Alejandro Mayorkas, Joe Biden.
Jean Denis Saint-Félix and Joan Rosenhauer, Tribune News Service
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced last week that 13,000 Haitian asylum seekers have been conditionally permitted to enter the United States, and 3,000 are in detention. The entry news is welcome, but ongoing detention of thousands of asylum seekers and other recent treatment of Haitians by the government are not acceptable. We watched with great disappointment and indignation as the US government, which purports to put human rights first in its foreign policy, made the inhumane and counterproductive decision to expel thousands more Haitian asylum seekers last month. They were returned to a place where violence is endemic and a recent earthquake took the lives of more than 2,500 people and left thousands of homes and businesses in ruins.
While there appears to be no political consequences for the Biden administration, save for a stern statement from the head of the UN Refugee Agency, the moral failure is clear. Under US law, people who are physically present in the United States or who arrive in the United States (no matter how they arrive) may request asylum and should be given the chance to make the case that they have a credible fear of persecution or fear for their lives if they return to their country of origin. The Haitians who had gathered in Del Rio, Texas, asked for nothing more than an opportunity to realise their right to request protection in the United States. Yet many were expelled by the United States back to Haiti, where gangs pose a constant threat that the government is unwilling or unable to address. This included dozens of children, who were deposited by US officials in Port-au-Prince without confirming that they were Haitian citizens. Others were sent to Mexico, where they also face violence, racial discrimination and financial insecurity. The international community and the United States well knows the conditions people face in Haiti. Yes, Haiti is a poor country, but more than this: it is a failed state. Unemployment is the norm, and corruption rules in places of power. More than 4 million people face starvation. Family members are kidnapped and held hostage by armed gangs, and the government is unable to stop the violence. This past summer, political violence boiled over into a destabilising assassination, opening a crater where sound political leadership should be.
Now, as the US deports asylum seekers to Haiti, many are unable to return to their places of origin because so much of the capital is controlled by gangs. Others have nowhere to go because of the damage from the earthquake. And for the past 50 years or so, the US government has done little to support good governance and refused to help stop the proliferation of gang violence and the spread of corruption in Haiti.
Instead, the United States, a nation that promotes science, is abusing public health policy by enforcing Title 42 and using the global pandemic as an excuse to ignore its obligations to asylum seekers, including thousands of Haitians, turning them away to face dangerous conditions in Mexico and Haiti. Epidemiologists and public health experts across the U.S have opposed Title 42 as a public health measure and urged the Biden administration to restart asylum. Even American federal courts have found these expulsions to be illegal.
As Catholics, one of our core beliefs is that it is never too late to turn around, change course and pursue what is right. And so it is for American leadership and American policies. The United States must consistently provide the opportunity to request asylum and must work with the Haitian government and local partners to ensure that those who were sent back to Haiti have access to services and that their basic needs are met. The same goes for the 8,000 Haitians who were sent to Mexico. The United States should also pursue the long-term solution of resuming a regular practice of asylum management, processing those who seek protection into the United States and hearing their claims before a court of law.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread in March, the United States partially closed its border to asylum seekers by invoking a public health law known as “Title 42.” Mexico agreed to allow US authorities to return Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans who had previously transited through
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It was the kind of horror story that Americans had grown painfully used to reading during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency: More than 100 US asylum seekers from strife-torn Haiti, suddenly deported across the US border into the dangerous crime-ridden Mexican city of Suarez, including mothers who had no diapers for their babies and kids with no shoes on their feet.
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