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‘Fix this.’ Miami officials furious over Haitian deportations, inaction from Biden.

Haitian-American activists and Democratic lawmakers in South Florida are growing increasingly frustrated at the Biden administration for increasing deportation flights to Haiti after they asked for a pause, as pressure grows for the president to improve treatment of migrants on the U.S. border with Mexico near Del Rio, Texas. 

‘Fix this.' Miami officials furious over Haitian deportations, inaction from Biden.

Miami Herald / Bianca Padro Ocasio & Alex Daugherty / September 23, 2021

Haitian-American activists and Democratic lawmakers in South Florida are growing increasingly frustrated at the Biden administration for increasing deportation flights to Haiti after they asked for a pause, as pressure grows for the president to improve treatment of migrants on the U.S. border with Mexico near Del Rio, Texas.

But the Florida officials — many of whom have been enthusiastic backers of President Joe Biden — are now getting spurned by the Biden administration and Democratic Party establishment, their months-long demand to end the deportation of Haitians met largely with silence.

After images of horse-mounted Border Patrol agents confronting Haitian migrants drew national attention and struck an emotional nerve in South Florida's large Haitian diaspora, the administration responded by sending more deportation flights to Haiti.

"You can't ‘build back better' without [Haitians]. Especially looking at this situation right now, living up to what the Biden agenda is and building back better, it includes our Haitian community, it includes our Bahamian community, it includes our Cuban American community, all of them," said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who was one of Biden's earliest Florida endorsers back in May 2019. "Build back better" is the name of Biden's domestic agenda.

Jones, who spoke during a press conference hosted by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of South Florida, said he was disturbed by the silence from his own Democratic colleagues when it comes to the deportation of Haitians because of the attention given to other South Florida immigrant communities.

"The Democratic Party every election cycle find themselves knowing when to come to these blocs asking for the support of the Haitian community, of the Black community. But when they are in crisis, like now, it's the silence for me, that worries me," Jones added. "They're going to have to show that they're just as concerned about the Haitian community as they were when the Cubans were out there on the streets. People were tweeting, people were saying SOS Cuba, today it's SOS Haiti."

Jose Parra, a spokesperson for the Florida Democratic Party, said in an interview with the Herald that the state party is against deportations without asylum hearings and that all migrants should be equally afforded "due process." "We are a country of immigrants, we are a country of refugees and asylum seekers, and that needs to be fixed," said Parra.

Politicians and activists from South Florida have personally appealed to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to suspend Haiti deportations since May, before the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and images of Border Patrol agents on horseback appearing to whip Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mayorkas has taken the opposite approach, increasing deportation flights in the last week with five leaving on Thursday.

Wilson said Thursday she felt there has been some progress with Mayorkas, including a trip that was arranged partly by DHS for some members of the Haitian American community in Miami to visit the border and survey the conditions of migrants who want to apply for asylum in the U.S. But she added not enough is being done to help Haitians in Haiti and throughout the Western Hemisphere.

"You've got to fix this, and I'm talking to the president of the United States of America and whoever else falls under the president, which is the entire nation," Wilson said. "We are basically begging, and all of us are pissed."

Wilson said that "hundreds" of Haitian migrants who have been released in recent days have made their way to Florida to be with relatives or sponsors who can help them strengthen their asylum cases to stay in the U.S. But Wilson said she thinks the problem is not just about the border, but about the lack of opportunities in Haiti and elsewhere in Latin America.

"Give money to these people, set up jobs, give them some sort of incentives to stay in their country to work. We don't want to see you with the National Guard at the border trying to fight back 60,000 people coming from the Western Hemisphere," said Wilson.

Mayorkas announced an expanded Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti, and the effective date was further extended to July 29, after Moïse's assassination but before the earthquake. Haiti's TPS designation, in place since the 2010 earthquake, allows status holders to work and live in the U.S. without being deported for a period of time.

But the TPS expansions don't apply to migrants who recently entered the U.S., many of whom spent years living in countries like Brazil and Chile after leaving Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that killed 300,000.

Lawmakers have also spent months calling for the restart of the Haitian Family Reunification Program, which allowed Haitians with family members in the U.S. to enter and work while waiting for a green card. The Trump administration ended the program in 2019.

Miami state Rep. Dotie Joseph, who was born in Haiti, said during a separate press call on Thursday with about 260 Haitian clergy and immigration advocates that the Biden administration is showing "tremendous bad faith" as it continues to expel Haitian migrants under Title 42, a law that gives federal officials more power to deport migrants under the auspices of limiting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The biggest concern we have is they're just deporting people without allowing them to articulate claims for refugee status," Joseph said.

Joseph also criticized Mayorkas, and said her conversations with the DHS secretary have been unproductive. She said Mayorkas' response when asked if deportations should stop is that they will continue, but "more humanely."

"All the conversations I've had with Secretary Mayorkas have unfortunately not been productive," Joseph said.

Pressure on the Biden administration to do more for Haitians, beyond just denouncing the tactics of Border Patrol agents, has grown in recent days. In addition to Florida lawmakers, including U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings and gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Biden to halt Haiti deportations this week.

Daniel Foote, the administration's special envoy for Haiti, resigned from his post Wednesday citing the "inhumane" treatment of Haitians on the border. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman responded to the criticism on Thursday saying the Biden administration disagreed with some of Foote's policy proposals, including a push to send the U.S. military into Haiti.

During the Thursday call, the clergy and advocates called for the Biden administration to end the deportation of Haitian migrants and for a change in Haiti policy to address U.S. practices that they argued contributed to migration in the first place.

"Thousands have already been deported to Haiti," said Keny Felix, a senior pastor with Bethel Evangelical Baptist Church in Miami Gardens. "As we stand today there are some who are receiving assistance, some aid from government agencies. But the situation is dire."