Two top officials resign in protest of Biden’s use of Trump-era policies to expel immigrants


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Haitian migrants

Images of Border Patrol agents on horseback riding down Haitian migrants at the southern border prompted national outrage, but little has been done to rectify the situation as advocates lose faith in Biden’s campaign promises.

Photographer Paul Ratje was on scene in the migrant camp in Del Rio, Texas, when Border Patrol stormed the area on September 19 (images). The mounted officers aggressively chased migrants across the Rio Grande river, wielding the horse reigns as apparent whips and—in at least one video—yelling offensive remarks at a group attempting to pick up their scattered belongings (video): “This is why your country’s shit, because you use your women for this!” one shouted, harkening back to Trump’s 2018 “shithole countries” comment.

The White House was quick to condemn the scene. “I don’t have the full context. I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate…I don’t think anyone seeing that footage would think it was acceptable or appropriate,” said White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki (clip).

Biden, for his part, promised the agents “will pay,” adding that their actions “send the wrong message around the world” and “at home” (clip). As far as we know, the agents were placed on administrative duties and an investigation is still ongoing.

The administration’s criticism of the Border Patrol’s methods misses the point that immigration and human rights advocates are arguing, however: Expulsions shouldn’t be occurring, even if done without horses and whips.

“The US government showed a total disregard for the right to seek asylum when it sent agents on horseback with reins flailing to control and deter this largely Black migrant population,” said Alison Parker, US managing director at Human Rights Watch. “This violent treatment of Haitians at the border is just the latest example of racially discriminatory, abusive, and illegal US border policies that are returning people to harm and humanitarian disaster.”

The Haitians who lived in the Del Rio camp ultimately met one of two fates: those who were pushed back to Mexico were flown further south, away from the US border, and many accosted by US immigration officials were summarily deported back to Haiti.

  • Haitian migrants in Mexico were told to either leave the country or go to a town near the Guatemalan border called Tapachula. This usually isn’t a polite request; according to Haitians interviewed by Buzzfeed News, authorities “inflict nights of terror on those hiding from deportation,” patrolling the streets and raiding hotels “wearing bulletproof vests and helmets and holding long guns.” Neither return to Haiti nor removal to Tapachula are desirable options. The former is plagued by violence and insecurity, while the latter “is often described by immigrants as being a prison because Mexican authorities make it very difficult to leave.”
  • According to the United Nations, the US has used Title 42 to expel over 7,000 migrants to Haiti since the closing of the Del Rio camp. “We have never seen such a massive number of removal flights to a single country in this short period since we began reporting in January 2020,” said Tom Cartwright, leader of advocacy group Witness at the Border. Journalists witnessed scenes of desperation at Haitian airports, where migrants attempted to reboard planes and assaulted security guards. In at least one video, officials unceremoniously dumped and scattered migrants’ belongings on the tarmac.

The situation in Haiti

In order to better understand why we’re seeing an influx of Haitian migrants now, it is helpful to look at the dire situation in their home country.

President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021, with evidence that the acting prime minister may have been involved according to Haiti’s chief prosecutor. The murder of Moïse created a power struggle and political upheaval.

  • Note that Moïse’s tenure was not a peaceful one: Moïse claimed a mandate to govern longer than the opposition believed was legal. Widespread hunger, fuel shortages, and corruption compounded anger and resulted in violent protests.

Just a month later, the region experienced a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 2,200 people and injured over 12,000. Two days after that, Tropical Storm Grace flooded Haiti, hampering rescue efforts and causing landslides. Residents of the 137,500 buildings that were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake were left to shelter from the rain under tarps. By the end of the month, at least 800,000 people, 250,000 of them children, were estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid.

  • Some of the migrants throughout Central/South America and in the Del Rio camp left Haiti before the July earthquake but struggled to reach America, partly due to Trump-era border restrictions that continue to this day.
  • Haiti was still recovering from a 2010 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed about 230,000 people and displaced nearly a million when the July earthquake occurred.

Haiti has also seen an explosion in gang violence and ransom kidnappings over the past decade.

Analysts call the current wave by far the worst in Haiti’s history. During the first six months of the year, there were at least 395 kidnappings, more than four times the 88 during the same period last year, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince. After the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moïse — who was accused of being in league with the very gang members who use kidnappings as a source of revenue and control — abductions dropped briefly, before surging to 73 in August and to 117 in September, according to the center.

The economy contracted by 1.7% during 2019 and by a further 3.8% in 2020, while inflation has grown, pushing the poverty rate to almost 60% of the population.

Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic is ravaging the country, which only received its first dose of a vaccine in July. Even with a supply increase in the past few months, misinformation has caused distrust of vaccines among the populace. For example, according to UNICEF, only 22% of all Haitians would accept to be vaccinated. Less than one-half of one percent (0.4%) of the population has been vaccinated against Covid-19.

Further watching: “Haiti’s Gangs Call for Violence After the President’s Assassination,” Vice News, July 20, 2021. “Haiti’s Political Crisis Plunges Its Capital Into Chaos,” Vice News, June 6, 2021. “Haiti Has Had Enough of Gangs, Kidnappings and Its President,” Vice News, March 12, 2021. “


A senior State Department legal advisor resigned in protest of the Biden administration’s continued use of Title 42 to deport migrants at the southern border. Harold Koh, who has served as the Legal Advisor of the Department of State since 2009, rebuked the policy in his resignation letter (pdf), calling it “inhumane” and “illegal.”

I write first, because I believe this Administration’s current implementation of the Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return (“refouler”) individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially migrants fleeing from Haiti. Second, my concerns have only been heightened by recent tragic events in Haiti, which had led this Administration wisely to extend temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians already in the United States. Third, lawful, more humane alternatives plainly exist, and there are approaching opportunities in the near future to substitute those alternatives in place of the current, badly flawed policy…

Title 42 expulsions are currently being executed to return Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran families and single adults to their countries of origin, and more recently, Haitians to Haiti. The numbers are startling: CBP statistics indicated that nearly 700,000 people have been expelled under Title 42 since February of this year, and that this past August alone, 91,147 were forcibly removed. In my judgment, Title 42 is currently being implemented in a manner that violates the Refugee Convention’s Article 33 prohibition against direct expulsion or return to persecution and 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3)(A) (“the Attorney General may not remove an alien to a country if the Attorney General decides that the alien’s life or freedom would be threatened in that country because of the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”)…

I have been fortunate to serve in four presidential administrations. I have been proud to serve in this one for its first eight months. I was especially proud last week when President Biden told the United Nations that “a belief in the universal rights of all people …[is] stamped into our DNA as a nation” and when he criticized the Border Patrol Agents’ mistreating Haitian migrants, saying, “It’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world and sends the wrong message at home. It’s simply not who we are.” The same could be said of current illegal and inhumane policy of Title 42 expulsions. It simply is not worthy of this Administration that I so strongly support.

Koh’s resignation came just a week after the Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, left his post over the administration’s treatment of Haitian refugees at the US-Mexico border. Like Koh, Foote criticized the government’s “inhumane” decision to deport migrants without a chance to apply for asylum (pdf):

I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life. Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my policy recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.

The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy. The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation and crime. Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.

Foote has been a part of the State Department since 1998, working in embassies across the world. He served as the US Ambassador to Zambia under Donald Trump and was appointed as the Special Envoy to Haiti in July, following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

In his resignation letter, Foote also criticized US involvement in Haitian politics, noting that international governments have essentially chosen the nation’s past two leaders—and are poised to pick a third.

But what our Haitian friends really want, and need, is the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favored candidates but with ‘genuine support for that course. I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their own leaders fairly and acceptably.

Last week, the U.S. and other embassies in Port-au-Prince issued another public statement of support [for] the unelected, de facto Prime Minister Dr. Ariel Henry as interim leader of Haiti, and have continued to tout his “political agreement” over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society. The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner — again — is impressive. This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results. More negative impacts to Haiti will have calamitous consequences not only in Haiti, but in the U.S. and our neighbors in the hemisphere.

Further reading: “U.S. Habit of Backing Strongman Allies Fed Turmoil in Haiti,” NYT.

Department of Homeland Security

If you’re feeling confused by the Biden administration’s approach to immigration, you are not alone. Even insiders are getting whiplash:

To some, the first seven months of Biden’s administration have yielded a disjointed approach that pushes some progressive policies while favoring others that restrict immigration, especially at the border. This approach, the officials added, reflects a lack of consensus and an apparent effort to prevent Republicans from inflicting maximum political damage while avoiding alienating some voters.

“There is a complete lack of direction,” said one administration official. “Everything is deferred to the White House National Security Council, which can’t see past low polls on immigration and are terrified their own shadow may be a pull factor. Career and political staff are equally concerned.”

Another administration official echoed those remarks. “I don’t know what our immigration strategy is at all,” the official said. “I don’t know if we are building an infrastructure for the future, or what direction we will be going in as we head into a midterm election year.”

Career DHS officials have increasingly started to notice similar inconsistencies.

“We are slowly making progress on policies for creating a more humane immigration system while maintaining some of the most inhumane policies for asylum-seekers,” one official said. “You can reverse all of the terrible court cases… but as long as Title 42 remains in place, none of that matters. We are turning our backs on the most vulnerable.”