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U.S. must prepare for migrant surge when COVID restrictions end, Miami congresswoman says

The Miam Herald Article

Florida U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson celebrated on Thursday the impending end of a public health measure that has restricted border crossings of Haitians and other migrants, while also calling on federal officials to be ready for a possible surge in border arrivals after the policy is lifted. “Our message today is: Prepare, prepare, prepare,” the Miami congresswoman said at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. “Because Haitians deserve humane treatment and they deserve refuge.” The press conference follows widespread reports that the Biden administration will stop using Title 42, a policy instituted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that has allowed the federal government to turn away thousands of immigrants at the U.S. borders, including those seeking asylum. At Thursday’s press conference, Wilson said that the federal government would end the use of the public health provision by May 23, and that an announcement on the matter would be made as early as the end of this week.

The public health measure came under intense public scrutiny last fall when 15,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, showed up at the Mexico border with Texas seeking entry to the United States. Rather than giving the migrants a chance to apply for asylum, the federal government conducted mass expulsions of Haitian migrants under Title 42.

While Wilson lauded the news, 120 Haitians were preparing to land in Port-au-Prince after being expelled from the United States. According to immigration advocates who have been tracking deportation flights to Haiti, Thursday’s expulsion was President Joe Biden’s 212th. His administration has deported about 21,000 Haitians since Feb. 1, 2021, and 18,900 Haitians since Sept. 19, according to the data they have collected. Many of them are women and children, including infants. Last month, 100 U.S. senators and representatives sent a letter to Biden, asking him to reverse Title 42 as well as other federal immigration policies “that continue to mistreat and harm Black migrants.” Wilson, along with members of Florida’s congressional delegation, was among those who signed. Wilson also called on Thursday for other changes to immigration and border policies, saying there should be no more deportations to Haiti and that the use of patrol horses at the border should end. The request follows an incident between Haitian migrants and Customs and Border Protection agents on horseback that caused national outrage last year during the crisis at the Texas border. Regarding funding in the White House budget proposal to hire an additional 300 Border Patrol agents at the southwest border, Wilson said she hopes the agents are “trained in humanity.” “You hire them, and you train them and you teach them on how to handle Black immigrants, because [Black migrants] are treated differently,” she said.

Several Haitian and Black public officials and advocates from Miami-Dade and Broward counties were also present at the press conference. Among them was Haiti-born state Rep. Marie Paule Woodson, a Democrat from Hollywood. She doubled down on Rep. Wilson’s comments that the federal government must address the root causes of Haitian migration to stop the possible surge of migrants at the U.S. Border and help the Caribbean nation prosper. “None of us wanted to leave Haiti. We could have been of service to Haiti,” said Woodson. “My question today to the administration is what are we doing to give the people of Haiti some sense of security ... that would allow Haitians to stay in the country and begin to work toward rebuilding the country?”

State Sen. Shevrin D. Jones, a Miami Gardens Democrat, called Title 42 an “invisible wall” and blasted the Trump administration for instituting the measure, which he said was based on “political rather than scientific considerations.” Marleine Bastien, executive director of Little Haiti-based Family Action Network Movement, called on the Biden administration to hire Creole-speaking Border Patrol agents and to bring Haitian migrants deported under Title 42 back to the United States. The organization will hold a rally on Friday at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Miami to call for an end to deportations to Haiti.

“It is our belief these Haitians who have been deported without due process, were not apprised of their rights in their native language,” she said.

A murder in Daytona Beach has also become part of the state’s immigration debate, after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a press release on Wednesday about the recent killing of a married couple⁠ — allegedly at the hands of an undocumented Haitian migrant. Terry and Brenda Aultman were stabbed to death on March 10 heading home from a biker festival. Police arrested Jean Robert Macean, an Orlando resident. He later confessed to the crime while speaking with investigators, said the Daytona Beach Police chief on Twitter. Macean, who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, had been arrested in 2019 and charged with drug possession. DeSantis’ press release blamed President Joe Biden for Macean not being deported — even though Macean’s drug case was dismissed by prosecutors nearly a year before Biden took office.

“The Biden Administration announced a new Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti last year, a reversal of the policy of the previous administration,” the governor’s news release said. “The policy allowed Macean to stay in the country.” Temporary Protected Status allows eligible people from nations in turmoil to temporarily live and work in the United States. It also protects them from deportation. When asked to clarify how Biden was at fault for Macean not being deported, DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw clarified that, in fact, the courts prevented Macean’s deportation. She said that former President Donald Trump had revoked TPS for Haitians in 2017, a decision that was challenged in court. While the litigation was ongoing, the temporary protected status was allowed to remain in place until 2021, when Biden issued a new TPS order for Haitians. “If the revocation of the TPS for Haiti issued by the Trump administration had been in place, or if the soft-on-crime prosecutors in the 9th circuit had not dropped the felony drug charges against Macean, he would have been deported and unable to brutally murder the Aultmans,” Pushaw said. Wilson told the Miami Herald that DeSantis’ remarks on the role of TPS in the killings were “a knee-jerk reaction from a governor who has shown us he has no sense of humanity.”

“So because one immigrant [allegedly] commits murder, he wants to taint the whole process, and that’s unacceptable,” she said.