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Biden calls Haitian migrant crisis 'an embarrassment'; advocates say racism at root

Cindy Carcamo, Andrea Castillo and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

More than 2,000 migrants have been returned to Haiti on 17 flights since Sunday. About 12,400 people released into the U.S. were placed in deportation proceedings and will have their cases heard by an immigration judge, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said during a White House news briefing. Another 5,000 migrants were being processed by DHS, he said.

An estimated 8,000 migrants abandoned the Del Rio camp and returned to Mexico, Mayorkas said. Despite the increase in Haitians at the southern U.S. border, they represent a small share of overall border encounters. Last month, they made up an estimated 4% of Border Patrol encounters.

Steven Cesar, 29, was hoping to join cousins in Miami and Orlando and find work to support his 8 year-old daughter back in Haiti when he arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border alone.

Cesar said he couldn’t understand why the U.S. accepted refugees from other countries in crisis even as they deported Haitians.

“They received ... people from Afghanistan,” he said. “They know all the problems we have in Haiti — the earthquakes, political problems. Why don’t they want us?”

Dr. Cécile Accilien, a Haitian studies scholar and board member of the nonprofit Haitian Studies Association based in Atlanta, said this recent uptick of Haitian migration didn’t happen in a vacuum. Haiti has become a predominantly migrant sending country. But it wasn’t always that way.


For more than a century after its independence in 1804 from France, Haiti was regarded as a destination for migrants from abroad.

Haiti was the first country in the world to liberate itself against slavery after a successful slave rebellion started in 1791. The nation was the world’s first free Black republic, and it became something of a promised land for formerly enslaved people from the U.S., as well as a destination for a range of migrants.

But that changed after intervention from several foreign powers. One of Haiti’s first emigration movements coincided with a 1915 U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation. U.S. leaders claimed they were occupying the country to modernize it, implement rule of law and protect lives. They were also seeking to stem the growing influence of Germany in Haiti and ended up helping establish a military dictatorship by placing U.S. Marines in charge of ruling the country.

U.S. leaders also consolidated the country’s finances to align it with U.S. banking interests. American influence lasted through the rest of the century. Out of fear that Haiti would fall to communism during the Cold War, America supported the ruthless Duvalier regimes, which originated in 1956 under François Duvalier and ended in 1986.


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