Biden attempted to pause most deportations on Jan. 20, but a federal judge temporarily blocked the move. Immigration officials say the recent removals match Biden’s new enforcement priorities — such as people who recently crossed the border or who were convicted of serious crimes — but advocates say immigrants are being sent to nations where they could face danger.
“The community should not still be in panic across this nation when we have an administration that is willing to do the work of stopping these deportations,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Friday in a call with reporters. “They have the authority to say no more flights will leave the United States.”
Migrants who cross the border are still being removed under a Trump administration order that allowed the expulsion of recently arrived people under Title 42, Section 265, of the public health law that aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Advocates for immigrants tracking the flights say Immigration and Customs Enforcement has expelled approximately 900 Haitians, including dozens of children, in the past two weeks.
Advocates for immigrants say the situation is urgent, as Haiti and nations in Africa are facing varying threats. Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, has seen its democracy plunge into a constitutional crisis with allegations of a coup attempt and conflicting claims to the presidency.
Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, which has been working with the families of Black immigrants, said pregnant women and dozens of children have been expelled into that environment.
“We are asking that expulsions stop immediately,” Jozef said. “We are demanding the Biden-Harris administration stop risking the lives of Black immigrants. . . . Enough is enough.”
Immigrant advocates also complained that the expulsions are occurring during Black History Month and at a time when people of color are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and unemployment.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that he will allow approximately 25,000 migrants who have been waiting for months in Mexico under a program called the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, to enter the United States starting next week to seek asylum. President Donald Trump created the program in fiscal 2019, the year nearly 1 million migrants crossed into the United States.
Most Haitians expelled in recent days fell into the Title 42 category, officials said, drawing concerns that Black migrants are being disproportionately affected.
The Department of Homeland Security said the vast majority of those expelled are from Latin America — which includes Black populations but is not predominantly Black.
Several Black lawmakers wrote Mayorkas earlier this week saying they were “gravely concerned that ICE is disparately targeting Black asylum-seekers and immigrants for detention, torture, and deportation,” which DHS officials denied.
Although a federal judge has halted the Biden administration order pausing deportations, advocates for immigrants say the DHS could use its discretion to stop the flights and reexamine the deportations.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, prodded the Biden administration to rethink deportations to Haiti and “consider all possible options to prevent further harm.”
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), a committee member and daughter of Jamaican immigrants, was among several lawmakers who urged Mayorkas in the letter Monday to stop deportations.
“I realize ICE must carry out its mission in line with legal precedents,” she said in a statement. “However, this must be done in a way that is sensitive to humanitarian needs for recent border crossers.”
Advocates say Black immigrants felt targeted under the Trump administration and worry that many of his policies remain in place. Trump issued a ban on travel from many Muslim-majority nations, which also targeted several predominantly Black countries, and used an epithet to refer to nations that included Haiti and parts of Africa. Approximately 1 in 10 Black people in the United States are foreign-born, according to the Pew Research Center.
In a demonstration at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Wednesday, a man fell to his knees begging to avoid deportation. He said he was from Cameroon, a nation that has seen violent conflicts between the Francophone majority and English-speaking minority.
“The situation in Cameroon is worse than you think,” said the 33-year-old laborer, who asked not to be identified, because he is seeking asylum. “Please, I’m on my knees. Please stop the deportations. We are dying.”
Biden has urged migrants and lawmakers to have patience and emphasized that the DHS is targeting only people who meet its priorities.
“The return of a family is a solemn and heartbreaking event,” DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck said in a statement. “That is especially true when the country of destination suffers instability, violence, lack of economic opportunity, or other challenges.”
“As this Administration has stated from the very outset, our capacity at the border will not transform overnight, due in large part to the damage done over the last four years to our asylum system and infrastructure,” she said. “As we review and reform current immigration policies, we will continue prioritizing the health and safety of everyone we encounter during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
But lawmakers and advocates said they were stunned by the swiftness of some deportations, including of longtime residents. Omar repeated her call for the administration to abolish ICE, a move most Democrats and Biden do not support.
ICE deported New York resident Paul Pierrilus to Haiti on Feb. 2, even though he has never been to that country and has lived 35 of his 40 years in the United States.
He had fought deportation since 2004 after a drug conviction. His parents are of Haitian descent, but they are U.S. citizens and Pierrilus was born on the Caribbean island of St. Martin.
Haiti had never recognized him as a citizen, he said, but an immigration judge ordered him deported more than 16 years ago and he lost his appeals.
In an interview, Pierrilus described how he had to be dragged off the airplane. He wore the parka he used to wear in New York into the tropical 85-degree air. He said he is stunned and defeated.
“I’m not a Haitian citizen! I’m not a Haitian citizen!” Pierrilus recalled yelling as local officials pushed him onto a bus. “I felt helpless because it’s a situation out of my control. It’s a situation I can’t do anything about. No one is hearing what I’m saying.”
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said the deportations of Black immigrants were cruel.
“These people are not being sent to Europe,” Jones said. “ICE continues to be a rogue agency populated by people who share Donald Trump’s racist ideology. White supremacy permeates the agency and it must be brought to heel.”
Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, said he did not know why Haiti accepted Pierrilus. He said the crisis in his homeland has prevented him from getting answers and called Pierrilus’s deportation “unfortunate.”