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U.S. restarts deportation flights to Haiti

People wade across a river.
Arnulfo Franco
FILE - Haitian migrants wade across the Tuquesa river after trekking through the Darien Gap in Bajo Chiquito, Panama, in October of 2023.

Immigration officials sent dozens of Haitians back to their home country on Thursday, according to three government officials, in the first deportation flight conducted by the United States government in months to the country, which has been gripped by widespread violence.

Deportation flights are generally viewed as a way to deter migrants from crossing the southern border without authorization. The United States has been concerned about migration from Haiti after a gang takeover of its capital, Port-au-Prince, this year led to the planned resignation of the prime minister, Ariel Henry.

The deportation flight, the first since January, comes as the Biden administration continues to turn toward tougher measures at the southern border as a way to bring down the number of migrants entering the country without authorization. President Joe Biden has faced intense scrutiny from Republicans about the border, and immigration has become a key issue in the election campaign.

In recent months, however, migrants are crossing the border at lower rates than before.

Still, the deportation flight Thursday caught many immigrant advocacy groups by surprise. The U.S. government itself advises Americans not to visit Haiti, citing “kidnapping, crime, civil unrest and poor health care infrastructure,” and has previously told family members of U.S. officials in Haiti to leave.

“This is not only morally wrong and in violation of U.S. and international law, it is simply bad foreign policy,” said Guerline Jozef, the head of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, an advocacy group in San Diego.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that it had “conducted a repatriation flight of around 50 Haitian nationals to Haiti.”

The statement continued: “Individuals are removed only if they were found to not have a legal basis to remain in the United States.”

The United Nations human rights office reported in March that more than 1,500 people had died in gang violence in Haiti so far this year and described the country as being in a “cataclysmic situation.”

The Biden administration granted Haitians who entered the United States before late 2022 temporary protection from deportation because of the ongoing problems in Haiti.

Some congressional Democrats, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, have pushed the administration to extend those protections to Haitians who have entered the country since 2022 and to maintain its pause on deportation flights to Haiti.

Word that deportations had restarted brought denunciations from other House Democrats. “Given the current dangers and lack of central government, we should not be deporting people to Haiti. Period,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said on social media.

Adam Isaacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization, said that Haitians were predominantly waiting for appointments at ports of entry to enter the United States through a government app, as the administration has encouraged, instead of crossing the border.

“It’s hard to explain the urgency to deport Haitians,” he said in a text message. “Among nationalities whose citizens have crossed the border irregularly, Haiti has been the number-15 nationality over the past 6 months, way behind China, India, even Turkey.”

Thomas Cartwright, who tracks government deportation flights for Witness at the Border, an advocacy group, said that there had been no commercial flights to the airport in Port-au-Prince recently. Last month, gunfire erupted around that airport.

This week, the State Department said that the airport in the Haitian capital was closed but that “limited” flights into two other airports in the country had started back up.

U.S. officials deported the Haitians on Thursday to one of those airports, in Cap-Haitien, a coastal city a few hours’ drive north of the capital. Cartwright said the United States generally flies deported migrants into the capital, though it conducted some flights into Cap-Haitien in 2021.

This article originally appeared inThe New York Times. © 2024 The New York Times

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