While the Haitian migrant crisis at the United States-Mexico border is a dilemma for the Biden administration, it is also an opportunity for America to clearly demonstrate our core values. Instead of policies grounded in border enforcement, the Biden administration should pursue policies based on alliance building, asylum law, international law and American values that also address anti-Black racism.
To date, 56 Congressional members and numerous immigrant rights advocates have called on the Biden administration to immediately stop deportation flights to Haiti. As a Haitian-American diplomat with experience managing U.S.-Mexico border affairs, emigration from the Caribbean and the relationship between the Haitian diaspora and State Department, I join these leaders in the call to stop deportations.
Here’s why: Ayiti se tè glise. This Creole proverb meaning ‘Haiti is a slippery place’ — one that is difficult to govern and rendered unlivable for many of its citizens. President Moise’s assassination in July and the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southern Haiti in August are the latest examples of its myriad challenges.
Sending Haitians to Haiti following two major crises less than 90 days apart is inhumane and irresponsible. As Daniel Foote, the recently-resigned Special Envoy for Haiti, notes: It is also counterproductive.
Instead, the U.S. should partner with countries in the region, particularly Mexico, Chile and Brazil to permanently resettle Haitians. Many of those compatriots at the border have been working in Chile and Brazil ever since the 2010 earthquake that killed 220,000 Haitians, including my cousin, which caused thousands to leave Haiti in search of a better life.
We should urge these countries in the region to create pathways to citizenship so that Haitians can obtain temporary or permanent legal status in their country of residence. Although circumstances differed, when I served at the U.S Embassy in Port-au-Prince, we urged the Dominican Republic to provide a pathway to legally protected status for people of Haitian descent who were at risk of deportation.
Stop using Title 42, grant more visas
In the short term, President Biden should break from the Trump administration and end the use of Title 42. This regulation uses the pandemic as a pretext for blocking Haitian and other migrants from entering the U.S. and making their case for asylum. According to U.S. immigration law, migrants who have lived in countries other than their native land may still qualify for asylum and other forms of relief. The U.S. has an affirmative legal obligation to consider the asylum cases of Haitians, including those who previously lived in Brazil, Chile, and other Latin American countries. Ending Title 42 is the legally and morally correct policy approach.
In the long term, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince must increase the number of visa adjudicators to expedite visa processing. The State Department, Congress, and Biden administration should strongly consider increasing the number of immigrant visas granted and reinstate the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.
COVID-19 already created a backlog, causing some Haitian visa applicants to wait three months for visa appointments that used to take up to two weeks. Immigrant visas continue to be processed at a reduced rate. We can reunite Haitians with their families in Flatbush and Pembroke Pines if we commit more resources to the visa line.
We did this while I served in Cuba following category 5 Hurricane Irma. The hurricane caused prolonged blackouts and millions of dollars worth of damage to the Embassy in Havana. However, my colleagues and I worked earnestly to adjudicate immigrant visas, reuniting families in the process. We reached our Congressionally mandated 20,000 visa mark just before the Secretary of State ordered us to evacuate from Cuba.
Increasing the number of immigrant visas granted to Haitians would help us continue writing the American story of welcoming immigrants seeking economic opportunity.
Uproot anti-Blackness from immigration policy
The images of U.S Customs and Border Protection agents whipping and corralling Haitian migrants in Texas conjured up slave patrols from the 19th century. Anti-Blackness continues to be ingrained in a number of American institutions, including immigration law. We must expeditiously conduct a thorough investigation of the officers, and hold them accountable for their despicable actions.
Haitians understand anti-Blackness having overthrown a barbaric system of slavery to win their freedom. More than 60 years later, the U.S. followed Haiti’s lead in abolishing slavery and granting freedom to enslaved peoples.
The U.S owes a moral debt to Haiti for illuminating values of freedom and self-determination, values we claim as ‘American’ today. Pursuing short- and long-term policies while partnering with countries in the region will help restore humane American leadership in the world, and support our sisters and brothers during a vulnerable period.
The author, whose name is being withheld by The Haitian Times, is a Haitian-American diplomat who previously served in Latin America and Haiti and was an advisor to U.S. Ambassadors at the United Nations. Views expressed are the diplomat’s own.