US Attorneys General Critical of the Treatment of Haitian Refugees

Letitia James (File Photo)

NEW YORK, New York – New York Attorney General Letitia James has joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general across the United States in dispatching a letter to US President Joe Biden and US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing deep concern over the treatment of thousands of Haitian refugees currently seeking humanitarian aid along the border in Texas.

The coalition also urged the administration to re-evaluate its rush to unfairly expel refugees to Haiti.

“I have seen the devastating and disturbing photos of border patrol officers on horseback using whips to corral Haitian refugees seeking asylum, and it’s clear that they have not been shown the humanity and concern they are owed,” James told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC).

“We are a nation built by immigrants, and we cannot be callous and cruel towards individuals fleeing natural disaster, political instability, extreme poverty, and violence in their home country. I stand with my fellow attorneys general in urging the Biden administration to end the mistreatment of Haitians at the border and demonstrate the morality and compassion that they deserve,” she added.

In recent days, photographs and video emerged of US immigration officials using inhume tactics, including charging at and attempting to whip Haitian refugees, in Del Rio, Texas.

James noted that this comes as thousands of Haitians flee their country, as the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country faces “unprecedented political upheaval following this summer’s presidential assassination and struggles to rebuild critical infrastructure after a destabilizing earthquake last month.”

In their letter, the attorneys general are calling on the Biden administration to ensure US federal officials treat Haitian refugees with dignity and compassion.

Theyl are also urging the administration to exercise its authority to give Haitian nationals seeking refuge in the United States the same due process other immigrants and refugees receive by assessing each Haitian refugee on a case-by-case basis, “rather than continuing a disparate immigration policy that rushes the repatriation of Haitian refugees to a country that has suffered from political unrest after the assassination of their president and a humanitarian crisis on the heels of a devastating earthquake and tropical storm.”

The coalition commends the federal government’s commitment to investigating what it describes as “the inhumane tactics” of US immigration officials in Texas and for its recent decision to increase the number of refugees who will be allowed into the United States.

However, the coalition also expresses concern over the continuation of a summary deportation policy that is forcing many Haitian refugees seeking asylum or other humanitarian assistance in the United States to return to Haiti without any consideration of the legitimacy of their claims for asylum.

The attorneys general argue that Haitian refugees deserve the same due process as all other individuals attempting to immigrate or flee to the United States, stating that “the circumstances of every Haitian seeking refuge in the United States should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

The attorneys general argue that this individualized evaluation should factor in both the time a person has been away from Haiti and the circumstances he or she will likely face if forced to return amid Haiti’s current humanitarian and governance crises.

Additionally, the attorneys general note that the federal government has several tools at its disposal to address the dire conditions Haitian refugees are facing in Del Rio, including the president’s ability to exercise discretionary refugee admission authority during a humanitarian crisis.

“In the event of an unforeseen emergency refugee situation, the president has authority to designate a number of refugees to be admitted into the United States that is separate from the annual cap on immigrants allowed into the US,” says the coalition, pointing out that the admission of Haitian refugees is justified by “the grave humanitarian concerns currently facing the people of Haiti.”

The coalition also suggests that the secretary of Homeland Security could extend the July 29 date by which Haitian nationals were required to be present in the United States to be eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

The US attorney general may also parole a refugee into the United States, says the coalition, arguing that the Biden administration should exercise its discretion, “which the law expressly provides, to demonstrate compassion and fairness in the treatment of those Haitians seeking refuge in our country.”

Last Thursday, Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke joined her Massachusetts congressional colleague, Ayanna Soyini Pressley, in criticizing the treatment of the Haitians.