WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine and seventeen other attorneys general urged President Joe Biden to engage in humanitarian solutions to address the Haitian refugee crisis at the U.S border and to cease the brash deportation policies of the previous administration.
“All of us are appalled by the images showing the mistreatment of Haitian refugees at the Southern Border and the continuation of a callous deportation policy. I’m encouraged by the administration’s prompt expression of outrage and action to investigate these troubling tactics,” said AG Racine. “But as a Haitian immigrant, these photos and articles cut deep. My family fled Haiti when I was three years old to escape political violence. Sadly, the serious challenges facing Haiti continue: devastating earthquakes and hurricanes, political upheaval, and dangerous gangs and violent crime. Our country faces many challenges right now, especially at our borders, but we must treat those seeking admission to the United States with respect, dignity, and compassion, which of course means fair and due process under the circumstances.”
AG Racine, one of two current Haitian attorneys general, and the other attorneys general pressed the administration to reevaluate its continuation of a summary deportation policy that is sending many Haitians back to a country facing multiple crises, and to a country that many have not lived in for years. The attorneys general also urged the administration to exercise its discretion and employ emergency measures to address the Haitian refugee crisis at the border. They highlight that the Supreme Court has repeatedly reinforced that the president has broad authority to set the number of refugees admitted to the United States in emergency situations and has the ability to parole a refugee into the United States if it is in the public interest.
AG Racine helped lead this message with the attorneys general from Illinois, Nevada, New York, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Joining them included the attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
A copy of the letter AG Racine and seventeen other attorneys general sent today to President Biden is available here and the full text is below.
Dear President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas:
We, the Attorneys General of Illinois, the District of Columbia, Nevada, New York, the U.S. Virgin Islands, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington write to you concerning the urgent circumstances facing thousands of Haitian migrants currently seeking the humanitarian aid of the United States at our borders. Like many Americans, we were grateful to learn that your administration will investigate the tactics of U.S. immigration officials on horseback who were recently filmed and photographed charging at—and apparently attempting to whip—Haitian migrants as they sought to bring food to their families massed under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. We trust that this investigation will result in the cessation of these inhumane tactics, which do not reflect the values of our nation and our respective states. Likewise, we commend the administration for its recent decision to greatly increase the number of refugees who will be allowed into the United States in the coming fiscal year.
While we are confident that your administration will address the alarming practices recently used to apprehend Haitian migrants at the border, we remain deeply concerned by the administration’s continuation of a summary deportation policy (ostensibly supported by 42 U.S.C. § 265 and related rules) that is sending many Haitians back to a country facing one of the worst series of crises in its history. Haiti is experiencing unprecedented political upheaval from this summer’s presidential assassination and is struggling yet again to rebuild after a destabilizing earthquake. These unexpected events have prompted a new influx of Haitian nationals seeking refuge in our country. We understand that the administration must constantly reconsider and formulate responses to a challenging crisis that is unfolding day by day. However, individuals seeking asylum or other humanitarian assistance in our country deserve our respect and compassion, and they should not be treated differently from other migrants based on their country of origin. Haitians deserve the same due process as all others attempting to immigrate or flee to the United States. The circumstances of every Haitian seeking refuge here should be assessed on a case-by case basis. This individualized evaluation should factor in both the time a person has been away from Haiti and the circumstances he or she would likely face if compelled to return to a nation in the midst of dire humanitarian and governance crises.
We support and encourage the Administration to use the several tools available to address the critical conditions for the Haitians who have sought refuge under the bridge in Del Rio. In immigration matters, the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed “the deference traditionally accorded the President in this sphere.” For example, the President may set a number of refugees to be admitted to the United States separate from the annual cap after determining that “an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists,” and that admission of those refugees “is justified by grave humanitarian concerns.” The administration also could invoke country-specific measures to allow these migrants to legally remain in the United States while conditions in their country of origin are too hazardous for them to safely return. On an individual level, the Attorney General may parole a migrant into the United States if he “determines that compelling reasons in the public interest with respect to that particular alien require that the alien be paroled into the United States.”
We also respectfully urge your administration to reconsider relying on 42 U.S.C. § 265 and related rules to justify expelling Haitian nationals to Haiti. As one federal court recently held, citing Title 42 to expel foreign nationals already in the United States on public health grounds defies the language of the statute and overrides clear humanitarian protections for refugees in the law.
As Attorneys General, we understand the need to respond to an evolving crisis while following the law. We urge the administration to exercise its discretion—discretion that the law expressly provides—to demonstrate compassion and fairness in the treatment of those Haitians seeking refuge in our country.