Jan 26, 2022 - Podcasts

A growing crisis for Haitian migrants in South Florida

In the last three months, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted three boats, including one that had the largest group of migrants to land on the shores of the Florida Keys in more than two years.

  • Plus, concerns over China’s influence on Olympics coverage.

Guests: The Miami Herald's Jacqueline Charles; Tessa Petit, co-executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition; immigration attorney Frandley Julien; and Axios' Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, January 26th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: concerns over China’s influence on Olympics coverage.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: a growing crisis for Haitian migrants in South Florida

From 2020 to 2021, the number of Haitian migrants intercepted off the coast of Florida by the US coast guard has tripled to at least 1,500 people.

In the last three months, the US coast guard has intercepted three boats, including one that had the largest group of migrants to land on the shores of the Florida Keys in more than two years.

We've been in Miami this week reporting on this uptick, and people keep bringing up something Joe Biden said two years ago. In October, 2020, then presidential candidate Biden made a campaign stop at little Haiti cultural center and made Haitians in Miami a promise.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I give you my word as a Biden. I'll be there. I'll stand with you.

NIALA: We're hoping to spend part of this midterm year outside of Washington, DC, and you'll hear on the podcast from different communities. Here in south Florida, Biden's immigration policies Since he's become president have left many in the Haitian-American community disappointed and angry - like the Florida Immigrant COalition’s Tessa Petit and local Haitian-American attorney Frandley Julien.

TESSA PETIT: He has definitely failed us. Joe Biden came to little Haiti and said, “We will protect you.”

FRANDLEY JULIEN: We have lost our illusion when it comes to not only the Biden administration, but the Democrats.

NIALA: Since the start of the Biden presidency, more than 18,000 Haitians who've tried to enter the U.S. have been expelled back to Haiti. The majority of these deportations have happened since September when thousands of Haitian migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Del Rio, Texas. If you remember those images of Border Patrol officers on horseback, trying to push back Haitian migrants.

Let's catch you up quick on why Haitians are coming here now - Haiti's been in turmoil since President Jovanel Moïse was assassinated last July. Five weeks later, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the country’s Southern peninsula killed more than 2,000 people. There were smaller earthquakes in that same area just on Monday. And gang-led violence has led to widespread kidnapping, including of American missionaries and displaced more than 19,000 Haitians. Tessa Petit of the Florida Immigrant Coalition came here herself as a migrant two decades ago.

TESSA: I understand running away from fear and in my case, it was political asylum, but hunger, lack of safety. I left Haiti 20 years ago and Haiti has never been in such a bad state.

NIALA: As those crises deepen more Haitians are now taking to the seas to try to enter the U.S. through south Florida. Shetland Charles covers the Caribbean in Haiti for the Miami Herald. So I sat down with her to get some context. We met outside El Portal, a Miami-Dade county town that had the first Haitian-American mayor. I asked her what we know about the migrants who've come to south Florida by boat since Christmas.

JACQUELINE CHARLES: We know very little, you know, they ended up in the Florida Keys. And then they were taken to, you know, one of two detention centers that we have here in south Florida. I've spoken to some immigration attorneys who told me, for instance, the migrants who ended up in November, and perhaps December, that they have since been released. But you know, I've had family members who have reached out looking for loved ones who they assumed or thought they were supposed to be on one of these boats and they have not heard from them and they don't have any information. So we are very -

NIALA: They've reached out to you? Yes.

JACQUELINE: Yes, they’ve reached out -

NIALA: That's how you knew -

JACQUELINE: Yes, that’s how I know that the most recent boat, for instance, came from Haiti.

NIALA: Can you explain, Jacquie, why it's significant that these boats are coming directly from Haiti now and how that's different?

JACQUELINE: Yeah, so what we've seen in south Florida, you know, usually you see these go-fast boats, which is, you know, they will come from The Bahamas and they would have migrants in them and they would drop them off on the coastline or on a beach somewhere. But really in recent years, we really were not seeing a lot of these boats and we weren't seeing this deluge of Haitian migrants. You saw a lot in terms of Cubans, but now, you know, we're starting to see these boats and they're coming directly from Haiti. And so we started to see Haitians end up in Cuba. The numbers went up in The Bahamas. They went up in the Turks and Caicos. I mean throughout the Americas, there is a Haitian migration crisis. It's not just the southern border of the U.S.

NIALA: So let's talk about the White House. How does this influx fit into the Biden administration's immigration policies right now?

JACQUELINE: So President Biden, before he became president, was very critical of Donald Trump's policy toward Haiti. I've talked to a number of Haitian-American elected officials - The administration has tried to reach out to them, has tried to talk to them about different policies, for instance, you know, decisions that they're taking in regards to COVID, in regards to the economy. But every time they go into a room, whether it's a virtual call or whether it's face-to-face, the only thing that those Haitian-American elected officials are asking: What about Haiti? What about immigration? Those are the only questions and the answers that they want.

NIALA: And there's more instability for Haiti on the horizon. February 7th was supposed to be the day a new president was sworn in, but elections were never even held.

JACQUELINE: If you have more instability in Haiti in the coming weeks, everybody has to brace themselves because Haitians will say they cannot live. And they're just - The desperation is going to push them out. It's going to become a push factor.

NIALA: Jacqueline Charles covers Haiti and the Caribbean for the Miami Herald.

In 15 seconds: Republicans press NBC over Beijing Olympics coverage.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo. Republican leaders voiced concerns to NBC this week about the influence the Communist Party of China will have on the upcoming Olympic games in Beijing. China's record on human rights has put pressure on every company and organization that's been dealing with the games, including advertisers. Joining me with this scoop is Sara Fischer, Axios’ media reporter. Hey Sara!


NIALA: What are Republican lawmakers wanting or expecting NBC to do?

SARA: So they've asked that NBC provide written responses and any related documentation to several questions. And those questions include, one, has either the Olympic committee or China taking steps to influence NBC's coverage of the games and quote, “relating to reported human rights abuses against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province.” They've also asked whether or not the Olympic committee or China has asked NBC to make changes to the way that they are covered or the way that they're advertised and NBC programming. So really Niala, they want to know whether or not their programming is being influenced by the Olympic committee or the CCP. And NBC has just a few days to put together those answers. NIALA: Does Congress have any authority to ask a media company about its coverage?

SARA: Well, they can put out all the asks that they want, but Congress doesn't regulate broadcast companies. That's really left to the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission. Now, as far as I'm concerned, Congress has every right to be asking these questions and they seem like fair questions. The problem Niala, is that it's unclear to me what they're going to really do about it. You know, any relationship that NBC has with the IOC, that's a private marketplace relationship. Now, if the agreement says they'd have to, you know, manipulate coverage on something, that's something that I think the American people would want to know, and that Congress would want to know. But NBC has a pretty good track record for its journalistic standards. So it doesn't feel like they would be making those types of concessions, but Niala only time will tell, we'll see what they respond to these Republican House lawmakers.

NIALA: And we haven't heard anything yet from NBC?

SARA: No, NBC pointed me to a statement that they made last week regarding how they're handling their coverage of the games. And they've acknowledged that this is going to be a tricky thing. Basically what they're saying Niala is, look, we are not going to make this the center of our coverage, but we acknowledge it. And we're going to bring in experts to help share context during the games.

NIALA: Sara Fischer writes Axios’ media trends newsletter. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thank you Niala.

NIALA: And just a note to our audience. NBC is an investor in Axios and the president of CNBC business news worldwide is a member of the Axios board.

Before we go, a little slice of life in Florida to leave you with today – you might be thinking I am enjoying sunny warm weather, but the big local news in Miami this week was that it was so cold we had a falling iguana warning… that’s when it gets so cold – in our case, the 40s – that the cold-blooded reptiles are likely to fall out of trees. Not to worry, though – they perk back up again when it gets warmer.

As a native Miamian I know you are not supposed to pick up frozen iguanas – but fortunately I have not seen any just yet – especially since it’s back to being warm.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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