Karyn Pomerantz, May 17, 2021
UPDATE, May 21, 2021. Under pressure from immigration justice activists, Biden granted Temporary Protective Status, TPS, to Haitian asylum seekers who are in the United States by May 21, affecting 100,000 Haitians. Citing the political instability and violent uprisings in Haiti, the Administration reversed Trump’s denial of TPS. Could it be that it fears growing rebellion that could threaten the US’ exploitation of Haitian workers?
Since enslaved Haitian people abolished slavery in 1804, the imperialist nations, primarily the US, have attacked its economy and installed its presidents. They used Haiti as a cash cow, extorting reparations and interest payments on loans. From the beginning of Haiti’s liberation, France demanded reparations of $21 billion dollars in 2004 currency. The US CitiBank assumed the debt in 1911 in order to receive interest payments that Haiti repaid by 1947.
US troops occupied Haiti from 1915-1934 and supported the vicious governments of the Duvaliers under Papa Doc and Baby Doc. Reagan refused admission of Haitians to the US under the false assumption that they were likely to have HIV. US administrations overthrew the Aristide presidency. Clinton forced rice producing Haiti to import US rice, wiping out its rice farmers who then migrated to overcrowded cities where jobs were scarce. He established enterprise zones where foreign or international textile corporations employed Haitian workers, mostly women, who they grossly exploited with non-living wages and sexual intimidation under the guise of providing jobs. (See the article on migration here, Migration: A Reflection of Capitalism – The Multiracial Unity Blog).
The 2010 earthquake destroyed even more infrastructure that was weak to begin with. Over 300,000 people died, and survivors were forced into miserable refugee camps where little medical care or sanitation existed. Yet, tens of millions of dollars filled the coffers of NGOs who rushed their contractors to help Haiti rebuild. Known as the land of the NGOs, Haitian workers rarely if ever benefit from their programs. Organizations as revered as CARE were found to hoard the food sent to Haiti. The United Nations reported that NGOs and governments distributed only 43% of the promised $4.6 billion in aid for rebuilding. The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a liberal economic think tank founded by Dean Baker, reports the discrepancies in the promises of foreign aid and its reality (Haiti by the Numbers, Haiti by the Numbers, Ten Years Later – Center for Economic and Policy Research (cepr.net):
- Billions in humanitarian and reconstruction aid disbursed by donors from 2010 to 2012: $6.4
- Percent of that which was disbursed directly to Haitian organizations, institutions or companies: less than 0.6 percent
- Amount of money raised by the American Red Cross for Haiti: $486,000,000
- Number of new houses built by American Red Cross (as of June 2015):6
- Number of new houses USAID planned to build after the earthquake: 15,000
- Original estimated cost of those 15,000 houses: $59 million
- Number of houses USAID actually built: 900 (temporary wood shacks)
Today, 40% of Haitian workers have no jobs, 2.5 million earn less than $1.23 a day, and 1/3rd of the population needs food.
Haitian workers have fought back, from demanding better education, legitimate elections, a higher minimum wage (now $4.60/day), and an end to President Jovenel Moise’s rule, which expired on February 7, 2021. He ignored it, and workers launched a general strike to shut down the country. Even so, Moise remains in office, supported by the imperialists. Other political parties compete for political positions, promising reforms that never develop. The US loves Moise for his repression of Haitian revolts, his help kicking out Venezuela from the Organization of American States (OAS), and his ties to business. In return, the government responds with arrests, kidnappings, and murders of Haitians.
Detention and Deportations
While workers fight for change, others have fled to the US to seek asylum where ICE and the Border Control drag them into detention, send them back to Haiti, or dump them at the Mexican border.
The Trump Administration misused Section 265 of Title 42 that authorizes the Public Health Services Law to establish scores of public health programs ranging from maternal-child health to workforce development. Section 265 allows the government to institute quarantine provisions to safeguard US health. Citing this section, Trump denied entrance to unwanted migrants, claiming that they were a health risk. From March 2020 to February 2021, over 536,000 people were expelled under Title 42 provisions.
While promising to support asylum seekers, Biden outdid Trump. He deported and denied asylum to more Haitians since February 2021 than Trump did in 2020. Biden promised to suspend deportations during the first 100 days of his Administration. When Texas Judge Tipton invalidated this moratorium, Biden did nothing. In fact, he reduced his pledge to admit 65,200 asylum seekers to 15,000 until immigrant activists pushed him to honor his original promise.
Haitian asylum seekers have suffered rape, torture, and attempted murder in Haiti for opposing the current Haitian Moise government. Many need to hide once they return to avoid further attacks. The US has deported pregnant women, children, and elders. The Invisible Wall reports the effects of these practices on Haitian migrants:
“I’m from an area where gangs are breathing down your neck every day. They come out shooting and asking for money. That’s why my parents had me leave. One day the gangs came in the neighborhood to collect money. And my household didn’t have money to give so they shot at the house. After that event [my parents] had me leave. When I was deported to Haiti, I had to go to another area to hide.”
“I have seen differences in the treatment of white and black people at the detention center. I have seen white people detained here, but they are not here for long. Many of them are given an A number (the alien registration number) and put in a different section of the detention center. I have not received an A number, even though I am afraid to return. Most people who are in the T-42 process are like me, with the exception of about three white families here. It seems to me like the system is very racist. It’s mostly those here who are not allowed to receive A numbers and not allowed to share their fear of return to their home countries.”
Data confirm the racist nature of deportations that primarily target Latinx, Caribbean, and African asylum seekers. As law professor Charles Ogletree, Jr. writes:
“The treatment of refugees from unpopular countries such as Mexico and Haiti, when compared to the treatment of Elian Gonzalez (from Cuba) and immigrants from favored countries, confirms that our immigration policies are based on race rather than reason, and begs the question whether fairness is the operating principle of American immigration policies. While the state of immigration policies in the United States has come a long way since the implementation of the national origins quota system in 1924, it is evident that racial biases still pervade the major avenues of legal immigration. As a nation founded by and comprised of immigrants, America must maintain its openness to immigrants and its commitment to the equitable application of immigration law. The nineteenth century American aspiration to be a haven for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses must become a realization, not just for those seeking refuge from favorable countries, but for all (America’s Schizophrenic Immigration Policy: Race, Class, and Reason Boston College Law Review, Vol. 41, Iss. 4 (2000).”
What Ogletree does not acknowledge is that immigration policy is driven by labor needs in US fields and factories and by the need to scapegoat immigrants as criminals and competitors for jobs. Building on the racist stereotypes of black and Latinx people as parasites and freeloaders, the government is able to enforce policies that endanger these working class families fleeing desperate conditions caused by US imperialism.
What Can We Do?
Many people do not accept these practices. A US based coalition of human rights and political organizations has convened meetings and written letters to Congress demanding an end to the Title II asylum policies. (It is important to distinguish the entire Title II from Section 265. Advocates want Section 265’s anti-asylum provisions stopped, not the entire Public Health law). The coalition has also launched a petition to try to convince Congress to stop using Section 265 against Haitian and other migrants. It will start reaching out to the public to apply pressure on their representatives.
This strategy is a loser. Every day we receive appeals to sign a petition for fair housing, sanctuary, and police accountability. It took an uprising by millions of white, black, Asian, and Latin people to convict George Floyd’s murderer, Chauvin, tear down some statues, remove police from schools, and initiate conversations on racism.
It will take even more disruption, such as rebellions and strikes, to win material changes, such as a real living wage and housing. Mobilizations of large groups of workers have attacked immigration policies to demand an end to detention and deportations. In the US, protestors have blocked entrances to the ICE Headquarters in Washington, D.C., marched on May Day for immigration reform, and protected people from arrests by ICE.
In Glasgow, Scotland on May 13th, hundreds of neighbors surrounded a van holding two Muslim men whom police arrested for illegal immigration. The crowd rallied for 8 hours chanting “these are our neighbours, let them go” and “cops go home” until the police released the men, showing the power of community and militancy.
Yet, these victories are ephemeral, unsustainable, when the capitalists control production and politics. As bold and impossible as this sounds, violent, massive, multiracial and multiethnic organizing is our only opportunity to create a new world based on cooperation and need. We have seen important victories before, including the abolition of US, Haitian and other slavery, the Russian and Chinese revolutions, and the elimination of apartheid and Naziism. We have more to do!
Q&A: US Title 42 Policy to Expel Migrants at the Border | Human Rights Watch (hrw.org) The-Invisible-Wall.pdf (quixote.org) TITLE 42 AND ITS IMPACT ON HAITIAN MIGRANT