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U.S. envoy to Haiti resigns over migrant deportations

The U.S. special envoy for Haiti resigned on Wednesday, rebuking the Biden administration’s handling of Haitian refugees amassed along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

U.S. envoy to Haiti resigns over migrant deportations

Politico / Nick Niedzwiadek & Jonathan Custodio / September 23, 2021

The U.S. special envoy for Haiti resigned on Wednesday, rebuking the Biden administration's handling of Haitian refugees amassed along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti," Daniel Foote wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken dated Wednesday. News of Foote's resignation was reported earlier by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and by PBS.

Foote went on to say that the U.S. approach to Haiti "remains deeply flawed" and said that his input has been marginalized "when not edited to project a narrative different from my own."

Foote warned that the Haitian government "simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy."

"The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation and crime," he wrote.

Haiti has reeled in recent months following the assassination of the country's president, as well as the devastation wrought by a tropical storm and 7.2-magnitute earthquake.

Foote, a career member of the foreign service, had only been serving in the position as special envoy to Haiti since late July. His letter also made clear his distaste for the Biden administration's friendly stance toward Haiti's interim leader, Ariel Henry, who won a power struggle this summer in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse's slaying.

"This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results," Foote wrote. "More negative impacts to Haiti will have calamitous consequences not only in Haiti, but in the U.S. and our neighbors in the hemisphere."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki alluded to policy disagreements like those he mentioned but characterized them as part of the normal deliberative process.

"That's certainly part of having discussions and having robust discussions about the best path forward for difficult circumstances," she said before obliquely adding that "some of those proposals were harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti.

She also took a swipe directly at Foote, saying that the special envoy had "ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure," but never did.

The deportation and treatment of Haitian migrants on Texas borders, which went viral after border agents were photographed on horseback rounding up travelers with reins, sparked a protest of more than 100 people in Miami and criticism in Congress.

Psaki noted Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas decided that horses will no longer be used by border agents in Del Rio, Texas.

Federal officials have surged resources to the massive encampment in Del Rio and begun deporting many Haitians back home — infuriating Foote, humanitarian groups and a number of congressional Democrats.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) called Foote's resignation from the position "an honorable thing" in an interview on MSNBC.

"We should be opening our arms to folks who are in crisis," he said, echoing the message from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), whose district includes a large Haitian population, praised Foote's work in building coalitions in Haiti. Clarke said she hopes there will be a "serious engagement" in his debrief and that the next envoy can build on his successes.

"It's unfortunate that his work was, in a sense, marginalized and his opinions and knowledge of what was taking place was not incorporated into the decisions that have been made recently," Clarke told POLITICO.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) echoed the lack of communication between the administration and Foote.

"I have been told that US Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote was not made aware of the Administration's strategy to deal with the Haitian migrants and had differences with the State Department on other issues related to Haiti as well. It is unfortunate that he has decided to resign as I believe he could have helped chart the path forward," Waters told POLITICO in a statement, where she also criticized the treatment of Haitian migrants at the border. "I am demanding that this detestable behavior be stopped immediately, a moratorium be placed on the flights returning the migrants to Haiti, and that there be a credible and comprehensive investigation into the actions of U.S. border patrol agents at the border."

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) also called Foote's departure "extremely unfortunate" and told POLITICO "his recommendations were ignored."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price, like Psaki, pushed back on the narrative that Foote's input was ignored.

"There have been multiple senior-level policy conversations on Haiti, where all proposals, including those led by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process. Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false," Price said in a statement. "This is a challenging moment that requires leadership. It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation. He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead."

In an interview with McClatchy, Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of State, said one of Foote's proposals included posting the U.S. military in Haiti.

"One of the ideas that Mr. Foote had was to send U.S. military back to Haiti. I have followed Haiti since the Clinton administration, and I can tell you that sending U.S. military into Haiti is not the answer that will solve the terrible situation that the Haitian people are currently facing. It just was a bad idea," Sherman said. "Our interest is that the Haitian people can choose their own future in a free and fair election. We don't take sides with anyone in terms of that future."

Republicans, meanwhile, have pointed to the situation as further example that President Joe Biden's immigration policies are misguided and ineffectual.

Mayorkas told members of Congress earlier this week that the administration's anticipated "dramatic results" in its effort to get the situation under control within the coming days.