By Sam Bojarski
In early February, immigration activists decried the uptick in deportations to Haiti and other countries during Black History Month. At least 950 Haitians have been removed from the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since the start of the month, said Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) research associate Jake Johnston.
For nearly a year, the federal government has applied the Title 42 order to recent arrivals at the southern border on public health pretenses.
“The most glaring [issue] is it prevents people from accessing the asylum system,” Johnston said. “Right now, there isn’t even that chance.”
The Haitian Times reported on Feb. 3 that more than 1,400 Haitians were scheduled for removal, on 14 deportation flights. A CEPR database shows that 14 removal flights to Haiti occurred during the month of February, with the most recent one on Feb. 25. Haiti remains mired in a constitutional crisis concerning the end of President Jovenel Moise’s term, which opposition leaders say ended Feb. 7.
Johnston said he expects removals to continue in March, although scheduled removal flights and the number of people on board are subject to change.
Federal lawmakers have voiced concern about the number of deportations to Haiti during the month of February, particularly amid the ongoing economic and security crisis the country faces. A Feb. 23 letter addressed to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urged the Biden administration to repeal Title 42.
“In many cases, these deportees are families and children who likely pose no security threat,” the letter read. “Many migrants are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 while being detained in the United States pending their expulsion or deportation to less-resourced countries with severely strained health systems.”
Among other lawmakers, the letter was signed by Rep. Frederica Wilson, (D-Florida), House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks (D-New York) and Committee on Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi).
Advocates have also denounced deportations to Jamaica, Cameroon and Angola and other countries that have in some cases put migrants’ lives in jeopardy upon returning to their homeland. The volunteer group Witness at the Border, which monitors deportation flight data, confirmed an uptick in flights to Haiti, which increased in February from a monthly average of about two.
Political and economic difficulties have driven increasing numbers of Haitians to migrate to the U.S. via Mexico. Haitian applications for refugee status or asylum in Mexico surged from 76, to 5,548 between 2018 and 2019, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
The Biden administration has not yet publicly addressed Title 42. However, it has taken steps to reform the immigration system, including a 100-day moratorium on deportations that was later blocked by a federal judge in January.
And in February, the Biden administration announced plans to wind down Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols program that forced migrants to remain in Mexico while waiting out their asylum cases. The program largely applied to migrants from Spanish-speaking countries.
Mayorkas has also not addressed the lawmakers’ Feb. 23 letter publicly, but reportedly stated in a call with immigration advocates that the Biden administration is using the Title 42 public health order as a tool while it finalizes other immigration policies.
In response to an email request, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Sanjeev “Sonny” Bhagowalia said immigration enforcement at the border will not change overnight.
This is due “in large part to the damage done over the last four years to our asylum system and infrastructure,” Bhagowalia said in an email. “As we review and reform current immigration policies, we will continue prioritizing the health and safety of everyone we encounter during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to restoring our asylum system and building an improved system.”