By Nick Miroff,
The Biden administration is preparing to send planeloads of migrants back to Haiti starting as soon as Sunday in a deportation blitz aimed at discouraging more border-crossers from streaming into a crude South Texas camp where nearly 14,000 have already arrived, according to five U.S. officials with knowledge of the plans.
Homeland Security officials are planning as many as eight flights per day to Haiti, three officials said, while cautioning that plans remained in flux. The administration was preparing to announce the flights Saturday, said two of the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the plan.
Haitian authorities have agreed to accept at least three flights per day, but Biden officials want to maximize deportations to break the momentum of the massive influx into the Del Rio, Tex., camp, one official said.
Another U.S. official involved in the planning insisted that the flights were not a targeted measure aimed at Haitians, but the application of U.S. immigration laws allowing the government to swiftly return border-crossers who arrive illegally.
“This isn’t about any one country or country of origin,” the official said. “This is about enforcing border restrictions on those who continue to enter the country illegally and put their lives and the lives of the federal workforce at risk.”
The Biden administration continues to use a pandemic enforcement measure known as Title 42 to rapidly “expel” border crossers to Mexico or their home countries. Officials said some of the flights to Haiti would probably be expulsion flights relying on the public health authority of the Title 42 provision.
The administration’s preparations to ramp up deportation flights to Haiti was first reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press.
By announcing its intent to deport the Haitians before launching the flights, Biden officials also appeared to be hoping some in the camp would abandon their attempt to enter the United States and return to Mexico. Migrants arriving to the camp have been given numbered tickets by the Border Patrol as they await a turn to be formally taken into U.S. custody, the first step in starting the process of requesting U.S. asylum or some other form of protection from deportation.
Some Haitians seeking to avoid deportation could abandon the Del Rio camp and attempt to remain in the United States illegally, or return to Mexico, two U.S. officials acknowledged.
Many of the migrants crowded under the highway bridge are part of a larger wave of Haitian migrants that arrived in Brazil, Chile and other South American nations following their country’s devastating earthquake in 2010.
Immigrant advocates have been calling on Biden to suspend all deportation flights to Haiti following the assassination of the country’s president in July and a 7.2 quake last month that killed at least 2,000. The Biden administration has extended a form of provisional residency known as temporary protected status to eligible Haitians who arrived in the United States before May, and it had curbed deportation flights at the behest of immigrant advocacy organizations.
The new deportation flight plan is likely to outrage those groups, but it points to the Biden administration’s hardening view of immigration enforcement after months of surging migration levels.
Last month, U.S. authorities took more than 208,000 into custody along the southern border, the latest U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show, as illegal crossings reach their highest levels in more than two decades.