US deports dozens to Haiti despite telling citizens to leave country

Rights advocate says more than 60 Haitians were sent back to the Caribbean nation struggling with escalating violence.

Police officers walk near people carrying their belongings amid gang violence in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince
Police patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 24 as residents flee their homes in the wake of gang clashes [File: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

Less than 24 hours after the United States urged its citizens to leave Haiti “as soon as possible” due to increased violence, authorities deported dozens of Haitian nationals back to the country, an immigration rights advocate has confirmed.

Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance advocacy group, told Al Jazeera she has been in contact with some of the families of the Haitians who were on Thursday’s removal flight from Alexandria, Louisiana, to Port-au-Prince.

US media outlets, including The Hill and the Miami Herald, also reported on the deportation flight, which Jozef said carried more than 60 people. Several flight-tracking websites showed that a plane was set to arrive in the Haitian capital from Alexandria shortly before noon local time.

Resuming deportations to Haiti is “inhumane”, Jozef said, explaining that asylum seekers and migrants are being sent back to the same conditions they fled in the first place, if not worse.

She compared the crisis in Haiti to a raging fire. “You have a burning house, and you have people, including children, in that burning house,” she said. “Instead of sending the firefighters to save the people, you’re dropping people into the fire.”

One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti has been facing rampant gang violence. It has also suffered from periodic natural disasters and a longstanding political deadlock made worse by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Haiti called on American citizens to leave the country, citing “the current security situation and infrastructure challenges”.

The announcement went a step further than previous warnings against travelling to Haiti. In July, Washington also ordered the departure of non-emergency government employees from Haiti.

“Do not travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, civil unrest, and poor healthcare infrastructure,” a US State Department travel advisory for Haiti reads.

‘Subject to removal’

In the 2022 fiscal year, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 1,532 Haitian citizens, compared with 353 in 2021, according to government data.

But the latest removal flight has left Haitians in the US in disbelief, Jozef said, particularly after the State Department’s recent warnings about security conditions in the country.

“Everybody’s afraid because they don’t know what will happen. They cannot believe this is happening, that there could be deportation to Haiti right now,” she said.

The State Department said US government agencies are monitoring the situation in Haiti, but that “removals of Haitian nationals encountered at our Southern Border and repatriation of Haitian nationals encountered at sea continue” at this time.

A State Department spokesperson told Al Jazeera in an emailed statement late on Thursday that the Biden administration has “carried out the largest expansion of lawful pathways” to immigration to the US in decades.

“We encourage anyone seeking to migrate to the US to do so via legal, safe pathways,” the spokesperson said. “Those interdicted at sea are subject to immediate repatriation, and those encountered in the United States without a legal basis to remain are subject to removal.”

ICE did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment by the time of publication.

Asked about US immigration policy more generally during a news briefing on Thursday, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden is seeking to rebuild a “broken” system, highlighting policies designed to stem arrivals across the US-Mexico border.

“The president has done more to secure the border to deal with this issue of immigration than anybody else,” Jean-Pierre said.

But Jozef said that while Biden has pushed for certain reforms, he kept many policies from his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, including deportations.

Warnings against deporting Haitians

Rights advocates have long warned against deporting people back to Haiti.

In April, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called on countries in the Americas to “suspend the forced return of Haitians to their country, taking into account the current situation in Haiti”.

In 2021, Daniel Foote resigned as the US special envoy for Haiti in response to the mass deportations under the Biden administration. Later that year, he told US lawmakers that sending people back to Haiti worsens the situation on the ground.

“Haiti is too dangerous,” Foote said at that time. “Our own diplomats cannot leave our compound in Port-au-Prince without armed guards.”

On Thursday, Jozef also told Al Jazeera that deporting people under the chaotic conditions further destabilises Haiti. “The situation is extremely bad,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera