U.S. Monitors Potential Haitian Migrant Surge Amid Escalating Crisis

As Haiti’s long-simmering crisis reached a boiling point last week, with gangs uniting to attack the country’s core institutions, U.S. officials turned their attention to a pressing concern: the possibility of a mass exodus of Haitians taking to the seas in a desperate attempt to reach the shores of South Florida. The potential collapse of Haiti’s government has raised fears of a surge in migration, prompting the White House to consult with national security and intelligence agencies to assess the situation and prepare for any eventualities.

U.S. Monitors Potential Haitian Migrant Surge Amid Escalating Crisis

Monitoring the Situation

U.S. officials have been closely monitoring online chatter, U.S. Coast Guard tracking data, and intelligence reports to gauge the likelihood of a significant increase in Haitian migrants attempting to cross the treacherous waters of the Caribbean. So far, there have been no indications of a mass movement of people heading north, with no signs of bottlenecks at the northern port cities of Cap-Haïtien or Port-de-Paix, which have historically served as launch sites for ocean journeys. Interdictions across the Florida Straits and the Mona Passage, between Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, have remained steady.

“We have not seen any indications of a mass movement of people north, a tell that a mass migration by sea could take place,” a U.S. official stated.

Concerns Over Rapid Changes

Despite the current lack of a migrant surge, officials who spoke with McClatchy on the condition of anonymity expressed concern that the situation could change rapidly. The violence around key roadways in Haiti has paralyzed public transportation and frightened civilians, keeping them off the streets. However, gang leaders may soon decide to offer secure highway passage to buses to increase their revenue from gang-imposed tolls, potentially facilitating a rush to the exits.

Two senior administration officials told McClatchy that this scenario, coupled with the ongoing border dispute between Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, could trigger a wave of people attempting to cross the dangerous Mona Passage toward Puerto Rico. President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic, who had been tightening the border even before the current crisis began, has stated that his country will not accept any Haitian refugees.

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Preparing for Potential Migrant Flows

The United Nations Office for Migration plans to establish a monitoring post as of Friday to begin tracking migrant flows, according to a U.N. official who spoke with the Miami Herald. This move underscores the international community’s concern about the potential for a significant increase in Haitian migrants seeking to escape the escalating violence and instability in their homeland.

A National Security Council official emphasized the U.S. government’s proactive approach to addressing potential migration surges, stating, “We are clear-eyed that economic, political and security instability are key drivers for migrants around the world. We are always monitoring trends and routes frequently used by migrants to try to address migration surges before they reach our southwest border.”

The official also urged Haitians to seek out the many safe and lawful pathways available to migrate to the United States, rather than risking their lives on dangerous sea crossings.

Past Migration Crises

Concerns over a surge in sea crossings from Haiti have persisted in the Biden administration since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse nearly three years ago. In the months following Moïse’s murder, a rickety wooden sailboat carrying 63 Haitian migrants washed up in the Florida Keys, marking the beginning of the largest maritime migration crisis from Haiti in almost two decades.

Thousands of migrants managed to evade Coast Guard patrols as they traveled the 600-mile stretch through the Florida Straits to South Florida, while others left the Dominican Republic for Puerto Rico. The U.S. government responded by forcefully returning most migrants back to Haiti, as it had done in previous migration waves.

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The Human Cost

The perilous nature of these sea crossings was highlighted by President Joe Biden in March of last year, when he expressed his fear of a massive loss of life among migrants attempting to reach U.S. shores. “People get hurt in mass migrations, and I worry about that,” Biden said.

Haitian voyages bound for Florida and Puerto Rico have often turned deadly, with more than 800 people losing their lives in the Caribbean on boat trips to the United States and Puerto Rico since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Legal Pathways and Challenges

To counter a potential migration flow, the Biden administration included Haiti in a list of four countries whose nationals would be allowed to come to the United States legally as part of a two-year humanitarian program, starting in January 2023. Through this process, Haitians with a financial sponsor in the U.S. and who pass a background check can enter the country legally. As of January this year, 138,000 out of the 144,000 Haitians approved for the program had already arrived in the United States.

However, the current crisis in Haiti has created additional challenges for those seeking to come legally or through the humanitarian program. The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince has suspended operations, and flights from major U.S. carriers to the international airport in the capital have been indefinitely canceled. The border with the Dominican Republic has also been tightened, further limiting options for those seeking to escape the violence and instability.

The Impact on U.S. Immigration Policy

The crisis in Haiti is already having an impact on U.S. immigration policy. A deportation flight scheduled to fly from Miami to Port-au-Prince last Thursday was canceled after the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the capital came under heavy gunfire.

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Since the gang assault began on Feb. 29, at least 10 police substations have been attacked, and at least six police officers have been killed, according to human-rights activists. Another police substation was taken over by gangs overnight.

The United Nations reported that since the new escalation in violence, more than 15,000 people have been internally displaced, adding to the more than 314,000 Haitians who had already been forced out by gangs. This has raised concerns that the next mass movement may be toward the country’s coastlines, as desperate Haitians seek to escape the violence and instability.

Conclusion

As the crisis in Haiti continues to unfold, U.S. officials remain vigilant in monitoring the situation and preparing for the possibility of a significant increase in Haitian migrants attempting to reach U.S. shores. The Biden administration has emphasized the importance of providing safe and legal pathways for migration while also working to address the root causes of instability in Haiti.

However, the challenges facing Haitians seeking to escape the violence and instability in their homeland are immense, and the human cost of these perilous sea crossings cannot be overstated. As the international community works to support Haiti in this time of crisis, it is crucial that the safety and well-being of migrants remain a top priority, and that efforts are made to provide them with the support and resources they need to build a better future for themselves and their families.

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