Diplomat to Haiti Resigns, Protesting Biden Administration Policy
By Lara Jakes and Eileen Sullivan
The senior American envoy for Haiti policy has resigned, two U.S. officials said Thursday, in a letter that excoriated the Biden administration’s “inhumane, counterproductive decision” to send Haitian migrants back to a country that has been racked this summer by a deadly earthquake and political turmoil.
The diplomat, Daniel Foote, was appointed special envoy to Haiti in July, just weeks after President Jovenel Moïse was killed in his bedroom during a nighttime raid on his residence. Thousands of Haitians have since flocked to the Texas border, particularly in the past week, where they have crossed the Rio Grande into the United States and confronted Border Patrol agents on horseback before being deported.
Images of some of the horse-mounted agents chasing Haitians have prompted outrage over the treatment of the migrants. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said the horse patrol unit in Del Rio had been temporarily suspended, and the agents’ actions are being investigated. Border Patrol agents have ridden horses to enforce security since the agency was created in 1924.
“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life,” Mr. Foote wrote in his stinging resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, dated Wednesday.
He also blasted a “cycle of international political interventions in Haiti” that “has consistently produced catastrophic results,” and he warned that the number of desperate people traveling to American borders “will only grow as we add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”
Mr. Foote, a career diplomat who had served as ambassador to Zambia and acting assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, declined to comment in a brief email to The New York Times on Thursday. His resignation letter was reported earlier Thursday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and PBS NewsHour, and its authenticity was confirmed by a senior State Department official and a congressional official.
Thousands of migrants who arrived over the past week are expected to be deported, while Haitian officials have pleaded with the United States to grant a humanitarian moratorium amid widespread instability.
About 1,400 Haitians have been deported since Sunday, with more flights scheduled for each day, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. As of Thursday, the Homeland Security Department said that about 4,000 migrants, most of them Haitian, were being held in a temporary staging area under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas, as agents worked as quickly as they could to process them.
The rise in Haitian migration began in the months after President Biden took office when he quickly began reversing former President Donald J. Trump’s strictest immigration policies. It was widely seen as a sign that the United States would be more welcoming to migrants.
In May, the Biden administration extended temporary protected status for 150,000 Haitians already living in the United States. Two months later, the order was extended again for Haitians in the United States before July 29. But tens of thousands more Haitians have attempted to cross into the United States since then, despite not qualifying for the program.
The Biden administration, facing the highest level of border crossings in decades, has enforced policies intended to slow their entry.
“We are very concerned that Haitians who are taking this irregular migration path are receiving false information that the border is open or that temporary protected status is available,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters on Monday in Del Rio. “I want to make sure that it is known that this is not the way to come to the United States.”
Still, thousands of Haitian migrants have been allowed to enter the country and will wait for their cases to go through the backlogged immigration court system.
For the most part, officials are only deporting single people. Families with young children and pregnant women, for example, are typically being allowed in and released, in some cases with a monitoring device, according to officials familiar with the operations who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak publicly about the matter.
Mr. Foote was said to have pushed for greater oversight and responsibilities in his job as envoy to Haiti, efforts that were rejected by senior State Department officials. The department’s spokesman, Ned Price, on Thursday said some proposals put forward, including by Mr. Foote, “were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process.”
“No ideas are ignored, but not all ideas are good ideas,” Mr. Price said. He was responding to Mr. Foote’s claim, in his resignation letter, that his recommendations were “ignored and dismissed.”
“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed,” Mr. Foote wrote.
Officials at Haiti’s embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
In a statement, the State Department said it was committed to working with the Haitian government and others to strengthen democracy, the rule of law, economic growth, security and the protection of human rights.
The statement said that the United States and the United Nations’ immigration agency were trying to make sure that Haitians who are deported are given a meal, a hygiene kit and $100 when they land at the international airport in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
“The United States remains committed to supporting safe, orderly, and humane migration throughout our region,” the State Department said. It also thanked Mr. Foote for his service.
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