HAITI’S CHRONIC hardship and hunger have long been entwined with a long line of corrupt, autocratic and brutal leaders who have exacerbated the country’s instability. Among the worst in recent memory is the current Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse.

Having taken office four years ago, Mr. Moïse’s term has been marked by a degradation of democratic institutions and a descent into violence that has transformed the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, into a tableau of fear and insecurity. Armed gangs prey on civilians with impunity, some of them through kidnap-for-ransom rackets.

Neighborhoods known for their opposition to the president have been targeted for bloody attacks by criminals whom the U.S. government has tied to high-ranking officials in Mr. Moïse’s government. Those officials were hit with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department in December. In Haiti itself, virtually no one responsible for the attacks has been brought to justice.

Mr. Moïse has dissolved most of the country’s elected parliament and stripped mayors throughout the country of their offices. The president denies he is a dictator; his actions suggest otherwise.

His term in office expired last Sunday. Nonetheless, he says he will remain in power another year, owing to the fact that an interim government was in place during what would have been the first year of his four-year term — the result of fraud-marred elections in 2016. The fact is, Mr. Moïse has permitted no fresh elections, and the fractured, feeble opposition is in no position to form a government to replace him. That may help explain why the State Department, while urging a restoration of democracy, has supported the president’s contention that he should remain in office until February 2022. To be credible, that stance must be reinforced with pressure to set a timetable and benchmarks for new elections.

As protests intensified, Mr. Moïse’s government on Sunday arrested more than 20 prominent figures and others, including a Supreme Court judge, alleging they planned to depose and kill the president. Given the chaos, it’s little surprise that Haitians have been leaving the country, hoping to make their way into the United States through Mexico. More than 600 of them have been expelled on a half-dozen flights since the start of February after trying to cross the border without documents, according to Haitian Bridge Alliance, an advocacy group that tracks the flights. None were allowed to apply for asylum under the pandemic public health emergency declared last spring by the Trump administration, which the Biden administration has so far kept in place.

No country holds more sway in Haiti than the United States. By supporting the political status quo there, the Biden administration ensures that more desperate Haitians will flee their country, and many will end up adding to the rising tide of illegal crossing at the Mexican border. As with Central American migrants, the problem of illegal immigrants from Haiti can be mitigated only by a concerted U.S. push to address problems at the source. In Haiti, those problems begin with Mr. Moïse.

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