Biden Threatens to Force Haitian Asylum Seekers Back in Time

Just a few weeks ago, NBC News reported that the Biden administration is preparing plans to send Haitian asylum seekers to a third (so-called “lily pad”) country or to detain them in the military complex at Guantánamo Bay. These plans anticipate a surge in out-migration from Haiti in response to its continuing political and economic crisis. Still recovering from multiple devastating earthquakes and the assassination of its former president, Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s latest challenge has been fuel blockades that have made it difficult for people to leave the country.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance and 288 other organizations wrote a letter to the Biden administration imploring it to refrain from such actions. The letter reminded the President and his advisors of the United States’ shameful and often-overlooked history of interfering in Haiti and abusing those who seek refuge from its instability. It’s time that all Americans knew this history and acted to prevent it from repeating itself.

Haitian migration to the US has always been viewed with suspicion and often outright hostility. Beginning in the 1970s, the government instituted the so-called “Haitian program”, specifically designed to bar Haitian nationals from entering the country even as those from other states (particularly Cuba) were welcomed or at least tolerated. The racist underpinnings of this policy were sometimes painfully clear, as evidenced by the contrast between the treatment of (mostly white) Cubans and (mostly Black) Haitians during the time. The effects of this were felt most acutely by those Haitians who tested positive for HIV during the 1980s and 1990s. Though their rates of HIV infection were comparable to those of other Latin American and Caribbean countries, Haitians were blamed for spreading the virus. This led to the detention and abuse of hundreds of HIV-positive Haitians attempting to migrate to the US.

These individuals, along with other Haitian asylum seekers who were intercepted between the island and the US coast, were detained in Guantánamo Bay. Because the naval base there is run by the US but technically on Cuban soil, it is unclear who has ultimate jurisdiction over the base and this fact is used as a shield for horrific abuses. Those few Haitians who were able to make claims in US courts described appalling conditions, physical abuse and humiliation at the hands of guards, and deliberate refusal of medical care. People died of treatable conditions simply because the US government did not see their lives as worth saving. They were denied access to counsel and charged with no crimes, simply left to die in detention or return to Haiti.

For the Biden administration to even suggest using the base as a place to hold any human beings, particularly Haitians and particularly asylum seekers, is an utter failure to recognize this country’s horrific history. It is difficult enough for asylum seekers who remain on US soil to obtain a fair hearing and adequate access to food, medical care, and other necessities. To transport these vulnerable people back in time to the place where their ancestors were tormented on the basis of their skin color and poverty is an unspeakably cruel act.

Allison Bostrom
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I finished my MSc in International Development (With Distinction, from the University of Edinburgh) in November 2022, five years after completing my MS in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Since then, I have written about topics ranging from the digital divide to the relationship between imperialism and migration. My writings are connected by their focus on making the world a more equitable place. To keep my focus sharp, I enjoy writing about migration, human rights, and other related topics for The Commoner as well as volunteering as a Content Specialist for RYSE (Refugee Youth Success and Empowerment Initiative).

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