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September 24, 2021
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 16 other attorneys general in sending a letter to President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing concern over the treatment of thousands of Haitian refugees currently seeking humanitarian aid along the border in Texas. The coalition also urged the administration to reevaluate its rush to unfairly expel refugees to Haiti.
In their letter, the coalition is calling on the Biden administration to ensure federal officials treat Haitian refugees with dignity and compassion. The attorneys general are also urging the administration to exercise its authority to give Haitian nationals seeking refuge in the United States the same due process other immigrants and refugees receive by assessing each Haitian refugee on a case-by-case basis, rather than continuing a disparate immigration policy that rushes the repatriation of Haitian refugees to a country that has suffered from political unrest after the assassination of their president and a humanitarian crisis on the heels of a devastating earthquake and tropical storm.
"The refugee crisis in Texas is a tragic one and I recognize the difficult policy concerns it poses for the United States," Nessel said. "That said, refugees and asylees who come to this country, fleeing violence and other extreme circumstances, deserve our respect and understanding. Those traveling to our border have already experienced humanitarian and governance crises in Haiti - we must not allow a callous welcome to be their first experience in America."
In recent days, photographs and video emerged of U.S. immigration officials using inhume tactics, including charging at and attempting to whip Haitian refugees, in Del Rio, Texas. This comes as thousands of refugees continue to flee Haiti as the country faces unprecedented political upheaval following this summer's presidential assassination and struggles to rebuild critical infrastructure after a destabilizing August earthquake.
In their letter, the coalition commends the federal government's commitment to investigating the inhumane tactics of U.S. immigration officials in Texas and for its recent decision to increase the number of refugees who will be allowed into the United States. However, the coalition also expresses concern over the continuation of a summary deportation policy that is forcing many Haitian refugees seeking asylum or other humanitarian assistance in the United States to return to Haiti without any consideration of the legitimacy of their claims for asylum.
The coalition asserts that Haitian refugees deserve the same due process as all other individuals attempting to immigrate or flee to the United States, and the circumstances of every Haitian seeking refuge in the United States should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The attorneys general argue that this individualized evaluation should factor in both the time a person has been away from Haiti and the circumstances he or she will likely face if forced to return amid Haiti's current humanitarian and governance crises.
The attorneys general note that the federal government has several tools at its disposal to address the dire conditions Haitian refugees are facing in Del Rio, including the president's ability to exercise discretionary refugee admission authority during a humanitarian crisis. In the event of an unforeseen emergency refugee situation, the president has authority to designate a number of refugees to be admitted into the United States that is separate from the annual cap on immigrants allowed into the U.S. The attorneys general point out that the admission of Haitian refugees is justified by the grave humanitarian concerns currently facing the people of Haiti.
The coalition also suggests that the administration 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. Additionally, the U.S. attorney general may parole a refugee into the United States. The coalition argues that the administration should exercise its discretion, which the law expressly provides, to demonstrate compassion and fairness in the treatment of those Haitians seeking refuge in our country.
Joining Attorney General Nessel in sending this letter are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington.