The US envoy to Haiti has resigned after just two months in the role, in protest at what he called the Biden administration’s “inhumane” mass deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum-seekers to what he said was a highly dangerous “collapsed state”.
Daniel Foote’s angry resignation letter is a serious blow for an administration which came to office promising a more humane approach to immigration in the wake of Donald Trump’s policy of child separation. The state department rejected Foote’s criticism and said he had given a misleading account of his resignation.
The Biden administration has been struggling to deal with a recent surge of Haitian migrants and refugees fleeing the implosion of the country’s society after the assassination in July of its president, Jovenel Moïse, triggered chaos that was then compounded by a powerful earthquake in August.
Foote, who has previously served as deputy chief of mission in Haiti and ambassador in Zambia, was appointed special envoy after Moïse’s killing, which remains unsolved.
After some 14,000 migrants gathered in an impromptu camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) bureau started flying hundreds out on multiple flights every day, without the opportunity for asylum appeals or hearings.
“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,” Foote said in his letter to the secretary of state, Antony Blink, that was leaked on Thursday.
“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 people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter and money without additional avoidable human tragedy,” Foote said, arguing that the deportation policy was self-defeating as it would only fuel more migration.
“The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation, and crime. Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we will add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”
The deportations are being carried out under a previously obscure public health law, Titel 42, which was used for summary expulsions by the Trump administration and has been continued under Joe Biden. The head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, has said the use of Title 42, without any due process or screening for potential peril faced by deportees might violate international law.
Responding to Foote’s letter, the state department spokesman, Ned Price, gesê:“There have been multiple senior-level policy conversations on Haiti, where all proposals, including those led by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process.
“Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false,” Price added.
“It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation.”
The publication of Foote’s letter comes just days after shocking pictures were published showing US border patrol agents on horseback using their reins on desperate Haitian refugees by the banks of the Rio Grande. The administration has been assailed from both human rights groups for the deportations and the treatment of migrants, and from the right for the decision to release thousands of the Haitians into the US in order to alleviate the conditions in Del Rio.
The administration is also making preparations to reopen a migrant detention centre on Guantánamo Bay, close to the prison camp for detainees picked up in the “war on terror” and has asked private contractors for tenders for a contract to supply guards who speak Creole and Spanish.
Democratic congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez called the plan “utterly shameful”.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Ice, said on Wednesday it had deported 1,401 migrants from the Del Rio camp to Haiti and taken a further 3,206 into custody.