More than 280 immigration, faith-based and rights groups sent a letter to the Biden administration on Friday asking it not to send Haitian migrants interdicted at sea to Guantanamo Bay or a third-party country.
The groups were responding to a Sunday report by NBC News that the White House's National Security Council had asked the Department of Homeland Security to model scenarios in case of a surge of Haitian migrants.
Fuel supplies in Haiti are currently blocked, and officials said the Biden administration believes that when Haitians are again able to buy gas, there could be a mass exodus of migrants trying to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. by boat.
The scenarios would estimate when the number of Haitians fleeing the country by sea would require sending them to a third-party country for processing, and also at what point that country would be overwhelmed and the U.S. would need to double capacity at the existing migrant facility at its Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba.
The groups who signed the letter, led by the Haitian Bridge Alliance, urged the Biden administration to instead allow Haitians to be removed from dangerous vessels at sea and taken to the U.S. to claim asylum.
“We call on your administration to prioritize protections for Haitian nationals. This includes halting returns and expulsions to Haiti given the life-threatening conditions there. The administration must not under any circumstances send asylum seekers and migrants to the notorious Guantánamo Bay or other offshore detention locations,” the groups said.
The letter said sending migrants to the Migrant Operations Center at Guantanamo Bay, which operates separately from the prison for suspected terrorists, would repeat policies of the 1990s that kept migrants in poor conditions. Reports from the time, which are cited in the letter, included migrants being given cardboard boxes rather than cribs for their babies to sleep.
“Your administration should not add yet another chapter to the shameful U.S. history of mistreatment and racism toward Haitian people seeking protection, including those forced to take to the seas,” the letter said.
They also said sending migrants to a third country, rather than allowing them into the U.S. to claim asylum, would be repeating Trump administration policies, such as those that sent migrants to Guatemala.
“The Biden administration should reject the prior administration’s approach, which made a travesty of the U.S. commitment to non-refoulment, subverted international law and encouraged other countries to pursue similarly dangerous and inhumane asylum offshoring and detention agreements,” the letter said.
The groups said those policies disparately punished Black asylum seekers. Similar criticism arose in September 2021 after the Biden administration began mass deportations of Haitian asylum seekers who crowded by the thousands under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter from the advocacy groups.
“The U.S. government always does contingency planning out of an abundance of caution, and for a wide range of potential scenarios. These contingencies for migration existed long before the Biden-Harris administration,” an NSC spokesperson said.
“We have not seen an increase in Haitian maritime migration, and no decisions have been made. In fact, the number of Haitians interdicted at sea has significantly decreased in recent months. The United States continues to coordinate with our international partners first and foremost to support the people of Haiti and address the security and humanitarian situation in the country.”
In late September, violent gangs seeking to overturn Haiti’s government staged a land blockade of the country’s main fuel supply point, blocking fuel from leaving the depot and thwarting the hopes of those seeking to leave the country by boat.
The Biden administration predicts that when the fuel is no longer blocked and migrants are able to buy gas to power boats, there could be a mass exodus of Haitians trying to make the dangerous journey to the U.S. by sea, the U.S. officials said.
The UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, called on countries in the region this week to suspend deportations of Haitians given the poor conditions in the country.
“Violence, including sexual violence, kidnapping, looting and roadblocks by armed gangs, and the recent outbreak of cholera, has exacerbated an already dramatic humanitarian situation in Haiti, which is marked by acute food insecurity, fuel shortages, and limited health care and sanitation. Millions of children are unable to attend school, are malnourished and live in fear,” the UNHCR said.
In response to NBC News’s previous reporting on the planning for a possible surge, a DHS spokesperson said DHS “continues to closely monitor the situation in Haiti, and there are longstanding contingency plans ready in the event of a surge in maritime migration.”