As It Happens·Q&A

U.S. welcomes Ukrainians with open arms while deporting Haitians, says advocate

Refugee advocate Marleine Bastien says the U.S. is welcoming Ukrainians with open arms while deporting Haitians by the thousands.

More and more Haitians are making a break for the U.S., but they're being sent back by the thousands

More than 100 people aboard a 10-metre sailing vessel that was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard near Biscayne Bay, Fla., on Sept. 16, 2021. The U.S. Coast Guard says it's intercepting more and more boats coming from Haiti. (U.S. Coast Guard/Reuters)

Story Transcript

As more and more Haitians seek refuge in the United States, refugee advocate Marleine Bastien says they're not being given a fair shake. 

The number of Haitian refugees arriving in the United States is on the rise as people try to flee an increasingly desperate situation in their home country, which has survived several major hurricanes and epidemics in recent years, only be thrown into political chaos after the assassination of its president last year.

The U.S. Coast Guard told the Washington Post that it has picked up nearly 2,953 Haitains at sea since Oct. 1 — about 1,500 more than the previous fiscal year, and is on track to intercept 15 times as many Haitians this year than it did in 2020.

Just last month, a wooden sailboat carrying more than 100 people from Haiti ran aground off the coast of Summerland Key, Fla. — one of four major migrant arrivals in the Florida Keys since January, according to the Post.

Despite the efforts of residents to bring those folks safely to land, Bastien says most of the people rescued will be deported back to Haiti — likely under Title 42, a piece of 1940s public health legislation that allows the U.S. to ban people from entering the country during a pandemic. 

Title 42 was first invoked by former U.S. president Donald Trump, but has continued to be used by President Joe Biden's administration to turn back thousands of people at the border. The government says it will repeal the public health order next month. 

Bastien, who was born in Haiti, is the executive director of Family Action Network Movement, an organization that works with immigrants, refugees and low-income families. She's also running to be a Miami-Dade County commissioner. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Dave Seglins.

What goes through your mind when you hear about one of these migrant ships filled with Haitian refugees making its way to the Florida Keys?

When I hear about the rickety boat making its way to the Florida Keys, I say to myself, "Here we go again."

Because historically, whenever the political situation in Haiti worsens and then the violence increases, the human rights abuses become a daily routine, then Haitians try to flee, to put themselves and their children in security.

The U.S. Coast Guard says it's been intercepting about four of these ships per month. What happens to these people once officials find them?

Unfortunately, once officials find them, most of them are deported in complete denial of their basic rights of due process. For the past few months, especially since September 2021, the Biden administration has used a health policy, Title 42, to deport Black Haitian refugees without due process.

We've heard last week that it intends to do away with this policy, but not until the end of May 2022. Since September 2021, over 20,000 Haitian refugees have been forcibly deported to Haiti.

If you are in a house that is burning, you will try to get out by any means necessary. That's what's happening to Haiti.- Marleine Bastien, Family Action Network Movement

So if hundreds of people at a time are willing to get into these rickety boats and arrive on the shores of Florida, what should be happening with them, in your mind?

They should be allowed in, and then they should be released in their own recognisance so that they have a fair chance, a fighting chance ... to adequately prepare their political asylum claims. They should be apprised of their rights to claim asylum, because Haiti is a country at war. This is a country under lock. This is a country where thousands and thousands have been killed, maimed, disappeared and raped.

This is an untenable situation, a very serious and grave situation, which explains why so many are fleeing to bring their family members and their loved ones to security. It is human nature. If you are in a house that is burning, you will try to get out by any means necessary. That's what's happening to Haiti. Except that many are ignoring the Haitians' pleas.

And the U.S. and some other nations have contributed to creating this untenable, impossible and dangerous situation in Haiti by supporting, over the course of 20 years, incompetent and corrupt leaders who have ignored the plight of the Haitian people and are using their power and the support of other nations such as the U.S. to enrich themselves while the majority of the Haitian people are dying, sometimes if not from violence, but also from hunger and other natural disasters.

Marleine Bastien, centre, is the executive director of Family Action Network Movement, an organization that works with immigrants, refugees and low-income families. (Family Action Network Movement)

You work closely with not just migrants, but also their families. What do they tell you about their decision to get on those boats?

They told me that the situation is dangerous there. If they stay, they'll die. They might as well try to risk it.

And we've seen an uptick in the number of such families risking it all because Haiti has turned into a living hell for them. And this is not new. It's been months now where they have been forced to flee for their lives. So they try to escape by any means necessary ... to make it to the land of the free — to the so-called land of the free.

Except that when they get here, they realize that the land is not free for all. It's free for the blonde, blue eyes. But it's, more often than not, not free for Black and brown refugees.

At the same time that they're deporting Haitians, the Biden administration has promised to bring in up to 100,000 refugees from Ukraine. What do you make of that?

The fact that the Biden administration is planning to receive over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, as it should, is a clear example of the double standard of treatment. 

Our position at Family Action Network Movement has always been not that we're asking the U.S. to open the floodgates and let everybody in. It has always been our position that immigration policies ought to be implemented equally across the board. It cannot be a set of policies for Black and brown refugees, which consist most of the time of forcible deportation to nations in turmoil where their lives will be in danger, while welcoming the blonde, blue eyes.

The policy should be implemented equally across the board. The justice should be the same for all.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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