The United States and the Haitian Asylum Seeker: Title 42 and the continuation of anti-Haitian immigration policies
By Frederica Solomon
Haiti experienced a presidential assassination, 7.4 earthquake, and a hurricane in rapid succession.
Faced with uncertainty and unimaginable hardships, thousands of Haitian men, women, and children embarked on the dangerous journey to the United States. But on September 19th, 2021, images depicting US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) attacking Haitian asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border revealed a harsh rejection rather than a safe haven.
These shocking images depict a bleak history of Haitian migrants who were denied asylum in the United States.
After a violent military coup in the early 1990s that forced many Haitians to flee from their country for safety, the US government invoked the 1987 HIV Travel Ban to justify imprisoning Haitian asylum seekers who tested positive for HIV. Rationalized by public health concerns, asylum seekers, including pregnant women, were imprisoned indefinitely and left without adequate medical care.
Following this 33-year-old precedent, the Trump Administration invoked Title 42, a provision of the little-known 1944 Public Health Service Act in March 2020. The provision uses the COVID-19 pandemic as justification for the expulsion of noncitizens at the northern and southern borders, just like in the early 90’s.
Despite his promises to quickly revoke Trump-era immigration policies, Biden continues to enforce Title 42 using this public health rationale. By August 2021, Title 42 expulsions at the southwest border had increased from 197,043 in 2020 to a staggering 1,040,220 expulsions by the end of September 2021.
Title 42 must be rescinded.
During the Biden Administration, Haitians are being deported at higher rates than ever before. The Department of Homeland Security is currently accelerating deportation flights and expelling the majority of migrants under Title 42. Even with minimal safeguards guaranteed in Title 42, CBP agents have also been turning away Haitian asylum seekers without first hearing their claims. The drastically limited opportunity to claim asylum is a violation of international and US law and leaves Haitian asylum seekers stranded at the border, or facing immediate deportation.
For Haitian women, the denial of asylum by Title 42 is compounded by the dangers they face as women. Stranded at the border, women are at an increased risk of gender-based violence.
Many women travel in groups for safety, but this rarely protects them against kidnappings and sexual violence on the way to the southwest border.
But the danger is not at the border alone.
Of the migrants on deportation flights from the US back to Haiti, 2 in 3 are either a woman or a child. This is deeply concerning as the prolonged impact of climate change, political instability, and poverty have left Haitian women vulnerable to gender-based violence in their own country. In 2020 amid the COVID–19 Pandemic, gender-based violence in Haiti spiked 377 percent with 6,500 women exposed to sexual violence. Without the availability of legal protections for their safety, Haitian women were forced to flee in search of asylum- many choosing the US as their hopeful safe haven.
On October 1st, 2021, CDC Director Walensky indicated that the Biden Administration would not be rescinding Title 42. The justification? High levels of COVID-19 transmissions in border states. Despite the administration’s statement, Title 42 hasn’t helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In fact, the lack of mitigation efforts by the Texas state government has caused COVID–19 to spike along the border as well as in other areas of the state. Therefore, there is no real public health rationale that justifies denying entry to asylum seekers based on the fear ofspreading COVID–19 until the spread caused by US citizens is of equal concern to lawmakers.
Without pressure from American residents, the Biden Administration will continue this assault on the rights of Haitian asylum seekers. By joining social media campaigns and reaching out to our lawmakers , we can advocate for the permanent end to this policy. Above all, we must stand in solidarity with asylum seekers and listen to the Haitian and Black immigrant communities as to how we can best support them .
It is time to eliminate laws, policies, and provisions that continue to deny Haitian migrants their right to seek asylum.
Starting with Title 42.
Frederica Solomon is a first-year MPA-PNP student specializing in Advocacy and Political Action. Currently, she is an Employment Specialist at the International Rescue Committee New York where she supports refugees and asylees with securing employment.