In a stunning reversal, Haitian migrants who have gathered in Texas in an effort to seek asylum were reportedly no longer facing deportations and being allowed to stay in the U.S. after outrage grew from Border Patrol agents on horseback appearing to physically assault the Black people attempting to cross into the country from Mexico.
The decision by immigration officials came days after the Biden administration began mass removals of the migrants by sending them back to Haiti, where some of them said they were not told was their final destination. The abrupt about-face seemingly resulted from widespread shaming of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Border Patrol, which had approached the humanitarian crisis with a zero-tolerance policy that turned violent.
While exact numbers were not immediately available, the Associated Press reported — citing anonymous government officials — that a “very, very large scale” of Haitian migrants were being “freed,” though it was unclear what that stated freedom actually looks like in terms of where they will go.
“Many have been released with notices to appear at an immigration office within 60 days, an outcome that requires less processing time from Border Patrol agents than ordering an appearance in immigration court and points to the speed at which authorities are moving,” the Associated Press reported.
There was no mention of the opportunity for the migrants to seek U.S. citizenship, although they were reportedly “being processed under immigration laws.”
The 180 from the U.S. government followed calls led by Black leaders for President Joe Biden to take decisive action for the asylum seekers prompted by the footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback using reins to whip Haitian migrants in scenes that were reminiscent of the antebellum south.
Activist Tamika Mallory was among those voices that used no uncertain terms to call out the federal government’s role in contributing to the international humanitarian crisis on American soil.
Noting how Biden failed to use his first United Nations address as president on Tuesday morning to address the situation in Del Rio, Texas, Mallory suggested the entire Democratic leadership along with the president’s administration was to blame.
“They are responsible,” Mallory said of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, using their names. “There’s nobody else.”
She later added that “there’s no way to get around the fact that under this administration, they are responsible.”
For his part, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas initially tried to downplay the situation at the border and suggested there was nothing inhumane about the Haitian migrants’ treatment. He said the Border Patrol did not use whips even though video footage shows them whipping the migrants.
After DHS began deporting them on Sunday, Mayorkas used the moment to try to deter other migrants from literally following in their footsteps.
“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s life,” Mayorkas said Monday. But as Mayorkas was uttering those words, images and video footage went viral showing Border Patrol violently attacking Haitian migrants in an effort to round them up for expulsion.
That led to the outcry that undoubtedly influenced Mayorkas to undermine his own words.
After learning of the plans to remove the migrants, Haiti on Sunday asked the U.S. for a “humanitarian moratorium” regarding the deportations of an estimated 14,000 people.
“The situation is very difficult,” said Jean Negot Bonheur Delva, who leads Haiti’s national migration office.
To be sure, it was never a practical, let alone humane idea to deport people to a nation that is in the throes of multiple crises following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and last month’s magnitude 7.2 earthquake that killed more than 2,100 people, injured more than 10,000 people and left tens of thousands of people without homes.
At least one group of Haitian migrants removed from Del Rio were not told they were returning to Haiti in a reported instance of duplicity used against desperate people seeking better lives for themselves and their families.
The people who were taken from Texas and landed in Port-Au-Prince expressed a similar sentiment to human rights advocates and Haitian leaders alike who have said it is not a good idea to return the migrants to Haiti.
“How could they bring us back here?” Johnson Bordes asked in an interview with the Post moments after he stepped off the plane that landed in Haiti on Sunday. “This is an injustice. I don’t even know where we are going to sleep tonight.”
Following Moïse‘s assassination in July, Mayorkas told Haitians they shouldn’t head to the U.S.
Mayorkas stated that Haitians trying to travel to the U.S. “will die” and reportedly discouraged any “migration by sea.” He later added: “Allow me to be clear, if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”
The U.S. has already extended protections for the Haitian nationals living in the continental 50 states under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). That status was renewed in May for another 18 months for up to 55,000 Haitians. Haitians living in the U.S. under TPS were previously facing deportations until Mayorkas renewed their protections.