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Biden’s Band-Aid Border Policy Fueled Haiti’s Descent

Haitian migrants wait in northern Mexico
Image CreditEmily Jashinsky/The Federalist

Biden is destabilizing countries from Chile to Mexico, clouding pathways for people fleeing violence with legitimate asylum claims, and boosting cartel control of Latin America.

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It would be foolish to blame any one factor for the roiling tragedy in Haiti, but America’s lawless immigration policy played a much bigger role than media reports suggest. By backing Ariel Henry, who resigned as prime minister this week, the Biden administration sacrificed Haitian politics at the altar of lenient border security.

Meddling in Haiti is hardly a new idea for Foggy Bottom. After our two-decade 20th-century occupation ended in 1934, the U.S. treated Haiti like other Caribbean countries during the Cold War, strategically controlling their politics to prevent Soviet influence from expanding within striking distance. Now, of course, to even the most cold-blooded realist, Haiti’s close proximity remains relevant.

This is what almost nobody admits about the current unrest. According to his own former special envoy to Haiti, President Biden’s “chief reason” for backing Ariel Henry was the new president’s “malleability and the fact that he agreed that he would take all the deportees that they wanted to send.” This was reported in September of 2022 by Todd Bensman in the New York Post, though Biden faced little scrutiny over the blockbuster revelation as Henry’s Haiti descended deeper and deeper into the depths of suffering.

Biden appointed Daniel Foote to the role of special envoy in July of 2021 after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, whom both Presidents Trump and Biden supported. (The attack itself was largely planned in Miami, and though the Drug Enforcement Agency says he was not acting on its behalf, one of the convicted assassins was an informant.) Moise picked Henry to take over for him two days before his death, and Henry ultimately assumed the role following a brief power struggle, thanks in no small part to backing from the U.S.

According to Foote, the Biden administration supported Henry even as he failed to enact democratic reforms because the prime minister agreed to accept migrant flights amid huge gatherings of Haitians at the Texas border. In an October 2022 interview with my “Counter Points” colleague Ryan Grim and me, Foote said “the deportations were the straw that broke the camel’s back” when he resigned. “It’s completely counterproductive to our goal of restabilizing Haiti,” he argued. Moise and Henry were both members of America’s preferred PHTK party, and while the U.S. publicly claimed to push for democracy in Haiti, the administration did not withdraw its support as both men consolidated power and oversaw chaos.

The current wave of Haitian migrants is comprised almost entirely of asylum seekers who’ve lived outside their home country for years, in many cases at least a decade. When my Federalist colleague John Daniel Davidson and I interviewed Haitians on both sides of the Texas border in 2022, every person we talked to had come to Mexico from countries like Argentina and Brazil, seeking greater economic opportunity.

These men and women gathered on the banks of the Rio Grande because they desperately wanted to cross the border legally and make an asylum claim. Why? To avoid deportation to Haiti. We spoke to Haitians granted entry and parole whose papers showed court dates years in the future. They were not fleeing violence, they wanted the “American Dream,” they told us.

In one sense, of course, the Biden administration’s decision to fly Haitians to Port-au-Prince might look like a hard-line deterrent. While it may have been cruel and, as Foote said, “counterproductive,” it was also a cynical band-aid applied over the oozing wound of a cowardly border policy.

Fearful of backlash from the left, Biden is routing more and more migrants with dubious asylum claims through legal pathways of entry, incentivizing millions of economic migrants to pay cartel smuggling fees for access. (Make no mistake, every migrant pays.) This is destabilizing countries from Chile to Mexico, clouding pathways for people fleeing violence with legitimate asylum claims, and boosting cartel control of Latin America. Honduras and the Dominican Republic, for example, have been coping with an influx of migrants immediately fleeing Haiti.

Counterproductive is truly the best descriptor for a policy that encourages migrants to empower cartels that destabilize the region, in turn, sending more people to our own border. Biden’s short-term priority, though, is not to stabilize the region. It’s to secure his own political power, which Democrats believe will be harmed by enacting serious reforms to the asylum process. (If he actually implemented Remain in Mexico tomorrow, his base would be furious, but migration would gradually slow cartels’ human smuggling to a relative trickle.)

They opt instead to flood Port-au-Prince, where people are struggling to survive, with thousands of migrants who left years ago. What’s worse is they prioritize these cruel and destabilizing policies over supporting better leadership in Haiti, all while continuing to wax poetic about democracy.

The result is a long-term policy of cyclical chaos. Just this January, more than 1,000 Haitians lost their lives to gang violence or suffered kidnapping or other injuries. The country has not held elections since 2016. It has no parliament.

To be sure, all the blame for Haiti’s woes does not belong at the feet of the United States. But our carrots and sticks continue to benefit the political prospects of American elites more than the people of Haiti, and in the long run end up worsening a crisis on our doorstep, harming our interests, and fueling violence that claimed nearly 4,800 Haitian lives last year alone.


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