Today, March 21, marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. An important place to focus on in this work is U.S. immgration policy, which targets Haitians and migrants from other majority black countries for highly discriminatory treatment. There is no evidence that Biden “gets” it.

Since February 1, 2021, the Biden administration has removed more than 1,300 Haitians from the United States, the vast majority denied access to asylum screening or other basic due process. In all of FY2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), the Trump administration removed 895 people to Haiti. Trump did expel an additional 700 Haitians at the beginning of FY 2021, yet even then, the pace of removals was not as high as we are seeing now.

What is going on?

The short answer is that the Biden administration is continuing to enforce an order by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shuts off asylum processing at the border. The CDC order was issued in March of 2020, and has provided the justification for the Department of Homeland Security denying people access to asylum processing or other relief. Claiming authority under “Title 42” of the U.S. code, the CDC order directs border agents to expel people as quickly as possible to the last country of transit, or, if that is not possible, to take people into custody briefly until they can be expelled to their home (or third) country. Under this order, 535,000 people have been expelled since March 20, 2020 (as of March 1, 2021).

For people from Haiti, immediate removal to Mexico is not supposed to occur – though it has. We do not know how many Haitians the Trump administration summarily expelled to Mexico, nor do we know how many have been expelled this way since Biden took office. But we do know it happens – on February 3, for example, 76 Haitians (in addition to the number above) were expelled by Border Patrol into Ciudad Juarez, most without papers and their belongings, all wearing the sandals they were issued at a U.S. Border Patrol detention facility prior to their expulsion.

Though title 42 impacts all migrants attempting to cross into the United States, the discriminatory impact on people from Haiti stands as a stark reminder of racist immigration practices targeting Haitians. For sexample, it was the determination of the Reagan administration to detain asylum seekers from Haiti, rather than parole them out as was typically done for other people seeking protection, that led to the birth of our modern immigrant detention system. Bush and Clinton interdicted tens of thousands of Haitians at sea, most returned immediately to Haiti, others held at Guantanamo until they could be removed. The Obama administration launched a metering system at the border between Tijuana and San Diego in 2015 to slow the entrance of Haitian asylum seekers, while relaunching deportations to Haiti (suspended after the earthquake in 2010) in order to deter more Haitians from trying to come. The list goes on.

Within the United States immigrant detention system discriminatory practices are rampant as well. Haitians face longer stays in detention than other groups, and are more frequently punished with solitary confinement. The bond rates for Haitians seeking release is 60% higher than the average rate. Finally, Haitian families constituted 44% of all families in ICE custody this summer – a by-product of the determination to detain all Haitian families prior to removal under Title 42.

The ongoing expulsions of Haitians under Title 42, despite the rapidly deteriorating political situation in Haiti and the acknowledgement of the Biden administration that people returned will almost certainly “face harm,” is a sad reminder that we have a long way to go for justice for migrants. This journey appears even longer for migrants from Haiti, and other majority black countries, who continue to be discriminated against during all phases of immigration enforcement.

Tom Ricker
Quixote Center

Photos: La 72 – Hogar Refugio para personas Migrantes