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People gather on August 17, 2021 after spending the night outside in Les Cayes, Haiti as heavy rain brought by tropical storm Grace hit just after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the region, killing at least 1,400 people. (Photo: Reginald Louissant Jr./AFP viaGetty Images)

The Expulsion of Migrants in Texas Highlights Decades of Failed US Foreign Policy Toward Haiti

The crisis in Haiti—following problematic elections, natural disasters, and a presidential assassination in July—is really, at its roots, a failure of U.S. foreign policy.

Jeff Abbott

 by The Progressive

Just days before President Joe Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly, declaring his commitment to protecting human rights and dignity, the news was filled with images of U.S. Custom and Border Protection agents on horseback whipping migrants in Del Río, Texas.

The United States carried out more than forty-four expulsion flights to Haiti in one week. At the time of publication, the expulsion flights are continuing. But despite the United States' heavy-handed response to Haitian migrants at the U.S. border, Haitians and other migrants continue to stream north.

Despite the changes in administrations, U.S. policy in Haiti has not changed in decades. The support of democracy has rung hollow, with the United States pushing through their candidates, and civil society being largely left behind.

Among those now en route to the United States is Ernst, a thirty-four-year-old Haitian who asked that we not use his last name. In mid-August, he left Santiago, Chile, where he has lived since 2015 with his wife and daughter. Two months later, the family arrived in Tapachula, Mexico, joining an estimated 30,000 Haitians seeking to reach the United States. 

"The majority of people come from either Haiti, Brazil, or Chile," Ernst tells The Progressive in a phone call from Tapachula. "But getting to the United States is very difficult."

Tens of thousands of other Haitians continue to travel through the region seeking refuge. On September 26, Guatemalan National Police agents and immigration officials detained seventy-five Haitian and Cuban migrants in the eastern part of the country. The migrants were expelled to Honduras.

Like many other Haitian migrants, Ernst initially left his homeland in search of jobs in Brazil and Chile. "There is no work in Haiti," he says. "How can someone live in Haiti when there is no work?"

But he never found the opportunity he needed in Chile, partly due to the difficulty of obtaining legal documents to work. Added to this, the racism against Haitians was constant, he says. So in August, Ernst made the decision to try reaching the United States. 

"I was only working to eat, and one cannot live like that," he tells The Progressive. "Without papers, you cannot do anything."

The route to the United States for Haitians is a long one, often starting in Brazil or Chile; in total, it is an estimated 7,000-mile-long trek, fraught with dangers such as the Darién Gap, an area with no roads, where migrants either walk through the dangerous jungle or travel via water crossing between Colombia and Panama. Despite the risks and the Biden Administration's massive expulsion of Haitians at the Southern border, Ernst still hopes to reach the United States. 

"The United States has a better life," he says. "I want to be in the United States. I do not want to be there illegally, but I want to be there."

But Mexican authorities have intensified their efforts to stop migration, and the options for crossing that do exist, including taxis, can cost thousands of dollars. Work in Southern Mexico remains extremely limited, despite plans by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to create jobs in the country's southern states. 

Following the massive expulsion of Haitians, the United States special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, issued his resignation. In his two-page letter of resignation, Foote decried the deportations and the lack of support from the U.S. Department of State. 

"I will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in the control of daily life," Foote wrote in his resignation letter. "Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own."

Reuters reports that State Department spokesperson Ned Price called Foote's resignation "unfortunate" before placing the policy failure on the former special envoy (who had only been appointed in July, following the assassination of Haiti's president). But the crisis in Haiti—following problematic elections, natural disasters, and a presidential assassination in July—is really, at its roots, a failure of U.S. foreign policy.

Despite the changes in administrations, U.S. policy in Haiti has not changed in decades. The support of democracy has rung hollow, with the United States pushing through their candidates, and civil society being largely left behind, as Foote identified in his statement.

"The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner—again—is impressive," Foote wrote. "This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results." 

"Migration crises can be expected to recur as long as the United States keeps supporting, very heavy handedly, trying to choose who should lead Haiti, these corrupt and undemocratic leaders," Steve Forester, a lawyer and Haitian immigration advocate with U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, tells The Progressive. "We virtually installed Martelly in 2011, we supported Moïse, and Foote's resignation letter, as he made clear, is about a failed policy that doesn't support civil society."

The situation in Haiti remains dire. Lack of opportunity, crime, poverty, and corruption continue to push migrants to leave. The structural racism all too often continues in South American countries where many have sought a better life. But at the root of the problem is the continuation of a failed U.S. policy in Haiti, and the massive expulsion of thousands of Haitians from the border highlights this failure. 

"It hurts my heart every day," Ernst says. "The United States says it is a friend of Haiti, but when it does these things, it makes me think that it isn't a friend."

"The problem of my country is the problem of the United States. The United States only uses the smaller countries," he adds. "When Haitians cannot live in their country, it is the fault of the United States."

Ernst pauses, then finally says, "It is extremely complicated for Haitians."

© 2021 The Progressive

Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott is an independent journalist currently based out of Guatemala. "The Other Americans" is a column created by Abbott for The Progressive on human migration in North and Central America.

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