Jan 26, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration collage of Biden looking downcast next to Haitian migrants.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.

  • “He has definitely failed us,” said Tessa Petit, co-executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Joe Biden came to Little Haiti and said, “We will protect you.’ We’ve never seen this before. Literally, it feels like an attack towards Hatitians.”

Driving the news: Although most Haitian migrants come into the U.S. through the Southern border, a growing number are attempting the dangerous trip by sea.

  • In the last three months, three large boats with Haitian migrants have landed in Key Largo, Fla. It’s the first time in over two years that boats have evaded the U.S. Coast Guard. The most recent, a 60-foot vessel crammed with 176 people, no lifesaving equipment and no navigational lights, landed on Jan. 9.

By the numbers: The U.S. Coast Guard says it intercepted 1,527 Haitian migrants off the Florida Keys in 2021, up from 418 in 2020 and 932 in 2019.

  • The Coast Guard says it has intercepted 557 Haitian migrants since Oct. 1, when the current fiscal year began. In that same time period, 9,007 Haitian migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Customs and Border Protection.

After thousands of migrants crossed into Del Río, Texas in September, Democratic senators, immigration advocates and lawyers have urged the Biden administration to stop the deportations of Haitian migrants, who face political instability and violence in their home country.

  • Migrants crossing by land were often expelled under Title 42, the Trump-era pandemic provision that allows for migrants to be automatically deported without any hearings.
  • A spokesperson with the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that the Biden administration has not applied Title 42 to migrants arriving in Florida by sea.

What they're saying: For immigration attorney Friendly Julien, this is bigger than President Biden: “We have lost our illusion when it comes to not only the Biden Administration, but the Democrats in general.”

The other side: An administration official said the federal government has taken a number of steps to aid Haitian migrants in the U.S.

  • The Biden administration extended Temporary Protected Status to Haitians who were already in the United States before July 29, 2021, because of the current turmoil in Haiti.
  • But that doesn’t apply to any new migrants, and the government's policy is to expel anyone who enters into the U.S. "irregularly," regardless of their country of origin.

Between the lines: While so much recent attention has been paid to the U.S.-Mexico border, South Florida has also been its own border town for decades, Juan Carlos Gomez, the Director of Florida International University’s Immigration Rights Clinic, told Axios.

  • "South Florida is a key example of the disjunction of why there isn’t effective immigration reform,” Gomez said.
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