gouged out and bones in his arm and his ankles were broken. His wife, Martine Moise, was also shot, but survived. According to Haitian police, a group of mercenaries, 26 Colombians and 2 Haitian Americans, attacked the president. However, the investigation has been complicated as the Haitian Americans are claiming they did not know there was a plan to assassinate the president, but that they had been hired as interpreters from the internet. Supposedly, the attacks were part of a plot by a Haitian doctor to become Haiti’s next president. The Florida resident, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, arrived to Haiti in June, before the assassination, with political motives and was found with weapons, ammunition and a DEA cap in his possession. In total, 44 people have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Moise, with more being sought.

Recently, images of Border Patrol agents on horseback trying to prevent migrants from crossing the Rio Grande circulated social media, triggering debate over President Biden’s immigration policy. According to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, 2000 of the migrants were deported to Haiti in the U.S.-chartered flights, 8000 willingly returned to Mexico, and 12,000 migrants entered the U.S. to have their requests for asylum or other permissions evaluated.

The journey from Haiti is extremely difficult with migrants usually traveling by bus, walking for days, or being jam-packed on a boat. Many of the migrants who were detained in makeshift camps are claiming that they never had a chance to make their case for asylum and were instead deported back to Haiti in a matter of days. According to them, Haiti is like a war zone, with people being killed , without reason. In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and assassination of President Moise, gang violence and kidnappings have been out of control.

The Biden administration has been particularly criticized for using Trump era policy against the Haitian migrants. The Department of Homeland Security is using Title 42, a public health law, to take Haitians into custody and fly them back to their homeland, denying them the opportunity to make a claim to stay in the United States. Title 42 gave federal health officials power during the pandemic to take extraordinary measures to limit the transmission of Covid-19. Trump’s administration has used it since March 2020 to prohibit any entry from virtually anyone from Mexico and Canada, essentially closing off the Northern and Southern border. Critics of the policy claim it’s a thinly disguised measure to thwart immigration, noting it deprives people of their human right to seek asylum.

Former federal health officials have told news networks that Trump’s administration overruled government scientists who said there was no evidence that invoking Title 42 would slow the coronavirus, yet the public health order remains in place and hundreds of thousands of people have been expelled under its authority. The Biden Administration claims it wants to distance themselves from Trump’s inhumane asylum policies, yet they have retained the most extreme practices, including Title 42.

In a recent White House Briefing, Secretary Mayorkas was asked by reporters about the lack of leniency towards Haitian asylum seekers, considering the growing gang violence and instability. He told reporters that the U.S. has determined Haiti to be safe. Yet, the State Department’s travel advisory for Haiti warns against travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, unrest and COVID-19. As of now, Title 42 is still being used against Haitians, and no border patrol agents have been reprimanded for the violent images circulating social media.

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