Haitian migrants who were deported Sunday to Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, aboard three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) flights criticized the way they were deported and their treatment during detention.
"They didn't let us take any of our belongings. It was like being in jail, no food, nothing," Dieudonne Cassagne told VOA. He is from Gonaives in northern Haiti and had been living in Chile before heading to the Texas border, he told VOA. "This morning they woke us up early and told us, ‘Let's go,’ and then we realized they were taking us to the airport."
A woman who declined to give her name said she had been living well in Chile but did not have legal residency, prompting her to leave. She said Haitians were treated differently than other migrants during detention. She told VOA that detainees from Venezuela, Colombia and Nicaragua were allowed to change clothes when they requested to do so. Her request was denied, she said, adding that she was wearing the outfit she had on when she was picked up by the border patrol four days ago.
"My problem is with how we were deported. We were deported like people who have no family (worthless), like people who are not intelligent. There was no one to defend us,” she told VOA. “According to the law we were supposed to be given a document that indicates we are going to be deported that we were supposed to sign. But we did not receive that. They signed the document themselves. They took our passports from us, and they did not return them at the airport in Texas. We only got them back on the flight to Port-au-Prince," she added.
The Biden administration announced its decision Saturday to deport thousands of Haitian migrants massed under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico Border. The number of migrants arriving outpaced the border patrol resources to handle them, officials indicated Saturday.
Chief Raul Ortiz of the U.S. Border Patrol said 3,300 Haitian migrants had been detained over the weekend and that officials expected more detentions. Ortiz warned migrants Sunday that they would be deported under Title 42, a 1944 health statute invoked under the Trump administration by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the coronavirus outbreak and continued by Biden. The law prevents migrants from gaining entry into the U.S. for public health reasons.
"Migrants attempting or considering making the journey to our border should know that we are still enforcing CDC Title 42 order, and that they will not be allowed to enter the United States," Ortiz said during a press conference. "They will be removed, and they will be sent back to their country of origin as mandated under our current law. Our partners at the State Department are working to ensure that there is adequate support when they land in Haiti."
Jean Negot Bonheur Delva, head of Haiti’s migration office, told VOA the migrants’ names will be put into a registry along with their contact information so that National Office of Migration (ONM) employees can follow up with them. Bonheur Delva also said they will be given money to restart their lives in Haiti.
"These people you see will be accompanied to the bus station and they will be given money — for example, today we are giving them 10,000 gourdes (about U.S. $100), per person — and what does that mean? These people will be accompanied by ONM workers to the bus station so they can head back to their respective towns,” Bonheur Delva said.
Anyone who is sick will be referred to local hospitals and ONM will do what it can to provide other kinds of support, he added.
News of the deportation angered Haitians, who took to social media to express their sadness, disgust and disappointment with the Biden administration.
"To say the USA is our friend when we are in misery and then drop us like this. That country is a traitor," @figaromodric commented on VOA Creole's Instagram page.
Haitian American Grace Karenchley Jean Pierre was not sympathetic to the migrants' plight.
"You enter the country (U.S.) illegally and now you are saying what they did to you is illegal," she posted on VOA Creole's Facebook page.
Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond expressed sadness about the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border and said he is monitoring events closely.
"The Embassy of Haiti follows with deep sadness the unfolding situation of Haitians migrants at the US-Mexico border. We’ve already written to @DHSgov regarding this issue & currently working with organizations that are assisting migrants on the ground. I’m monitoring the situation," the ambassador tweeted.
Haitian American immigration advocate Guerline Jozef, executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, slammed the U.S. policy in an interview with CBS News Sunday.
"The reality is that Haiti is drowning in a pool of man-made and natural disasters. Instead of throwing them a lifeline, we're making sure that they drown," Jozef said.
Meanwhile, ICE is preparing more deportation flights to Haiti on Monday.
“What we want to make sure is that we deter migrants from coming into the region, so we could manage the folks that are under the bridge at this point," Ortiz said.
Jacquelin Belizaire in Washington and Wilner Bossou in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press.