By Lorenzo Castro E.
Miami, Mar 17 (EFE).- Nearly 500 Haitians fleeing intolerable conditions in their homeland have been intercepted upon arrival on or near the southern coast of the US state of Florida in just over seven days, most of whom will likely be expelled.
That response to the migrant surge has prompted criticism from Miami-based Haitian community organizations, who say United States authorities are taking a deportation-only approach to the problem.
Those people are desperately fleeing rampant chaos and violence in Haiti, which is led by a “de facto and criminal” government that is “supported by the United States,” Marleine Bastien, the founder and executive director of the Miami-based Family Action Network Movement (formerly known as Haitian Women of Miami), told Efe.
On March 14, 123 Haitians were detained by US Customs and Border Protection officers, with assistance from the Coast Guard and other federal and local agencies, after disembarking in a residential area in the Florida Keys, an archipelago located off that state’s southern coast.
That operation came eight days after 356 Haitians were intercepted off the coast of Key Largo, one of the northernmost Keys and a popular tourist destination.
Like in the previous case, the Haitians had made the trip on a jam-packed, flimsy boat.
The Haitian people want to live in peace but are fleeing due to the country’s hellish conditions, Bastien said, warning that many more migrants will be arriving aboard makeshift vessels.
She urged US President Joe Biden’s administration to stop deporting Haitians upon arrival and instead allow them the opportunity to claim political asylum in the US.
US Coast Guard personnel have intercepted 1,577 undocumented Haitians at sea since the current fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2021, a figure that already exceeds the total (1,527) from the previous 12-month period.
That spike has come amid a political crisis in the Caribbean nation triggered by the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moise at his private residence in a Port-au-Prince suburb.
Allegations from political opponents and some observers that Haiti’s current acting prime minister, Ariel Henry, had a role in that killing make the US government’s support for him unacceptable, according to Bastien, who said that political reality is contributing to the country’s instability.
She added that an inflation rate of 24 percent and a rise in kidnappings and killings by increasingly powerful gangs also are spurring the migrant wave.
A February report by the United Nations Security Council revealed that those criminal groups have seized more territory, “had a catastrophic impact” on Haiti’s economy and threatened the basic rights of that country’s 11 million citizens.
That document said homicides claimed the lives more than 500 people, including 40 women, between September and December of last year.
“Day in and day out there, you would just hear rounds and rounds and rounds of bullets, like semi-automatic rifles, between the police officers and the gang members,” Regine Theodat, a Haitian-American woman whose husband was recently shot by members of the 400 Mawozo gang in in Croix-des-Bouquets, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, told South Florida’s WLRN public radio station.
He survived the attack but the couple relocated with their young child to the neighboring Dominican Republic.
Many of the weapons in the gangs’ possession come from the US, according to Bastien, who said she brought up this matter with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas during his meeting in Miami last May with members of the local Haitian community.
Members of the team of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio were in Hialeah, a city in Miami-Dade County, on Tuesday helping a group of undocumented Haitian, Cuban, Venezuelan and Ukrainian migrants already in the US initiate the process of obtaining Temporary Protected Status (an 18-month reprieve from deportation).
“We must ensure that those who are seeking refuge are treated with dignity and in accordance with the rule of law. We have seen time and time again, the discriminatory treatment of Haitian and Black migrants at our borders – this must end,” Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from Florida and daughter of Haitian immigrants, tweeted earlier this month. EFE