Joe Biden is Deporting Haitian Immigrants Into a War Zone

The latest expulsions are just part of a wider, deeply cynical political strategy.

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Last month, the Biden administration quietly resumed deportation flights to Haiti. The flights had been paused since January, partly on account of the breakdown of the Haitian government and the rampant violence that has plagued the island nation for months. But on April 18, they started up again, with a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security telling Al Jazeera that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (better known as ICE) had “conducted a repatriation flight of around 50 Haitian nationals” who were “found to not have a legal basis to remain in the United States.” This is just the latest betrayal against immigrants and refugees from the Biden government, and it may be the worst one yet. 

About a week after the ICE plane touched down, reporters with southern Florida’s NBC 6 spoke by phone to Gerson Joseph, one of the people who was deported. Joseph had lived in Florida for decades, was engaged to be married, and has a seven-year-old daughter. According to him, the only reason he was put on the deportation flight was because he missed an immigration court date after the notifications got lost in the mail. Now, he’s been taken away from his family and trapped in Haiti, and his future is uncertain at best:

“I have no idea what I’m going to do. […] I barely sleep man, I am not going to lie to you, I barely sleep, I am moving from place to place. […] They dropped us over here with no travel documents, I don’t even have a paper that can identify who I am right now, where I’m at,” said Joseph.

Really, that testimony speaks for itself. What the U.S. government did to Joseph, and to the other people on his flight, is both unspeakably cruel and just plain stupid. It serves no conceivable purpose. The United States is not one bit more safe and secure now that Joseph and his fellow deportees are excluded from it; it would have cost nothing to simply rubber-stamp his forms and send him home to his fiancée and child. To abruptly dump someone into a country where they have no place to stay, without even their most basic personal belongings, just because they happened to have been born there (and didn’t fill out the proper paperwork when they moved, decades ago) is inexcusable. This would be true even if the country in question were the safest on Earth—and today, Haiti is anything but. 

In fact, the situation in Haiti right now resembles an outright civil war. Ever since the still-unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, things have continued to spiral out of control. In the capital of Port-au-Prince, heavily armed street gangs now control around 80 percent of the city (according to United Nations estimates), and a series of mass prison breaks has only worsened the situation. There really is no functioning government, as Prime Minister Ariel Henry—who was never elected to begin with—has been forced to resign, and only a nebulous “transitional council” has taken his place. Meanwhile, experts at the U.N. say that “the scale of human rights abuses is unprecedented in modern Haitian history,” as rates of murder, kidnapping, and sexual violence have skyrocketed. Across the country, nearly five million people are facing starvation, and around 360,000 have been internally displaced. In short, it’s obviously unsafe to deport anyone into what is effectively an active war zone. Doing so could easily condemn them to death. 

There’s been no shortage of voices telling the Biden administration that, either. In a public statement on April 18, Representative Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick—who’s currently the only Haitian American in the U.S. Congress—called the decision to resume deportation flights “simply an act of atrocious cruelty.” More recently, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami called the deportations “unconscionable given the realities on the ground,” and North Lauderdale Mayor Samson Borgelin (who was born in Haiti) said they were “unthinkable” and “a moral failing.” Progressives in Congress, like Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Barbara Lee, have also made statements urging the president to halt deportations to Haiti. That’s a pretty clear message. 

In the past, Joe Biden has claimed to care about immigrants. That was one of the central themes of his 2020 campaign, in which he contrasted himself against Donald Trump’s “hateful rhetoric and division” and promised to return the United States to its much-vaunted status as “a beacon of hope for those fleeing violence and oppression anywhere in the world.” But now it’s election time again, and his tune has changed. In a transparent attempt to look tough and fend off attacks from his right, Biden has been trying to beat the Republican Party at its own xenophobic game. In February, he pushed for a “bipartisan border agreement” that was really a giveaway to the anti-immigrant Right, expanding ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol and seeking the authority to close the U.S.-Mexico border by executive order. When the deal was narrowly voted down, he used it as a propaganda tool, painting Republicans as the ones failing to “secure” the border with more and more militarized guards. And just a few years after he condemned Trump’s “hateful rhetoric,” he used the spiteful, dehumanizing phrase “an illegal” to describe a human being in his most recent State of the Union address. There’s little point in calling out the hypocrisy; that only works on people with a conscience, and Biden shed his like a snakeskin decades ago. But it’s important to understand that deportations to Haiti are just one piece of a broader, entirely cynical political strategy.

At the same time, right-wing commentators have been busy spreading racist nonsense about Haitians. Ever since the outbreak of the current humanitarian crisis, they’ve seized on a narrative about “cannibal gangs,” who supposedly eat people on a regular basis in Haiti, to push for tighter restrictions on immigration. There’s no evidence that cannibalism actually is widespread among Haitian gang members, and much of the alleged evidence has proven to be fake; one viral video, for instance, actually showed Chinese Halloween decorations designed to look like human corpses. But that hasn’t stopped the claims. In March, conservative pundit Ian Miles Cheong said online that “cannibal gangs in Haiti who abduct and eat people” were “now illegally entering the U.S. en masse.” A few days later, Elon Musk—who’s never met a racist lie he didn’t like and retweet—said that the U.S. government should “screen immigrants for potential homicidal tendencies and cannibalism” in a reply to Cheong about a related post. There’s nothing subtle about the bigotry here. People like Cheong and Musk simply believe Haitians are scary, subhuman beings who should be kept out at all costs, and they want U.S. policy to reflect that belief. 

A good leader would push back against that kind of xenophobia in the strongest terms. Instead, Joe Biden has given the anti-immigrant Right exactly what it wants. By resuming deportations to Haiti, he’s only reinforcing the idea that Haitian immigrants are inherently threatening. He’s taking ordinary people like Gerson Joseph and throwing them into harm’s way, tearing their lives apart to boost his own chances of reelection. It’s disgusting, and it needs to stop.

Photo courtesy of the “Defense Visual Information Distribution Service 

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