Former Haitian envoy says deportations ‘not the answer’

Administration’s treatment of migrants from the Caribbean nation draws criticism from both parties

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., left, said the administration's Haiti policy “is in desperate need of fresh faces and perspectives.”  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., left, said the administration's Haiti policy “is in desperate need of fresh faces and perspectives.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted October 7, 2021 at 8:06pm

The former U.S. envoy to Haiti, who resigned last month in a scathing letter, told lawmakers Thursday that mass deportations are “not the answer” to a rise in migration from the Caribbean nation, given the extreme poverty and dangerous conditions there.

In a virtual briefing for members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Daniel L. Foote said Haiti “cannot support the people it has there right now,” and that “the last thing” the island nation needs is the return of “desperate people without anything to their names.”

Many of those deportees left Haiti years ago and no longer have family or resources upon their return, he said. He also stressed the grip that gangs have in Port-au-Prince, where he said American officials cannot walk the streets without armed guards.

“Deportation in the short-term is not going to make Haiti more stable. In fact, it’s going to make it worse,” Foote said.

“There’s no safety net. It's just a recipe for human tragedy,” he added.

Foote also said the administration did not consult him before sending thousands of Haitian migrants back to the struggling nation, which is caught in the midst of political turmoil and the aftermath of a tropical storm.

“I guess this is my own naivety, because I'm not as important as I thought I was, but nobody asked me about the deportations,” he said. “I found out about it on the news, just like the rest of us.”

Foote’s remarks came just two weeks after he resigned as the U.S. special envoy for Haiti, a position the longtime State Department official had held since July, following the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse.

In a resignation letter published in various news outlets, Foote wrote he “will not be associated” with the Biden administration’s “inhumane, counterproductive decision” to deport thousands of migrants back to Haiti in response to their increasing numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a Sept. 24 news briefing, Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that nearly 30,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, had crossed the U.S. border in Del Rio, Texas, in the prior two weeks, with border agents holding as many as 15,000 Haitian migrants under the international bridge at one point.

At the time, he said 2,000 Haitians had been sent back to Haiti under the administration’s pandemic-related border expulsion policy, known as Title 42, while roughly 12,400 had been permitted to pursue immigration cases within the U.S.

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security would not provide updated numbers Thursday on the number of Haitian migrants deported since then.

At Thursday’s House briefing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants and response to the unfolding crisis in Haiti.

Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., called the government’s current policy toward Haiti “a holdover from the previous administration and is in desperate need of fresh faces and perspectives.” Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., who stood in for the committee’s ranking member, said the administration “has abandoned Haiti.”

While saying he was “not sticking up for breaking immigration law by any means,” Foote argued the Biden administration should build up the capacity to process Haitians’ asylum claims, rather than expelling them under Title 42.

The decision to expel and deport these people instead violates the international law principle against returning migrants to countries where they face danger, he said.

“I have had tense discussions with other countries about doing that before, and now the United States is doing it. I just couldn't be associated with the treatment and just the knee-jerk decision to send them to Port-au-Prince,” Foote said.

Following the roughly 90-minute session, Meeks said the committee plans to hold more briefings and conversations about the situation in Haiti “as needed.” He also said lawmakers would look into sending a delegation to Haiti “sometime in the near future.”