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Immigration 101: What’s Going on in Haiti? 

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On March 12, Haiti’s acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, resigned, leaving the country without a government and causing fears that the country is headed toward crisis and total collapse.

Henry stepped down after a gang insurrection prevented his return to Haiti after a trip overseas. The insurrection cut off Haiti’s capital from the rest of the country, closed the main port, and is preventing basic necessities from coming into the country. This is just the latest development in a political crisis that has been unfolding since 2021 – when former President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated — and for decades before that, when corrupt leader after corrupt leader led the country with profit motives in mind.

But the US has also played a major role in Haiti’s misfortunes. Haiti was once a French colony that revolted and threw off its enslavers. The US, alarmed by what the idea of self-determination for the oppressed meant for its own slaves, didn’t recognize Haiti as a country for the first 60 years of its existence. It occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934 to protect US economic interests. It’s propped up dictators and pushed for sham elections. It bungled foreign aid after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. And US actions aren’t in the distant past; the Biden Administration helped prop up Ariel Henry’s rule rather than working with leaders in Haiti to move toward a democratic solution. Henry was extremely unpopular, was never formally sworn in, and postponed all parliamentary and presidential elections once he took power. Gang-related violent incidents grew dramatically under his watch.

Haiti has a long and complicated history. Read more about it here and here.

What does the Haitian crisis mean for immigrants?

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians have left Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, and the recent events are contributing to what the Migration Policy Institute called the “next displacement crisis in the making in the Americas.”

In November 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged nations to stop deporting Haitians, given the precarious and dangerous conditions in Haiti. The US, again, has not always done the right thing here. In 2021, we saw images of US Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants to a temporary camp; some agents later even circulated an unofficial commemorative coin of the incident. Haitian migrants waiting in Tijuana to seek US asylum have faced terrible and dangerous conditions. And the Biden Administration sent more than 25,000 Haitians back to Haiti between 2020 and 2022.

The Administration has changed course in recent months; at least 71,000 Haitians have been granted a two-year protection from deportation (with work permits) through a parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans (CHNV). The Biden Administration also redesignated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for some Haitians already in the US.

As the situation on the ground destabilizes, however, more help will be needed. That’s why advocacy groups have called for more action from the Biden Administration. As our Executive Director Vanessa Cárdenas said this week: 

The Biden administration has an opportunity to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti with compassion, and doing so will strengthen the United States and help stabilize Haiti. Specifically, President Biden has the ability to strategically expand the use of humanitarian parole and Temporary Protected Status – and halt all deportation flights – to make sure Haitians seeking asylum reach safety, and they and those already here can work to support themselves and their families back home. The President has an opportunity to lead while focusing on solutions, especially because some American politicians are already exploiting fear of Haitian immigrants and trying to use the situation in Haiti to divide Americans.

How white nationalists are taking advantage of the haitian crisis

Unfortunately, right-wing officials and extremists are already using the Haitian crisis for their own racist political ends, claiming that a “Haitian invasion” is coming and that the Biden Administration isn’t doing anything about it.

The US has experienced Haitian arrivals before. In September 2021, Haitian families fleeing instability made their way to Del Rio, Texas, to seek asylum. Finding some shade under a bridge, some families erected shelter from the sun while they waited to make their asylum claim. The temporary encampment lasted all of two weeks before the migrants were moved to processing facilities. From there, most were summarily deported, many without ever having a chance to make an asylum claim.

The right-wing media, meanwhile, swooped in to make mountains out of molehills, rushing to the makeshift camp to take photos and videos before the camp was dismantled. Right-wing extremists, then and now, have relentlessly driven a false political narrative about the “Biden border crisis,” how Democrats are supporting “open borders,” and how migrants constitute an “invasion.” At least 48 paid political ads were created from this temporary camp, ads that were meant to trigger anti-Black racism and  xenophobic fear of “the other.”

This kind of language is far from harmless. “Invasion” and “white replacement” language has been used by racist mass shooters like the ones who came to Buffalo, NY, and El Paso, TX – extremists who were motivated by racial animus and acted on their hate to devastating effect.

Today, Haiti is in crisis, and the Biden Administration needs to do more to protect those already here and those who may come to seek asylum. And political watchers should call out the anti-immigrant and anti-Black hysteria that right-wing extremists are using against some of the poorest people in the western hemisphere, who are coming to the US because they need help.