It was just last month that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas declared Haiti a wreck of a country, facing a severe food shortage, bad health care, a ruined economy, political instability and “staggering” human-rights abuses.
Things were so bad, he said on Aug. 3, that 100,000 Haitians who had made it to the U.S. by the end of July could get a deportation amnesty.
Now, Mr. Mayorkas is eager to send people back there.
Hundreds of people have been flown directly to Port-au-Prince, with four flights out of Texas on Tuesday, and three others listed for Wednesday.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned,” Mr. Mayorkas vowed while visiting the border Monday.
It’s not clear what changed from August to now, other than the embarrassment of a migrant camp of Haitians springing up on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, surging to more than 15,000 people late last week.
It’s not clear how many have actually been deported, and law enforcement sources tell The Washington Times that most are being processed and released — particularly families.
But the tough talk and reality of some deportations have split the Biden administration from some people who have generally been fans of the new president.
Rep. Al Green, Texas Democrat, pleaded with Mr. Mayorkas on Wednesday to find a way to let the Haitians stay, and said it was bizarre to tell one group that Haiti was too damaged to send them back, but tell a different story to another group.
“I’m asking, is there some what to reconcile this so that we don’t give the appearance of contradicting ourselves, so that we show there’s some rationale for Haitians remaining here?” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas insisted things have gotten better over the seven weeks since he declared Temporary Protected Status for Haitians on Aug. 3.
“We have looked at the country conditions and made the determination that in fact we can return individuals who arrived subsequent to July 29 to Haiti,” he told lawmakers this week.
But groups on the ground say things are as bad as ever.
Doctors Without Borders, which runs a hospital in Port-au-Prince, said armed groups patrol the capital city’s streets and that shootouts have forced people to flee their homes to live in camps with “appalling conditions.”
“It is unconscionable to return migrants against their will to this situation of uncertainty and mortal danger,” said Avril Benoit, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the U.S. “When people are seeking safety in the U.S., putting them onto planes and forcing them into this context is beyond inhumane.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Biden team needs to show more compassion to people fleeing horrific conditions.
“Knee-jerk deportations are not the answer,” he said, ticking off a list of ills that have befallen Haiti, including last month’s earthquake, political upheaval and a COVID outbreak that has exposed an already pitifully insufficient health system.
As of last month, Mr. Mayorkas agreed with that evaluation.
In his notice in the Federal Register announcing the deportation amnesty, he cited reporting on a surge in ransom kidnappings, police complicity in gang attacks, a shrinking economy, and a pandemic that has worsened food insecurity.
“Haiti is grappling with a deteriorating political crisis, violence, and a staggering increase in human rights abuses,” the secretary wrote.
Mr. Meeks and Reo. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and House Homeland Security Committee chairman, released a letter to Mr. Mayorkas on Wednesday afternoon — just hours after Mr. Thompson presided over the hearing with the secretary — demanding the documentation behind the conclusion that Haiti can take back deportees.
When Mr. Mayorkas issued the TPS designation in early August, he made it last 18 months. He had the option of going shorter, but chose the longest time allowed by the law, which suggests he figured the country would be in bad shape for at least that long.
Mr. Green said the deportations to Haiti are particularly odd because as many as 95% of those showing up in Texas, while Haitian nationals, actually had been living in Chile and Brazil.
Another congresswoman said some of the Haitians haven’t been in Haiti for 20 years.
Mr. Mayorkas said the U.S. government is asking Brazil and Chile to take back those people.
Signs of a looming Haitian surge have been evident for months, with migrants leaving those South American nations, enticed by images of people being caught and then released into the U.S.
The Washington Times asked the Chilean Embassy in Washington in July whether it would accept the return of the Haitians. An embassy spokesman at the time questioned whether many Haitians who were breaching the U.S. border had in fact previously been living in Chile.
After Mr. Mayorkas’s statements this week The Times renewed its inquiries but the spokesman did not return new messages.
The Brazilian Embassy referred questions to the country’s foreign affairs ministry, which didn’t respond to an inquiry.
Under normal times, Haitians who jumped the border would be put into deportation proceedings but have a chance to stake asylum claims. But the Biden administration is using a pandemic emergency power, known as Title 42 authority, to expel many illegal immigrants immediately.
Mr. Mayorkas said it was the administration’s policy to use Title 42 “to the fullest extent possible.”
A federal judge last week ruled that use of Title 42 illegal, but gave a two-week reprieve.
Unless the Biden team can get an appeals court to stay the judge’s order, the power to expel the Haitians could evaporate next week.
“Ramping up expulsions after a federal court ruled the Title 42 policy illegal is outrageous,” said Blaine Bookey, one of the lawyers involved in the case. “President Biden has chosen to embrace the anti-refugee, anti-Black agenda of the Trump administration, and Haitians and their allies will not forget it.”