The Biden Administration’s Expulsion of Haitians Is Unconscionable—and a Missed Opportunity

What will it take for the U.S. government to have a new approach to Haiti? 

This week, as it did several months ago, the Biden administration again betrayed the trust of the Haitian community that helped to elect it. The most recent deception came in the form of mass expulsion of Haitian migrants, many of whom have not lived in Haiti for years. 

Reading the gut-wrenching accounts of the tens of thousands of Haitians arriving at the border of Mexico and the U.S., I could not fathom what they must be experiencing. The words echoing in my mind as I follow the news of Haitian refugees streaming into the U.S. through South America have been from Warsan Shire’s captivating poem “Home.

“…No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark…” 

Shire’s poem is a searing portrait of what it takes for a person to leave their home and wade into the unsafe waters of refugee life. The poem’s repetitions put flesh on the bones of the refugee experience, highlighting the unrelenting danger that migrants face. These are the images we have been seeing in the news of Haitians arriving at the Mexico border.

“…No one puts their children on a boat unless the boat is safer than the land…”

The appalling images of border agents riding on horseback with whips, rounding up Haitian people like cattle, eerily evoking the horrors of slavery. 

The shocking sight of a squalid refugee camp under a Texas bridge where more than 12,000 Haitians were removed from an encampment in Del Rio

The disquieting testimonies of people tricked into deportation—falsely told they were going to be sent to Florida only to be sent back to Port-au-Prince, where many of them had not lived for years. 

“No one wants to be beaten and pitied. … No one chooses refugee camps” 

The heartbreaking stories about pregnant women and young children who walk countless miles, grasping for faint glimmers of hope that they will be granted asylum once they reach the United States. 

The questionable departure of a series of flights carrying unsuspecting migrants to Port-au-Prince, and the rapid unfolding of the entire expulsion operation. 

The list is painfully long; the current tally of grievances jarring. 

And for those of us in the Haitian diaspora who voted for the Biden-Harris ticket hoping that they would bring much-needed immigration reform to the United States, it is also a sobering reminder. 

Perhaps we were naïve to hope Biden would reimagine immigration reform in ways more humane than his predecessors—including Barack Obama, who deported the highest number of Haitians in U.S. history up to now. 

To be clear, the proliferation of Haitian migrants at the Mexican border did not just begin under this administration. The number of Haitians entering the U.S. through South America has been steadily increasing over the years.

In 2016, shortly before the election of Donald Trump, the Obama administration resumed the mass deportations of Haitians who were granted temporary protective status after the earthquake of 2010. When Trump was elected two months later, he promised to stem the tide of immigration to the US through various measures including bans and walls. Deporting Haitians who have been abroad for so long that their ties to Haiti are tenuous at best was also a common practice of the Clinton administration. As Rachèle Maglorie’s documentary film Deported displays, the sordid history of deportation is coupled with a disregard for the person’s connections to their country of origin and has rippled effects throughout the community. 

The dismal and longstanding history of U.S. presidents’ meddling in Haitian affairs goes back over a century.

For Biden, this represents not only a missed opportunity to distinguish himself on immigration, but also an egregious lack of humanity and regard for Black lives in the Caribbean. The dismal and longstanding history of U.S. presidents’ meddling in Haitian affairs goes back over a century to the U.S. Occupation of 1915-1934 under Woodrow Wilson. It has also involved the trafficking of people under the cover of night to serve US interests—from the removal of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 to “fatal assistance” of post-crisis humanitarian aid, the United States has done much more harm than good in Haiti. 

A Haitian man walks past a sign requesting help and supplies in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 19, 2010. (U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael C. Barton)

In light of this beleaguered history, reading about another U.S. flight chartered to facilitate the mass expulsion of Haitians against their will felt hauntingly familiar. Haitian mass migration to the United States in times of insecurity and unrest is not new. The devaluation and degradation of Haitian lives at the hands of the United States government is not new either.

But what will it take for the U.S. government to have a new approach to Haiti? 

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Régine Jean-Charles (@reineayiti) is professor of Africana studies and women, gender and sexuality studies at Northeastern University. She is the author of Conflict Bodies: The Politics of Rape Representation in the Francophone Imaginary and A Trumpet of Conscience for the 21st Century: King's Call to Justice.