Refugees' rights organizations on Thursday said the Trump administration has been ramping up deportations of Haitians and asylum-seekers from several African countries in the weeks before Election Day, sending hundreds of people back to countries where they may face gang and political violence and potentially spreading the novel coronavirus in places that lack infrastructure to cope with outbreaks.
Calling the deportation flights "death flights" in the midst of the United States' worsening coronavirus pandemic, the immigrant rights group Witness at the Border told The Guardian that 12 flights to Haiti have been recorded in October so far, up from one or two flights every four weeks in previous months.
BREAKING: NEW #DEATHFLIGHTS #ICEAir REPORT, September & YTD. Sept: record # of likely DEPORTATION flights (96) & total flights (444) during #covid_19. 706 likely deportation flights YTD to 18 countries in LA & Carib. Sept. was 2nd highest month of year. https://t.co/Y2urH1LuQf
— Witness At The Border (formerly Witness Tornillo) (@WitnessBorder) October 7, 2020
The administration has arranged the deportations under Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Services Law. The White House has used the law, which allows the government to take emergency action to prevent the "introduction of communicable diseases," to deport more than 200,000 immigrants this year, according to The Guardian.
The CDC has said there is no reason to use the law to protect the health of Americans or asylum-seekers, but the outlet reported that Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump's close adviser on immigration policy, "insisted on it."
Under U.S. public health guidelines, detained asylum seekers and immigrants must be held in a way that allows for social distancing and must be tested prior to boarding a deportation flight, but Guerline Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance (HBA), told The Guardian that safety protocols have been all but abandoned.
"Once they arrive back in Haiti, they are just left to fend for themselves," Jozef told the outlet, adding that a majority of Haitians who have been deported recently are families with young children and babies. "I believe that they are trying to deport as many people as possible prior to the elections."
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In April, the Trump administration was accused of "actively and knowingly spreading the coronavirus to Central America through deportation" as officials resumed flights to countries including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, even as the U.S. became the epicenter of the global pandemic. The Guatemalan government said at the time that at least three nationals deported from the U.S. tested positive for Covid-19 upon arrival.
The collapse of Haiti's economy since the 2010 earthquake there has led to crumbling infrastructure, the weakening of democracy, and a rise in gang violence.
HBA reported that the current "chaos and disorder" in Haiti has created conditions that make it nearly impossible to reintegrate deported nationals into society.
In addition to Haitians, asylum-seekers from Cameroon, Congo, and several other African countries have been deported in recent weeks.
The administration is ramping up deportations ahead of the election, especially of Black migrants.
This month, ~700 Haitians, Congolese, and Cameroonian migrants have been deported back to life-threatening situations. The disregard for human life could not be more blatant. pic.twitter.com/6sdUgswKdq
— Ellie Hutchison Cervantes (@ellie_rhc) October 26, 2020
"The disregard for human life could not be more blatant," tweeted immigrant rights organizer Ellie Hutchinson Cervantes.