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More Haitian Migrants Are Headed to the Border. How Can the Biden Admin Avoid Another Del Rio Debacle?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Fernando Llano

Some 80,000 Haitian migrants are making their way to the U.S.-Mexico border—transiting through Colombia, Panama, and Mexico—and will likely arrive in the next few weeks. Last month, 14,000 Haitian migrants arrived near Del Rio, Texas, and the Biden administration handled the situation in a disastrous manner. Many were held in horrific conditions for several days, while others were released into the interior of the country with unknown health statuses and backgrounds. Should the administration not want to repeat its debacle from a month ago, it must expand repatriation flights for Haitians, halt its “catch and release” policies, and fully enforce the Title 42 public health order on all Haitian migrants.

Repatriation flights are used to fly citizens back to their country of origin. So far, the Biden administration has flirted with this idea and has returned roughly 7,000 unlawful Haitians to Haiti in the past few weeks. But clearly more can be done as this figure only represents only about half of the Haitians that arrived near Del Rio during the same time frame.

With a more than seven-fold increase expected in the next few weeks, these flights should be expanded. In addition to allowing for safe and quick repatriation, they would also serve as a deterrent, discouraging more Haitians from attempting to cross the southern border unlawfully. With fewer individuals attempting to enter the country unlawfully, areas along the border would become decongested and help prevent the squalor and packed conditions seen last month.

In addition to expanding these flights, the administration must end its “catch and release” policies under which unlawful migrants are released into the U.S. In many cases, these migrants are not given a Notice to Appear (NTA) and are simply told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in the future. Most of these migrants will likely never be seen again. During last month’s Haitian surge, the Biden administration released thousands of Haitians into the interior of the country.

“Catch and release” has been directly responsible for incentivizing the recent surge of Haitians arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. Without putting an immediate end to this practice—which can be done via reimplementing the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program—the administration should expect even larger levels of mass migration from the country (which may, in fact, be exactly what they want). Nevertheless, these large numbers pose countless national security, legal, and public health challenges, for which they should be held accountable.  

The final measure the Biden administration should fully utilize is Title 42—a public health order that allows for quick removal of illegal aliens from the country during disease outbreaks.

Currently, the administration is only loosely enforcing this order on Haitians (and all migrants crossing the southern border unlawfully). The vast majority of individuals being removed under this order remain single adults. Family units and unaccompanied minors are mostly exempted. Without fully enforcing Title 42, the message to Haitians (and others) is that the border is open and there is virtually no penalty for crossing illegally into the country.

Not fully enforcing the public health order also increases public health risks as many trek in large groups through Central and South American nations with low vaccination rates before arriving at the U.S. border. Fully implementing Title 42 would discourage these large caravans from assembling, protecting the health and safety of the American people and those of our neighboring countries. 

The Biden administration’s handling of the 14,000 Haitian migrant surge last month was unacceptable. The expected flow at the end of this month would dwarf these figures and without a sound mitigation plan put in place, the Biden administration’s already epic border crisis could grow exponentially worse.

The president has the tools he needs to prevent the border situation from becoming even worse: His administration must expand repatriation flights for Haitians, end “catch and release” policies, and fully enforce the Title 42 public health order. Combined, these measures would protect the interests of Americans, Haitians, and our neighbors – assuming those are actually the administration’s goals.

Matthew Tragesser is press secretary at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.

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