On 22 September 2021, the U.S. Special Envoy for Haiti, Ambassador Daniel Foote, resigned in protest over the treatment and deportation of Haitian migrants. In the wake of political crises and natural disasters, thousands of migrants have left Haiti. Around 13,000 people have gathered under a bridge connecting Del Rio in Texas to Ciudad Acuña in Mexico in the hopes of seeking refuge in the U.S. Those living in this makeshift camp have undergone dangerous journeys in the hopes of reaching a better life for themselves and their families. Migrant rights groups estimate that around 80% have experienced victimisation, exploitation, or abuse in Mexico alone.
Despite being so close to their destination, people in this camp continue to suffer horrendous conditions. In recent weeks, temperatures have hovered at around 37 degrees Celsius, and local authorities have struggled to provide them with adequate food and sanitation. Earlier this week, an AFP photographer captured disturbing images of horse-mounted U.S. officers corralling migrants. These images drew widespread condemnation, leading White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki to declare that horses would no longer be used in the area. Since Sunday, the U.S. has also deported 1,401 migrants from the border camp back to Haiti — forcing them to return to a humanitarian crisis. These flights are set to increase despite the Biden administration’s commitment to scaling back harsh Trump-era immigration policies.
Mr. Foote’s resignation letter condemned U.S. actions, “I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life,” he wrote. “Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my policy recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”
The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, pushed back against Mr. Foote’s claims saying, “It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances.”
Overall, it is concerning that a diplomat in charge of Haitian policy resigned out of frustration over slow decision-making processes and the dismissal of their concerns, as it indicates a lack of communication and coordination in U.S. immigration policy. Given this case’s contrast with the widespread public support in the U.S. for a recent influx of Afghan refugees, it also presents a troubling picture of American commitment to human rights. It suggests that rather than a genuine, global commitment, the U.S. decides who is worthy of humanitarian assistance based on political discourse.
The Haitian humanitarian crisis was first brought to international attention with the 2010 earthquake. It was the most devastating natural disaster ever experienced in the country, causing approximately 250,000 deaths, 300,000 injuries and affecting 3 million people in total. The earthquake left many destitute, forcing them to leave the country. The situation in Haiti has since seen a downward spiral with an increase in gang violence and poverty, the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July 2021, and another devastating earthquake on 14 August 2021.
To protect human rights and prevent further suffering, there must be a change in U.S. discourse that demonises the Caribbean and South American migrants. For the public, this may be achieved through an increase in media and movies portraying diversity like In the Heights and through community programs and education, which would promote a positive experience with migration and other cultures.