Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Thursday that his agency will resume the practice of deporting some Haitian immigrants. The practice was stopped in January 2010 when Port-au-Price was hit by a deadly earthquake.
The announcement will likely have an immediate impact on the southern California border with Mexico where hundreds of Haitian and other Caribbean immigrants without visas have been waiting to enter through ports of entry like in Tijuana. Following the announcement, U.S. officials will now move ahead with expedited removal proceedings for immigrants who are not expressing fear of death or persecution if they are returned to their home countries, a preliminary step to determining asylum eligibility. Past policy allowed recent arrivals to stay in the United States on parole while they waited for an immigration judge to decide their fate. Haitians given Temporary Protected Status protection because of the earthquake would not be affected by the policy shift.
“The situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis, consistent with the practice for nationals from other nations,” the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson explained in his statement. He added that the agency would prioritize the deportation of Haitians who do not have a credible fear of going back to their country as well as criminal immigrants.
As many as 5,000 Haitians showed up at the southern U.S. border without a visa in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the DHS officials on a press call with reporters Wednesday, up sharply from 339 in 2015 fiscal year.
Immigrant advocates believe that anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 Haitians may still be making their way through Brazil where many previously found work visas. But since Brazil’s economic downturn and the end of the Summer Olympics, many have been making their way up to the southern U.S. border. The large increase in Haitian immigrants have filled local shelters in Tijuana, Mexico to the point of overcapacity.
Johnny Rodriguez Magallanes, an advocate working at a Tijuana-area shelter, gave permission to ThinkProgress to post his photos of the crush of immigrants waiting to get into the United States.
Others who are also working with migrants and refugees in Tijuana are afraid that the deportation of Haitian immigrants could put them back in bad situations. In October, Haiti will re-do controverisal elections and the country has been reluctant to issue travel documents for returning Haitians.
In his statement, Johnson insisted that “DHS will continue to promote safe, orderly avenues for Haitian nationals seeking to immigrate to the United States.” But that hasn’t appeared to be the case for some immigrants who may be seeking asylum status.
Nicole Ramos, a San Ysidro, California-based attorney, has been doing pro-bono work with asylum seekers at a Tijuana, Mexico-based shelter where she primarily works with Central Americans and Mexicans. She told ThinkProgress last week that she has seen an “unprecedented level” of refugees coming from Haiti and countries in Africa.
“People are expressing genuine fear of return[ing] to Haiti and other countries based upon persecution on account of one of the five protected grounds (political opinion, religion, nationality, race, membership in a particular social group),” Ramos said.
But those fears may not always be heard, particularly by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Among her own Central American and Mexican clients, Ramos has said that she’s seen CBP officers who “turn me away when I was escorting unaccompanied minors,” who should be allowed to enter the United States under a different process because of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
“My clients are often told ‘there are no attorneys here’ or that the turn-in preparation packets, which includes a brief cover letter outlining their claim and which provisions of the CFR apply to their detention, or how their case is to be handled, ‘do not mean shit’ or that they ‘wasted their money on an attorney,’” Ramos said.
The announcement comes just days after world leaders met at the U.N. Summit for Refugees and Migrants, a high-level meeting to discuss global solutions for dealing with the world’s 65.3 million displaced people. President Obama, who led a Leaders’ Summit meeting, said that the United States would admit 110,000 refugees in the 2017 fiscal year, though he did not make specific commitments regarding people crossing the southern U.S. border.