As Haitians Head North from Brazil, DHS Announces Resumption of Deportations

By Kausha Luna on September 27, 2016

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced last week the resumption of regular deportations to Haiti, amid a spike in Haitian arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the one hundred days prior to September 18, as many as 5,600 Haitian illegal aliens, accompanied by 150 minors, crossed Mexico's southern border and made their way north to Tijuana in order to seek asylum in the United States. Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that "numbers provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed that through July 31, a total of 3,060 Haitian 'inadmissibles' sought admittance to the United States through San Diego ports of entry during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year."

In his statement, Secretary Johnson explained that Haiti's situation since the devastating earthquake in 2010 has "improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis, consistent with the practice for nationals from other nations." After the earthquake, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) temporarily halted removal of Haitian nationals to Haiti. Haiti was designated for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) on January 21, 2010. TPS for Haitians was most recently extended through July 22, 2017. TPS beneficiaries cannot be removed from the United States nor detained by ICE on the basis of their immigration status. TPS also allows beneficiaries to receive work permits and Social Security numbers.

In April 2011, ICE said it would resume removals in a limited basis of Haitians with final orders of removal and convicted of a crime, or who posed a national security threat. Per this latest directive, Haitian removals will again be guided by the 2014 memorandum laying out priorities for the removal of other nationalities. Unfortunately, this is the same priority scheme that has led to a steady five-year decline in non-border deportations.

The majority of Haitians showing up at the San Diego border are leaving from Brazil, and then moving northward through Central America and Mexico. After Haiti's earthquake in 2010, Haitians identified Brazil as a destination country. In response to the influx of Haitian migrants, Brazil's National Immigration Council (CNIg) "implemented humanitarian actions" to "regularize" their status. In January 2012, Brazil opened up the possibility for Haitians to obtain visas with minimum requirements at the Embassy of Brazil in Port-au-Prince. Once the period of validity of this policy expired, the implementation period was extended and previous visa quotas were eliminated through a new legal instrument in April 2013. These humanitarian visas were set to expire on October 2016, but were recently extended for another year. These visas allow Haitians to remain and work in Brazil.

The flow of Haitian migrants continued as Brazil prepared for the 2014 World Cup and recruited Haitians to work on the construction of various stadiums, and later for the Rio Olympics. Significant pull factors for illegal migration were created by the promise of work and family reunification. However, given the end of the World Cup and Olympic construction boom and Brazil's economic crisis, a growing number of Haitians are leaving the country.

Approximately 80,000 Haitians in Brazil were amnestied with the granting of humanitarian visas or are in the process of obtaining permanent residence.

Haitian nationals have discovered that their transit through Central America and Mexico is eased by pretending to be from Africa, the majority claiming to be from the Democratic Republic of Congo. For example, in Mexico they are granted safe passage permits because they present themselves to immigration authorities as Africans, not Haitians. Mexico's diplomatic relations with Haiti, unlike with some African countries, increases the chances of being deportation. As a result, a backlog of Haitian illegal aliens, waiting to make asylum claims in the United States, has been created at the Tijuana-San Diego border.