Immigration Weekly Round-Up: Children Deported to Haiti; Central American Asylum Agreement Suspended; Witnesses Fearing Retribution Now Eligible for Asylum
Several Immigrant, Including Children, Deported to Haiti
Despite the Biden administration’s announcement of a policy that would focus its deportation efforts on terrorists, violent criminals, and other high-priority cases, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) recently deported many immigrants, including several children and infants, to Haiti. The Biden administration suspended deportation flights to Haiti last week, but ICE reinstated the flights this past Monday, causing an outcry among immigration and human rights activists and making public a rift between the agency and the White House.
Immigration rights advocates have expressed concern for the deportation of small children, given the current political unrest in Haiti. This past week, police fired tear gas at protestors and attacked journalists covering the recent actions of the Haitian president, Jovenel Moise, who has unilaterally stated that he can extend his presidential term for one year and has arrested or attempted to oust judges who opposed his actions. Guerline Jozef, executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, an immigration support group, analogized returning children to Haiti to a situation in which there is “a house burning, and instead of taking people out for their own safety, the United States is sending defenseless babies into the burning house.”
Suspension of Asylum Agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras
Newly-confirmed Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement over the weekend that the “United States has suspended and initiated the process to terminate the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as the first concrete steps on the path to greater partnership and collaboration in the region laid out by President Biden.”
The original 2019 agreement initiated by the Trump administration required asylum applicants who traveled through one of these three countries to first attempt to seek refuge in that country before applying for asylum in the United States. Although the State Department indicated that the agreements were never enforced with El Salvador and Honduras, the agreement had allowed immigration officials to quickly remove non-Guatemalan citizens to Guatemala before they could submit their asylum applications in the United States. However, due to COVID-19, transfers with Guatemala were stopped as of March 2020.
Nevertheless, the Biden administration has not rescinded a policy instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic which turns away a large percentage of asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border due to health-related restrictions. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated on Wednesday that “now is not the time to come” to the border, although the administration has stated it will be reviewing the policy to ensure it remains necessary.
Appeals Court Opens Door for New Asylum Cases
This week, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) ruled that individuals who fear for their lives based upon their cooperation with law enforcement in their country of origin are eligible for protection under U.S. asylum laws.
In its decision, the BIA ruled that in order to receive refugee protection, the cooperation must be public and the applicant must prove that their society views cooperating witnesses as a distinct class of persons and has instituted legal protections for those witnesses, as such laws establish significant evidence that the country believes witnesses are risk of harm. The BIA further noted that simply providing information or making a report to the police did not meet the standard of public cooperation and cannot be considered in the same manner as a witness testifying in open court.