On August 30, the United States embassy in Port-au-Prince called on all US citizens to leave Haiti “as soon as possible” because of the worsening security situation in the country. The next day, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement loaded 57 Haitians on a plane and deported them to Haiti.
One must wonder if the same plane used to deport Haitians was filled on its return flight with US citizens evacuating from a country too dangerous for them to stay.
Human Rights Watch recently issued a report documenting the dramatic surge in killings, kidnappings, and sexual violence in Haiti since January.
But US officials have long known Haiti is unsafe. In 2010, the US Secretary of Homeland Security designated Haiti for temporary protected status (TPS), which has been extended and redesignated many times since. TPS bars the US from deporting people to a country where temporary conditions prevent nationals from returning safely. On February 4, 2023, the current secretary redesignated Haiti for TPS, saying, “Haiti is experiencing extraordinary and temporary conditions resulting from grave insecurity and gang crime, as well as socio-economic and humanitarian conditions, including those resulting from environmental disasters aggravating food insecurity.”
What distinguishes the danger to “Haitian nationals living in the United States” who cannot be deported because they have TPS from the 57 Haitian nationals living in the US who were deported on Thursday? The answer: a cut-off date. Haitians who arrived after the date of the designation, February 4, 2023, can be deported.
The United Nations high commissioners for refugees and for human rights – and the international law principle of nonrefoulement – make no such distinction. On November 3, 2022, the refugee high commissioner called on all governments “not to return Haitians to a country that is extremely fragile.” The following day the human rights high commissioner proclaimed that “the systematic violations of rights in Haiti, do not currently allow for the safe, dignified and sustainable return of Haitians to the country.”
It’s bewildering that the Biden administration could be so focused on deporting Haitians who arrived after February 4 that it loses sight of its own warnings for Americans to leave the country and its protection of Haitians present in the US before that date.
Forcing people back to a country deemed too dangerous for Americans to remain in or for its nationals to safely return to because of their arrival date in the US is not only nonsensical but also life-threatening.