The Biden administration’s recent mass deportation of Haitian migrants on public health grounds sparked a number of resignations and criticism from its close allies.
A senior legal advisor at the State Department stated that he considers the mass deportation of Haitian migrants that took place in recent weeks to be an illegal act and a questionable use of public health laws. Harold Koh, a veteran of the Obama administration, who is retiring from public service to become a professor at Oxford University, wrote his criticism of the administration in a letter to State Department leaders.
The letter, which was released on October 2, reflects a widespread concern inside the State Department over the mass deportation of Haitian and Central American migrants at the southern border. These caravans of migrants came to the country in search of asylum and refuge, in many cases escaping from unstable and dangerous political situations in their countries. Haiti, in particular, has recently had its president assassinated and went through a devastating earthquake.
But instead of having their asylum claims processed or have the most vulnerable cases assessed (something the administration promised to do but was largely left to pressure from pro-immigration activist groups), the migrants were summarily taken to planes and forced to return to the country from which they had escaped.
Discontent among officials over the mass deportation of Haitian migrants
According to sources inside the State Department, Koh’s vision is widespread within the department, and there is much discontent among officials. Less than two weeks ago, the US special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned for the same reason and sent a resignation letter criticizing the administration for its mass deportation of migrants, that he called “inhumane.” Foote also added that at this time Haiti is a highly dangerous place with a “collapsed state” that is not in a position to respond to the needs of its population.
Joe Biden has continued to use a mechanism introduced by Donald Trump that allows for the mass deportation of migrants, in this case mostly from Haiti, under Title 42 of the Public Health and Services Act of 1944. This previously unknown piece of legislation was used to postulate the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for not providing due process to asylum seekers from Haiti and Central America.
“I write first because I believe that the current implementation of Title 42 authority by this administration continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return … people who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially fleeing migrants from Haiti.”Wrote Koh in his letter, published in Politico.
Koh noted that the chaos in Haiti had prompted the administration to extend temporary protected status to Haitians already living in the United States. Therefore, he argued, there was no reason to expel the newcomers and put them directly into a life-threatening situation.
The government defends the mass deportation of migrants under Title 42
The State Department publicly maintained that the decision to use Title 42 is in the hands of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal health agency. In addition, they insisted that Title 42 is a public health order, not an immigration order, and that the authority to uphold it rests entirely within the CDC.
“The CDC has determined that the removal of certain individuals under Title 42 is necessary due to the risks of transmission and spread of COVID-19 in settings of high concentration of people, such as US Customs and Border Protection stations, as well as due to the still latent threat of emerging variants.”A senior State Department official declared.
However, when the use of Title 42 was first proposed by the Trump administration, the CDC’s own medical experts opposed it and the measure could only be implemented due to the pressure by the then-Vice President Mike Pence. Olivia Troye, a former Pence aide, resigned in protest and said the policy was written by Stephen Miller, a Trump adviser who led that administration’s anti-immigration campaign.
“It seems to me that there is a relatively simple way to deal with it if someone poses a public health risk upon arrival in the United States. They can be quarantined, they can get medical treatment. It doesn’t mean they need to be deported.”Said Michael Posner, former Under Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
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