DHS blames Trump while continuing to deport children and families under Biden

Exclusive: Immigrants’ rights groups warn legal obligations were violated when at least 72 people were deported to Haiti earlier this week, Chris Riotta writes, including a two-month-old infant and 21 children

Tuesday 09 February 2021 23:36
<p>Migrants from Haiti walk across the Zaragoza-Ysleta international border bridge after being deported from the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.</p>

Migrants from Haiti walk across the Zaragoza-Ysleta international border bridge after being deported from the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has responded to outcry over recent deportations of children and families to Haiti, a country engulfed in political chaos, in a statement to The Independent that appeared to blame the removals on the previous administration.

The department said “our capacity at the border will not transform overnight” while citing “damage done over the last four years” in the statement sent on Tuesday, as immigrants’ rights groups warned legal and international obligations were violated when the US deported at least 72 people to the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince earlier this week, including a two-month-old infant and 21 children.

“The return of a family is a solemn and heartbreaking event. That is especially true when the country of destination suffers instability, violence, lack of economic opportunity, or other challenges,” the DHS statement read. “Our capacity at the border will not transform overnight, due in large part to the damage done over the last four years to our asylum system and infrastructure.”

The response reflected a clash between President Joe Biden's White House and federal immigration agencies over deportations of Haitian asylum seekers, who were fleeing from the poorest country in the hemisphere as it faced an alleged coup attempt. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been accused of acting as a “rogue agency” while defying the president’s deportation guidelines, which require removal operations to focus on convicted felons and suspected terrorists.

Andrea Meza, director of family detention services for RAICES, said current deportation policies have been “inconsistently and discriminatorily applied” to Haitian migrants in recent days, adding: “DHS is not a rogue agency. It is functioning exactly as it is intended to.”

According to RAICES, Haitian families have been disproportionately subjected to expulsion procedures under Title 42, originally meant to exclude people who pose a health threat from entry to the U.S.

“Haitians do not have Covid, but they are Black,” Ms Meza said. “The crisis for the Biden administration is for them to figure out how to justify to primarily Black voters who put them in power why they are allowing hundreds of Black families to be sent to danger and instability when they have the power to stop this." 

She added: “President Biden has authority over how ICE handles families who arrive at the border."

As tensions between the White House and ICE came to a head last week, it appeared the Biden administration obtained the upper hand when deportation flights from the US to Haiti were suddenly suspended on Friday. But deportation flights from the US to Haiti have since resumed and were still being coordinated with the Haitian government on Tuesday, a DHS official confirmed to The Independent.

Other deportation flights were also stopped last week, including one scheduled to leave for Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday. Those who were scheduled to be deported on the flight would instead serve as witnesses to an ongoing investigation against ICE involving accusations of physical abuse, The Guardian reported. 

ICE has also been accused of ignoring an agreement that bars US immigration officials from sending Haitians who reach the southern border back to Mexico.

US authorities can send Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans who passed through the region to Mexico under current law, but recent reports have indicated Haitians were also being sent below the border from Laredo, Texas to Ciudad Juarez. Advocates have said Haitian asylum seekers in Mexico face additional language barriers, which make them further vulnerable to risk.

Karen Musalo, director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, told The Independent: “There is no justification for deporting Haitians at this point in time. The US has a legal and international obligation to not return individuals to persecution, and the deportation of Haitians to the current levels of violence and instability in Haiti clearly violate our legal obligations.”

Under the previous administration, ICE used a public health law known as Title 42 and cited the coronavirus pandemic to begin removing asylum seekers from the country after they arrived at the US-Mexico border. 

According to the DHS official, Haitians ranged between two to five percent of the Title 42 expulsions carried out within the last three weeks, which they said mostly involved individuals encountered while attempting to cross into the US between ports of entry. 

“As we review and reform current immigration policies, we will continue prioritising the health and safety of everyone we encounter during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the DHS statement continued. “We are committed to restoring our asylum system and building an improved system.”

Johan Decopin, a Haitian asylum seeker who was returned to Mexico last week with her family, told Reuters she was left “with nothing” after meeting US officials at the border. 

“They threw away our clothes and my children’s shoes,” she said. “We asked for asylum but they told us no.”

ICE continued to deport asylum seekers and immigrants who reached the US-Mexico border last month after a judge appointed by former President Donald Trump granted a stay on the Biden administration’s executive order for a 100-day moratorium on all deportations.  

The judge issued a temporary restraining order against the DHS after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who contested the results of the 2020 presidential elections in a lawsuit filed to the US Supreme Court, argued his state could “suffer imminent and irreparable harm" due to the deportation ban imposed by the new White House. 

"Our state defends the largest section of the southern border in the nation," the attorney general said in a lawsuit filed shortly after the executive order was announced. "Failure to properly enforce the law will directly and immediately endanger our citizens and law enforcement personnel."

ICE directed The Independent to DHS when asked about the recent deportation flights from the US to Haiti. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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