After more than 14,000 Haitian immigrants arrived at the border, officials moved to expel the majority using an obscure public health law. Here’s what you should know.
For many Haitian refugees, safety has been elusive since the assignation of President Jovenel Moise, but for others, staying in their home country hasn’t been an option for many years. Haiti has experienced instability periodically in the past, but thousands of Haitians are leaving to get out from under a crumbling post-pandemic economy and restrictive government policies.
Many of the migrants at the Texas border escaped from Haiti years ago and fled to Chile, but as anti-immigrant sentiment grows, it’s no longer safe to stay. After an earthquake in 2010 that devastated the Haitian economy and infrastructure, thousands of immigrants left to pursue a new life in South America, where the 2014 FIFA World Cup offered job opportunities and security.
However, the pandemic has put a strain on economies in South America, and nations that already had economic struggles are pushing migrants out in an attempt to blunt the impact of economic downfall. Chile, the most popular refugee location, enacted a new immigration law restricting migrants to the point that many chose to migrate north to the U.S. border.
Del Rio, Texas
Tens of thousands of Haitian migrants gathered at the Del Rio border in Texas, where they formed a makeshift camp to rest and wait for entry. However, officials quickly expelled them and began a swift removal that dwindled the population down to just a few thousand migrants.
Some migrants at the camp traveled south to Mexico to wait for an opportunity to pursue asylum claims. However, many migrants were herded up by immigration officers and deported to Haiti despite many of them having lived away from the country for nearly a decade.
Immigration is a complex system based on decades of laws and statutes that limit the number of migrants allowed in the United States. However, some migrants can pursue immigration status based on old rules dating back to World War II and gain refugee status.
On the other hand, officials also use obscure sanctions to turn migrants away.
The expedited removal policy isn’t new by any means, but the interpretation of the law has taken many different forms over the years. It began as a way to remove ineligible migrants from the country unless they qualify for asylum.
In 2017, Former President Donald Trump issued an order to the Department of Homeland Security to enact expedited removal to the “full extent of the law.” This means that the law was expanded to include non-citizens and removed many of the protections migrants receive when seeking asylum in the United States.
Then, in 2020, the Trump administration introduced Title 42, a section of the Public Health Service Act from 1944 that gives the government power to suspend immigrants to prevent infectious disease.
The issue with Title 42 isn’t just that it is highly restrictive, but it strips migrants of the minimal protection that expedited removal would have. In other words, Title 42 removals are more unforgiving than expedited removal.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was understandable that the government wished to shut down the borders temporarily, but now that the vaccine is readily available and local economies are beginning the process of recovery, aggressive immigration tactics are harder to take.
What Happens Now?
Advocates and immigrants are horrified by the extension of Title 42 by the Biden Administration. President Biden has seemingly taken a step back after promises of pathways to citizenship and a more human immigration system.
Haitians are only one group out of many seeking refuge in the United States, but they have become the central group for the fight to provide asylum to those who need it.
It’s unclear how this situation will resolve, but there are thousands of displaced Haitian migrants in desperate need of hope that are forced to wait in limbo as the U.S. grapples with this humanitarian crisis.
Lam Law, P.A. will continue to follow this story.