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Thu. December 08, 2022
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Around the World, Across the Political Spectrum

Disproportionate Discrimination, Detention, & Deportation of Haitian Asylum Seekers

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The U.S. government is failing Haitians. Just over a year after shocking images of CBP’s cruel abuse of Haitian migrants at the border in Del Rio made headlines,[1] U.S. immigration policies and procedures continue to actively put Haitian migrants and asylum seekers at risk while violating domestic and international law. Current patterns of arbitrary arrests and inhumane detention endanger Haitians living in the U.S., while mass deportation strategies, chiefly under the guise of Title 42, endanger the lives of Haitians returned to Haiti or expelled to third-party countries. With TPS for most Haitians (and several other countries) set to expire on December 31 and rapidly deteriorating political, economic, and health conditions in Haiti, the federal government has a narrow window to take action or risk contributing further to a growing humanitarian catastrophe. Given the lengthy history of mistreatment of Haitian migrants at the hands of the U.S. government, it’s well past time that the federal government redress the harm done and fundamentally reshape its approach to asylum seekers from Haiti with expanded and expedited pathways to permanent residency in the U.S.[2]

Racial profiling and policing practices lead to the arbitrary detention of Haitian migrants, many of whom have claims for asylum pending. There is well-documented discrimination against Black migrants in ICE and DHS detention facilities,[3] putting detained Haitians disproportionately in harm’s way.[4] Many of these facilities limit access to legal counsel and fail to provide adequate translation or interpretation in Creole compared to other languages, creating a significant disadvantage for detainees to adequately defend their cases for asylum. Reports[5] of torture, medical neglect, racial violence, and other egregious human rights abuses in detention centers in Louisiana, Floridademonstrate that the U.S. is directly violating the 1951 Refugee Convention,[6] as well as the Convention Against Torture.[7]

The application of Title 42 as a means to conduct mass deportations of Haitians is a direct contravention of the nonrefoulement principle under the pretense of preventing the further spread of COVID-19. Title 42 might be a legacy of the anti-immigrant Trump administration, but its continued use has no scientific or medical basis and only further jeopardizes the health and safety of migrants through expulsions and deportations under dangerous circumstances. [8]  Although the Biden administration and CDC initially set out to end Title 42 earlier this year, following a court injunction that halted its proposed expiration they have since announced interest in further expanding the implementation of the policy. Given that the Biden administration openly declared that the pandemic is over, and reports that deported Haitians were never tested for COVID-19 nor given masks in processing or on flights, there’s no credibility to any arguments for the policy to remain in place. The federal government and the CDC have an obligation to challenge the legal injunction and fully terminate the policy, not expand application to Venezuelans and other groups seeking asylum, which inherently suggests expanded use against Haitians as well. Between January 2021 and February 2022, over 25,000 people were expelled or deported to Haiti,[9] many without even being given the opportunity to have a credible fear screening to assess their eligibility for asylum.[10] Considering the Biden administration agreed to admit 100,000 Ukrainian refugees shortly after the beginning of Russia’s invasion,[11] without concern for the epidemiological implications of Title 42, it’s easy to surmise how racial preference and perceptions influenced the imbalanced application of the policy.

Political and economic conditions in Haiti are dire since the assassination of President Moïse and have only deteriorated further with the devastating structural impacts of a massive earthquake and subsequent hurricanes. The continued deportation of asylum seekers with credible claims of threats of harm and persecution constitutes refoulement, a violation of Article 33 of the Refugee Convention.[12] The U.S. is knowingly returning Haitians to a country in turmoil with widespread food and fuel shortages, with rampant gang violence, with no real political stability under a corrupt system that actively targets and silences anyone who speaks out about the current party in power, the Parti Hai¨tien Te`t Kale (PHTK). Moreover, there is a burgeoning cholera outbreak with limited healthcare resources and infrastructure to manage it.[13] Neighboring Dominican Republic is also cracking down on Haitians at its borders, further stymying options for Haitians to seek refuge elsewhere.[14]

While TPS for Haitians designated in 2021 is set to expire in February of next year, the majority of Haitian TPS recipients under the designation originating in 2011 will see their protections expire on December 31 of this year.[15] Given the perilous circumstances in Haiti and the human rights obligations under international law, the Biden administration must at the very least immediately extend TPS for both the 2011 and 2021 designations to ensure the safety of Haitians living within the U.S. Ultimately, this is insufficient as a solution to addressing the needs of Haitians fleeing extreme violence and tenuous political and economic conditions. Temporary measures leave Haitian communities in an uncertain limbo. They deserve a pathway to permanent residency, as is their right afforded under the Refugee Convention and according to U.S. law.[16] 

Courtney Levine is a first year graduate student at American University's School of International Service in the Ethics, Peace and Human Rights program. She is originally from Miami, Florida, and has a BA in International Relations from Goucher College. She has spent the last several years working in contemporary art and public art programming primarily as a project manager and assistant curator. In addition to her professional work, Courtney spent many recent years participating in grassroots organizing and human rights activism in South Florida. This passion for human rights and social justice is what prompted Courtney to return to the field of International Relations and to pursue a graduate degree at AU to better serve human rights concerns from a more policy driven approach. 


[1] https://www.npr.org/2021/09/21/1039230310/u-s-border-agents-haiti-migrants-horses-photographer-del-rio

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-uss-long-history-of-mistreating-haitian-migrants

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/22/ice-black-immigrants-abuse-medical-neglect

[4] https://newrepublic.com/article/164625/haitian-asylum-seekers-ice-detention

[5] https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CERD/Shared Documents/USA/INT_CERD_NGO_USA_49305_E.pdf

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a33042eb078691c386e7bce/t/61bb36c9cc4c282092cbd145/1639659209877/DHS+NOLA+ICE+Investigation+Follow-Up+Letter+(1).pdf

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a33042eb078691c386e7bce/t/615defe5e76a986c1af29d7a/1633546214397/Multi-Individual+CRCL+Anti-Blackness+and+Other+Abuse+of+Black+immigrants+at+Krome+Oct+2021.pdf

[6] https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/3b66c2aa10

[7] https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-against-torture-and-other-cruel-inhuman-or-degrading

[8] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2200274

[9] https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/24/haitians-being-returned-country-chaos

[10] https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr36/5973/2022/en/

[11] https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/24/politics/us-to-accept-more-ukrainian-refugees/index.html

[12] https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/3b66c2aa10

[13] https://www.who.int/emergencies/disease-outbreak-news/item/2022-DON415

[14] https://apnews.com/article/caribbean-haiti-dominican-republic-gangs-border-security-2e4fa38c9de6ca31e983347d3c42b5f5

[15] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/10/19/biden-administration-further-expands-temporary-protected-status-to-cover-afghanistan-cameroon-ukraine/

[16] https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/USCODE-2011-title8/USCODE-2011-title8-chap12-subchapII-partI-sec1158/context

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