These past few months, Haiti has been in turmoil. After the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on July 7 in Port-Au-Prince, southern Haiti was devastated by an earthquake on August 14. I was just wrapping up a month working on earthquake relief efforts when I saw the latest, horrific news. U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback were photographed using whips to chase down and round up fleeing Haitian refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas.
I was shaken, lost for words. I’ve barely had the time to process the killing of activist, feminist, and friend Netty Duclaire along with approximately 15 other people back on June 30 in a shooting rampage in Port-au-Prince. Between these assassinations, the earthquake that struck my hometown, a hurricane, the spiral of continued gang violence, and political turmoil, the social tensions in Haiti have never stopped.
There is little left to hold on to in Haiti today where insecurity is so high we joke that our life expectancy is 24 hours, renewable each day. I was born and raised in Haiti and I have chosen to stay and put my time, knowledge, and energy to work to advance economic development and social justice. However, this year, for the first time, I realized that to stay alive and earn a decent living, I might have to reconsider my decision. The threats and dire situation in Haiti make it costly, risky, and painful to stay. Fleeing is the safest option for many of us. For those of us who can flee, it only makes sense that some Haitians want a chance to reach the wealthiest country on the continent. That’s why nearly 15,000 Haitian refugees seeking asylum are camped under a Del Rio bridge.
But the world has grown accustomed to disasters and crises in Haiti to the point that no one feels embarrassed to talk about the so-called “Haitian fatigue” — a phenomenon of waning global compassion for our nation. But the lives of more than 10 million people —- people who have dignity, willpower, desire, and dreams —- are at stake. The rich and powerful, who earn a living from exploiting Haiti while occasionally enjoying its natural charm, are allowed to have “Haitian fatigue,” but the idea that the Haitian people who have endured unrelenting violence, political instability, and the absence of opportunities and may need to flee is unfathomable.
It is no surprise, then, that the Biden Administration has continued mass deportations of Haitians seeking asylum from these disasters. At least 16 deportation flights have been scheduled this week alone, even as the images of the U.S. Border Patrol’s violence against Haitians went viral and created an outcry from the public and demands to end Biden’s use of the Trump-era Title 42 immediate deportation policy.
The Haitian refugees under the bridge at Del Rio are a message in a bottle that has finally reached its destination. Haiti is facing a lingering political, economic and social crisis that repeated natural disasters exacerbated. Many Haitians left after the 2010 earthquake. They didn’t trust the government nor the international community to rebuild Haiti. They were right. The reconstruction efforts —- led by former American president Bill Clinton —- failed.
Dispersed in Central and South America in the years since, Haitian refugees fleeing a country destroyed under America’s watch had to pause on the way to gather strength and make money to finance their long journey to U.S. borders, crossing at least eight countries: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.
And now, this refugee crisis is about America reaping what they’ve sown in Haiti: political interference; 19 years of occupation; 29 years of propping up dictatorships under the Duvalier regime; policies that harm the Haitian agriculture; U.S. interference in the 2010 elections; support to successive puppets and ineffective government; and more recently, ten years of unwavering support to a regime involved in corruption, massacres, human rights abuses and repression that brought Haiti to its knees. When the U.S. so clearly played a role in the destabilization of Haiti and the maintenance of the conditions that have caused us to leave our country, it is amazing for the Biden Administration to reject Haitians’ need for asylum and humane treatment.
Nevertheless, facing this large influx of refugees, the Americans act as shocked as they were in 1980 when more than 2,400 Haitian people landed on Florida shores in six weeks. Haitians were fleeing poverty and oppression at that time. Now, they are fleeing extreme poverty, gang violence, persecution, and humanitarian and political crises. Back in 1980, the U.S. government, which accepted refugees from Cuba and other countries, did not know what to do with those Haitians. Today, as the U.S. accepts refugees from another country they destabilized and destroyed with war, Afghanistan, they still do not seem to know how to properly protect Haitians. Why is it always so difficult to treat Haitian refugees humanely?
Every Haitian should know that they have a home in the beautiful country where they were born. They shouldn’t have to beg for asylum at the U.S. borders and be whipped by border patrol agents as if we were in the days of slavery.
In response to the outcry of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian refugees, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has announced that agents will no longer use horses in their inhumane rounding-up and deportation of Haitians. And yet the inhumane treatment and deportation of Haitians will apparently continue. The DHS is even advertising its search for a contractor who speaks Haitian Creole to run a migrant facility in Guantanamo Bay. While U.S. Press Secretary Jen Psaki has stated this search for a Haitian Creole-speaking contractor at Gitmo is mere coincidence and would not lead to Haitians at the southern border being sent there, what history has taught us is that, when and wherever possible, the U.S. will fail Haitians.
The U.S. must act now and end these Title 42 deportations and grant asylum to refugees. Expulsion under these conditions is obscene. Haitian asylum seekers deserve safety and assistance, as guaranteed by international laws and basic human rights principles. The United States must seize this opportunity to uphold human rights and dignity.