Reuters/AFP / Washington/Port-au-Prince
The US special envoy to Haiti has resigned in protest in a letter that blasted the Biden administration for deporting hundreds of migrants back to the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation from a camp on the US-Mexican border in recent days.
Daniel Foote, a career diplomat named to his post in July, said conditions in Haiti were so bad that US officials were confined to secure compounds.
He said that the “collapsed state” was unable to support the infusion of returning migrants.
“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants,” Foote said in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that circulated publicly yesterday.
“Mired in poverty, hostage to the terror,” he wrote, the Haitian population “simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy”.
“More refugees will fuel further desperation and crime,” Foote wrote.
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has gone through profound instability in recent weeks, including a presidential assassination, gang violence and a major earthquake.
Foote was named special envoy to Haiti shortly after the July 7 assassination of president Jovenel Moise.
The United States has returned more than 1,400 migrants from the camp in Del Rio, Texas to Haiti – including families – and moved over 3,200 people for processing away from the encampment, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said yesterday.
At its peak on September 18, there were some 15,000 people there.
The population has been reduced to around 4,000 by expulsion flights, detentions and releases.
Others have left the dusty riverbank on the Rio Grande for Mexico to avoid being sent home.
Filippo Grandi, the head of the UN refugee agency, warned that this week the US expulsions to Haiti might violate international law.
Foote submitted his resignation to Blinken on Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said, adding that Washington was committed to the long-term well-being of Haiti, as well as offering immediate help to returning migrants.
The resignation follows growing pressure on the administration of US President Joe Biden from the United Nations and his fellow Democrats over the treatment of Haitians in the sprawling impromptu migrant camp.
Biden’s handling of what Republicans portray as a crisis at the border – including record numbers of migrant detentions this year – has led to growing disillusionment from advocates who hoped for an end to deterrent measures brought in by his predecessor Donald Trump.
State Department spokesman Ned Price rejected Foote’s criticism.
“This is a challenging moment that requires leadership. It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterised the circumstances of his resignation,” he said. “He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead.”
As well as the Haitians, the United States frequently deports Central American and other migrants caught crossing the border.
Foote’s decision to leave was interpreted and welcomed by rights groups as a stern criticism of the administration’s immigration strategy.
“A big bold move. And a big deal,” said William O’Neill, a lawyer specialising in humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. “He will be missed.”
DHS officials said that determinations on who was expelled and who has been allowed to stay in the United States to pursue their immigration cases were made on a “case-by-case” basis, without providing numbers of releases.
Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organisation, said several hundred people, mostly pregnant women and parents with children, had been released in Del Rio, Texas, over the past several days.
Images of US border guards on horseback using long reins to whip at black migrants at the weekend caused outrage within the White House and from rights groups and prompted Vice-President Kamala Harris on Wednesday to seek answers from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
The DHS said patrols on horseback had ceased in Del Rio.
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