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Participants seen holding a banner at the press conference in Manhattan on February 6, 2021.

Participants seen holding a banner at the press conference in Manhattan on February 6, 2021. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Outrage After ICE Accused of Deporting 'Defenseless Babies' to Haiti During Pandemic

Rep. Mondaire Jones demanded the immediate return of "wrongfully deported" as Rep. Ayanna Pressley denounced ICE as "rogue agency."

Jake Johnson

Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York and nearly a dozen other Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling on the Biden administration to immediately stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement from carrying out additional "cruel, unnecessary" deportations and take steps to ensure that those wrongfully removed are able to return to their homes in the United States.

"We write to express our grave concern about a recent string of mass deportation flights of Black people to Haiti over the last week. As members of Congress that proudly represent large Black immigrant communities, we are outraged by ICE's persistent terrorization of our neighbors," reads a letter the CBC members sent Monday to recently sworn-in Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

"We can't sit by while ICE blatantly ignores POTUS' order and continues to deport planes full of Black people."
—Rep. Mondaire Jones

The letter came as ICE deported dozens of people to Haiti including, according to The Guardian, "a two-month-old baby and 21 other children." The new flurry of removals came after ICE deported hundreds of people to Jamaica, Honduras, and Guatemala late last month, prompting pressure on Biden to urgently rein in the nation's immigration agencies and halt ongoing deportation proceedings.

The Guardian reported that the children ICE deported Monday were sent to Haiti on "two flights chartered by ICE from Laredo, Texas to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. The removals sent vulnerable infants back to Haiti as it is being roiled by major political unrest."

Guerline Jozef, executive director of immigrant rights group the Haitian Bridge Alliance, told The Guardian that "it's as if there is a house burning, and instead of taking people out for their own safety the United States is sending defenseless babies into the burning house."

In their letter Monday, the CBC members highlighted the case of Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old man born in Saint Martin who arrived in the U.S. with his parents when he was five. Despite the fact that he was not born in Haiti and has never been to the country, ICE deported Pierrilus to the Caribbean nation last week, nearly a month after he was detained in one of the last immigration sweeps carried out by the Trump administration.

"As members of Congress who proudly represent large immigrant communities, we write on behalf of Paul Pierrilus, and on behalf of untold numbers of constituents, neighbors, friends, and family members like Mr. Pierrilus whom ICE has deported," the lawmakers wrote. "We are appalled by these recent deportations in defiance of President Biden's executive order and your predecessor's immigration enforcement guidance."

Shortly after taking office last month, Biden moved to institute a 100-day moratorium on most deportations before a federal judge in Texas blocked the temporary ban from taking effect.

However, nothing in [the judge's order] required ICE to expedite deportations or prioritize the people they have targeted," the lawmakers pointed out, noting that the order also did not impact DHS guidance instructing immigration officials to prioritize "removals necessary to protect U.S. national security, address unlawful entry after November 1, 2020, and mitigate immediate threats to public safety."

"There is no evidence that the people recently deported meet any of these criteria," the letter reads. "All too often under the Trump administration, the cruelty was the point, and unlawful misconduct was the means of inflicting it. We urge the Biden administration to ensure that our immigration system pursues human, equitable ends by lawful means."

In a tweet Tuesday, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), one of the letter's 12 signatories, demanded swift action to stop ICE from "unlawfully deporting Black immigrants and asylum-seekers."

"For years, this rogue agency has acted violently with impunity," Pressley wrote. "Enough is enough."

Read the full letter:

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

We write to express our grave concern about a recent string of mass deportation flights of Black people to Haiti over the last week. As members of Congress that proudly represent large Black immigrant communities, we are outraged by ICE's persistent terrorization of our neighbors.

One recent case in particular illustrates the violence that ICE is continuing to exact on our communities in defiance of President Biden's moratorium on deportations. In the dark, early hours of Tuesday, February 2, 2021, ICE deported Paul Pierrilus to Haiti. Mr. Pierrilus could not lawfully be removed to Haiti. Haiti is roughly 1,500 miles from the Rockland County, New York community that has long welcomed Mr. Pierrilus as a beloved neighbor. In spite of these facts, ICE deported Mr. Pierrilus anyway.

This is not the first time ICE unlawfully attempted to deport Mr. Pierrilus to Haiti. On January 11, 2021, ICE detained Mr. Pierrilus without warning and without cause when he voluntarily reported to the ICE New York City Field Office. In the days that followed, ICE transported him to Louisiana, where he was held in a detention facility. On January 19, ICE shackled Mr. Pierrilus, hauled him to Louisiana's Alexandria International Airport, and began to force him to board a plane to Haiti. At the last possible moment, an officer approached and took him away from the plane. Had it not been for the intervention of Mr. Pierrilus' attorneys at Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Office of Congressman Mondaire Jones, Mr. Pierrilus would have been deported in that moment.

As of this letter, we do not know exactly where Mr. Pierrilus is—or when the government of the United States, the nation he has called home for the last 35 years, will welcome him back.

As members of Congress who proudly represent large immigrant communities, we write on behalf of Paul Pierrilus, and on behalf of untold numbers of constituents, neighbors, friends, and family members like Mr. Pierrilus whom ICE has deported. We are appalled by these recent deportations in defiance of President Biden's executive order and your predecessor's immigration enforcement guidance. We urge you to immediately halt these cruel, unnecessary removals and secure safety, due process, and justice for all.

We are gravely concerned that ICE is disparately targeting Black asylum-seekers and immigrants for detention, torture, and deportations. Many of theese members of our communities are reportedly coerced and abused in for-profit detention facilities, such as the Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana, then abruptly flown by ICE Air chartered aircraft to countries where they cannot safely return (e.g. Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Haiti), even while their legal challenges to their removals are pending.

No law or policy compels these abuses and deportations, and they appear to defy your predecessor's own directives. On January 20, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to revise its immigration enforcement guidance to "safeguard the dignity and well-being of all families and communities. In response, your predecessor, Acting Secretary David Pekoske, imposed an immediate, 100-day moratorium on the vast majority of deportations. In addition, the Acting Secretary ordered DHS to use its discretion to prioritize removals necessary to protect U.S. national security, address unlawful entry after November 1, 2020, and mitigate immediate threats to public safety by people convicted of aggravated felonies. There is no evidence that the people recently deported meet any of these criteria.

On January 26, 2021, Judge Drew B. Tipton granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining enforcement of your predecessor's 100-day moratorium on deportations. However, nothing in that TRO required ICE to expedite deportations or prioritize the people they have targeted. Moreover, that TRO did not prevent the department's interim enforcement priorities from taking effect.

We are also concerned that these deportations were facilitated by a dubious, last-minute agreement to entrench the Trump administration's immigration policies. According to the recent  report of a protected federal whistleblower, on January 19, 2021, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II—then the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security—signed an unlawful agreement with AFGE National ICE Council 118 (NIC 118). The terms of that agreement grant NIC 118, the union representing thousands of ICE employees, extraordinary powers to delay changes to immigration enforcement policies and practices. If the whistleblower's report is correct, you have until February 17, 2021 to exercise your authority under 5 U.S.C 7114(c) to disapprove this contract, thereby preventing it from taking effect, and restore the department's power to set immigration enforcement policies and priorities.

As you review this matter, we request your responses to several pressing questions:

1. Why is ICE proceeding with or expediting the aforementioned deportations, despite the deportation moratorium and interim enforcement priorities?

2. Acting Secretary Pekoske's enforcement guidance states that the Acting Director of ICE "shall issue operational guidance on the implementation of these priorities" and "ensure consistency" between the priorities and ICE practice. What guidance has ICE issued in response to this directive?

3. What guidance did Acting Secretary Pekoske issue to ICE with respect to Judge Tipton's TRO?

4. What guidance have you already issued, or what guidance do you plan to issue to ICE with respect to the TRO and enforcement of your predecessor's deportation moratorium?

5. Do you plan to exercise your authority under 5 U.S.C 7114 (c) to formally disapprove the January 19, 2021 agreement between ICE and NIC 118, by the February 17, 2021 deadline?

6. What steps will you take to ensure that ICE officers--like all government employees--follow the law and implement the directives of the Biden administration?

7. Will there be a process for Paul Pierrilus and the many others that were wrongfully deported from their communities to return to the United States? If so, when will they be returned home to the United States?

All too often under the Trump administration, the cruelty was the point, and unlawful misconduct was the means of inflicting it. We urge the Biden administration to ensure that our immigration system pursues human, equitable ends by lawful means.

Thank you for your immediate attention to this vital matter.


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