Despite extreme violence, political instability and hunger engulfing Haiti, the United States is continuing to return Haitian migrants interdicted at sea back to the gang-controlled country, to the dismay of Haitian advocates in the U.S. who decry the policy.

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard stopped 65 Haitians who were trying to flee Haiti by boat and sent them back to Haiti, the agency said in a statement.

“There is a specific disdain when it comes to Haitian asylum-seekers,” said Guerline Jozef, a human rights advocate and co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “The first [U.S.] act is not ‘How do we protect the people?’ it is ‘How do we deter them and how do we make sure they don’t make it to our shores?’”

Jozef cited increased deportations and alleged mistreatment of thousands of Haitian migrants who were massed under a Texas bridge in 2021 as further evidence of an unfair U.S. stance toward Haitian asylum-seekers.

Jozef said the gangs’ takeover of ports, airports and much of Port-au-Prince has created a situation “that is fearful, that is traumatizing, that is horrific.” 

“Once again, we have a clear example that U.S. policy responds by violence when it comes to Haitian people, Haitian refugees and asylum-seekers,” Jozef said.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that the interdictions at sea are done to preserve human life by discouraging Haitians from taking the dangerous maritime journey.

“The Coast Guard’s primary mission … is to preserve human life at sea,” said Capt. Willie Carmichael, the incident commander for the operation. 

The migrants on Thursday were sailing on a boat in distress, the Coast Guard said, and a “good Samaritan” alerted a Coast Guard command center of its whereabouts and condition on March 7.

Since Oct. 1, 2023, the Coast Guard has repatriated 131 Haitians stopped at sea.

Former President Donald Trump accused President Joe Biden’s border policies of leading to a mass exodus of Haitians to the U.S.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are pouring into our Country from Haiti. They are headed to Florida. But don’t worry, Crooked Joe Biden has everything totally under control. MAGA!” Trump posted on Truth Social on Thursday.

There is no evidence that thousands of people have been able to escape Haiti since gunmen attacked the main international airport on Feb. 29. With gangs in control of key ports and the largest airport, it has been difficult for most Haitians to leave, Jozef said. 

DHS also said the number of undocumented migrants coming to the U.S. directly from Haiti is low.

“DHS is monitoring the situation in Haiti and coordinating closely with the State Department and international partners. At this time, irregular migration flows through the Caribbean remain low,” a spokesperson said. “U.S. policy is to return noncitizens who do not have a fear of persecution or torture or a legal basis to enter the United States. Those interdicted at sea are subject to immediate repatriation pursuant to our longstanding policy and procedures.”

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