Immigration News from September 18-19, 2021

Haitian migrants top this weekend’s immigration news, as thousands of mostly-Haitian border crossers swelter, unsheltered, in Texas heat near the border crossing at Del Rio. The usual rhetoric abounds: it’s a wave, a caravan, a crisis, a super scary surge! 

 No, says Guerlaine Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, interjecting a voice of reason. What is happening at the border? “This is not a crisis, it is a bottleneck,” she told CBS News

The United States just completed the evacuation of more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan. Sheltering, feeding, and processing the migrants at the border is a logistical challenge that can be met.

The crisis, says Jozef, is is back in Haiti, not in Del Rio.

“The reality is that Haiti is drowning in a pool of man-made and natural disasters. Instead of throwing them a lifeline, we’re making sure that they drown.” 

Eschewing humane discussion of lifelines, Republicans cry crisis and oppose any help for Haitians. And the Biden Administration seems incapable of raising the level of discussion. Never mind that we just brought more than 50,000 Afghans to emergency locations in the United States. According to the anti-immigrant nay-sayers, the United States cannot even consider a humane response to far fewer Haitians at the border.

Instead, the Biden administration responded with several initiatives, including increased expulsions of migrants by flying them back to Haiti. (Deportation flights to Mexico, Central America, and South America also increased dramatically in August.) Other parts of the administration response in Del Rio include a surge of immigration officials to the border to help with processing, moving thousands of migrants to other border stations for processing, and negotiating with third countries to accept return of Haitians who recently resided in those countries. (New York Times)

“The Biden administration has three flights planned for Sunday, according to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss evolving plans, and starting on Monday, it will run four flights a day. Most of the passengers will be single adults. Under the proposal, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the administration will “accelerate the pace and increase the capacity” of removal flights to Haiti and other destinations in the next 72 hours. But many details — like the number of people on each flight or how people will be processed before being placed on a flight — were not immediately clear on Saturday….

“The flights come as the Biden administration is appealing a court ruling this week that halted a Trump-era public health policy that used the coronavirus pandemic to justify turning back unauthorized migrants at the border. Mr. Biden had continued the policy, resisting calls to lift the measure from immigration and human rights advocates who deride it for preventing asylum seekers from requesting protection….

“Recognizing the difficult conditions in Haiti, the Biden administration recently extended temporary relief from deportation to about 150,000 Haitians already living in the United States, granting them temporary protected status. But tens of thousands have tried to cross into the country since then despite not qualifying for the program, which covers those who entered by July 29, before the recent earthquake.”

While the New York Times reports a plan for three flights on Sunday, other accounts put the planned number somewhere between two and eight flights daily. Haitians say they will not return. And it is not clear whether the Haitian government will accept returnees. (The Guardian

“A federal official said the US would likely fly the migrants out of the country on five to eight flights a day starting Sunday. Another official expected no more than two a day and said everyone would be tested for Covid-19. The first official said operational capacity and Haiti’s willingness to accept flights would determine how many flights there would be. 

“Told of the US plans, several migrants said they intended to remain in the encampment and seek asylum. Some spoke of the most recent devastating earthquake in Haiti and the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, saying they were afraid to return to a country that seems more unstable than when they left. 

“’In Haiti, there is no security,’ said Fabricio Jean, 38, who arrived with his wife and two daughters. ‘The country is in a political crisis.’” 

The Guardian also explains how the Haitians have come to Texas—mostly by land, through South America, though some still come by sea. Some have lived precariously in Brazil or other South American countries for years. Others left Haiti after the most recent earthquake or escaping violence there.

“For many migrants, crossing the Rio Grande is just the last small step in a circuitous odyssey that stretches across the Caribbean and deep into South America.

“Most fly from Haiti to Ecuador, which does not require a visa for Haitian visitors, before either trying to find work in Brazil or Chile, or heading north, crossing the perilous jungles of the Darién Gap and onwards to Central America and Mexico.

“At every stage, they are at the mercy of a security forces and organized crime groups which target travelers, and the rickety infrastructure of the people-smuggling business….

“Others chose a more direct, but equally treacherous, journey to the US, chancing their life on the high seas. On Monday, the coast guard intercepted a 35-foot boat carrying 103 people, 18 miles off the coast of Florida. They had been at sea for six days.” 

Like the Biden administration, Arizona’s Republican governor is ready to welcome Afghans, but not asylum seekers from other countries. Arizona State University journalism professor Fernanda Santos writes in the Washington Post

“Recently, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) issued a statement affirming Arizona’s commitment to sheltering Afghans who ‘helped our fight to defeat terrorist organizations and defend human rights.’

“His show of compassion was refreshing. I just wish he would tap into it for the thousands of asylum seekers waiting on the Mexican side of the border for a chance at a safer, more stable and more dignified life in the United States. I wish the governor would see that the violence, insecurity, poverty and hunger these asylum seekers have endured can be their own kind of terror.” 

And in other news

Suffering from mental illness, diabetes, hypertension, cellulitis, and other medical problems, Martin Vargas Arellano usually needed to use a wheelchair. He got COVID in December in ICE detention in Adelanto, had a long and difficult illness, and then a stroke on March 3.  Two days later he was released from ICE custody with no notice to his children or his attorney. On March 8, he died, alone, in a Texas hospital. (Vera Institute)

“There is no consistent policy or practice for the release of people who the government has deemed unable to advocate for themselves from immigration detention. As a result, attorneys report this pattern: people who have been declared mentally incompetent due to cognitive disabilities or mental illnesses are ejected from immigration detention facilities without any notice to their attorneys, families, or caregivers and are left to fend for themselves in places like parking lots and bus stations, with only the clothes they had when they were arrested and debit cards they often can’t activate. Some are never found.

“While legal service providers have reported unsafe releases from immigration detention for years, many say that the problem worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, as ICE abruptly released people in undignified and dangerous manners; people who were sick with or at high risk of contracting the virus. Despite their obvious health needs and medical complications, many people were literally abandoned on the street. Others with serious physical and mental health conditions were discharged from ICE custody without prescribed medication, transportation assistance, the ability to contact a lawyer or family member, or even a place to stay for the night.” 

Although the number of applicants has remained roughly the same–between eight and ten million annually–for the past five years, processing times increased dramatically under the Trump administration. The GAO recommends executive orders to repeal many of the burdensome and unnecessary requirements imposed by the Trump administration. (Newsweek)

“After analyzing data and interviewing officials, the [U.S. Government Accountability Office] determined that the build-up of cases stemmed from a combination of issues within and outside of USCIS purview. The GAO attributed the longer processing times to policy changes that resulted in longer forms, expanded interview requirements, insufficient staffing levels and a suspension of in-person services due to the pandemic in 2020….

” In 2015 there were 3.2 million pending cases with that number staying around the same level in 2016. By 2017, total pending cases increased to 4.3 million. In 2018 the number jumped to 5.7 million with the figure staying around that same level for both 2019 and 2020.” 

“Processing coordinators” will get less training and less pay than Border Patrol officers, but might ease the ongoing shortage of personnel. (AP)

“Instead of conducting patrols and uncovering smuggling activity, its agents spend about 40% of their time caring for people already in custody and administrative tasks that are unrelated to border security.

“The agency hopes to free up agents to go back into the field by hiring civilians for jobs like making sure microwaved burritos are served properly, checking holding cells and the time-consuming work of collecting information for immigration court papers.”

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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