Daniel Foote excoriates Washington in letter addressed to Antony Blinken for deporting hundreds from a border camp
The US envoy to Haiti has resigned after just two months in the role, in protest at what he called the Biden administration’s “inhumane” mass deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers to what he said was a highly dangerous “collapsed state”.
Daniel Foote’s angry resignation letter is a serious blow for an administration which came to office promising a more humane approach to immigration in the wake of Donald Trump’s policy of child separation. The state departmentsaid he had given a misleading account of his resignation. A senior official said that Foote had advocated sending in US troops to impose order, and that had been rejected.
The Biden administration has been struggling to deal with a recent surge of Haitian migrants and refugees fleeing the implosion of the country’s society after the assassination in July of its president, Jovenel Moïse, triggered chaos that was then compounded by a powerful earthquake in August.
Foote, who has previously served as deputy chief of mission in Haiti and ambassador in Zambia, was appointed special envoy after Moïse’s killing, which remains unsolved.
After about 14,000 migrants gathered in an impromptu camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) bureau started flying hundreds out on multiple flights every day, without the opportunity for asylum appeals or hearings.
“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 to daily life,” Foote said in his letter to the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, that was leaked on Thursday.
“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my policy recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”
“The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to the terror, kidnappings, robberies and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter and money without additional avoidable human tragedy,” Foote said, arguing that the deportation policy was self-defeating as it would only fuel more migration.
“The collapsed state is unable to provide security or basic services, and more refugees will fuel further desperation, and crime. Surging migration to our borders will only grow as we will add to Haiti’s unacceptable misery.”
The deportations are being carried out under a previously obscure public health law, Title 42, which was used for summary expulsions by the Trump administration and has been continued under Joe Biden. The head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, has said the use of Title 42, without any due process or screening for potential peril faced by deportees might violate international law.
The deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, said that Foote had given a misleading version of the events leading to his resignation and said he had advocated military intervention, which had been rejected by the administration.
“Quite frankly, some of those proposals were harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and to free and fair elections in Haiti so the Haitian people can choose their own future. For him to say that the proposals were ignored is, I’m sad to say, simply false,” Sherman told the McLatchy news agency.
“And one of the ideas that Mr Foote had was to send US military back to Haiti. I have followed Haiti since the Clinton administration, and I can tell you that sending US military into Haiti is not the answer that will solve the terrible situation that the Haitian people are currently facing. It just was a bad idea.”
The publication of Foote’s letter comes just days after shocking pictures were published showing US border patrol agents on horseback using their reins on desperate Haitian refugees by the banks of the Rio Grande. The administration has been assailed from both human rights groups for the deportations and the treatment of migrants, and from the right for the decision to release thousands of the Haitians into the US in order to alleviate the conditions in Del Rio.
The administration is also making preparations to reopen a migrant detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, close to the prison camp for detainees picked up in the “war on terror” and has asked private contractors for tenders for a contract to supply guards who speak Creole and Spanish.
The Democratic congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez called the plan “utterly shameful”.
On Thursday the White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the Guantánamo migrant centre was not intended for migrants detained on the southern border.
“There’s never been a plan to do that,” Psaki said. “I think there was some confusion related to a migrant operation centre, which has been used for decades to process migrants interdicted at sea for third-country resettlement.”
That centre has not been operational for four years. Psaki did not make it clear why the decision had been made to reopen it.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Ice, said on Wednesday it had deported 1,401 migrants from the Del Rio camp to Haiti and taken a further 3,206 into custody.