According to a report from NBC News, the Biden administration could soon divert Haitian migrants and asylum seekers to a facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba before they arrive in the U.S. In the wake of political instability and violence in Haiti, thousands of Haitians are expected to continue fleeing the country, which has led to talks between the White House National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security about expanding capacity at Guantánamo Bay in anticipation. Haitian immigration advocates say sending these migrants to Guantánamo Bay would be repeating the history of racist practices routinely inflicted upon the Haitian community while also adding another hurdle in their quest for a safer future.
“We know that there is an epidemic of cholera that’s rising in the country,” said Tessa Petit, executive director of Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We know that there are a lot of safety issues. Last Sunday, 17 people were killed by gangs, and that was one incident. My concern is, why is it that the country’s conditions are not taken into consideration to justify humanitarian parole for Haitians?”
If the plan takes place, it would not be the first time the U.S. sent Haitian migrants to the Migrant Operations Center on Guantánamo Bay. While not part of the notorious prison that incarcerated and tortured hundreds of Muslim men at the height of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the center has a history of mistreating migrants, especially Haitians. In 1991, over 32,000 Haitian migrants fled Haiti after a military dictatorship overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Migrants were taken to Guantánamo Bay to pre-screen their asylum claims. but those who were detained had “no substantive rights” and were punished with solitary confinement when they protested the camp’s poor conditions. According to the Guantánamo Memory Project, women underwent humiliating physical exams and were forced to sleep on the ground like animals, and those who tested positive for HIV were quarantined in a part of the facility called Camp Bulkeley. There, refugees also experienced poor living conditions, such as rotten food and coerced medical testing, and were severely beaten when they demanded information on their seemingly indefinite detainment. Migrants were eventually released when Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. ordered the camp’s closure in 1993, ruling it unconstitutional and describing it as an “HIV prison camp.”
Despite this history, the U.S. is now hoping to expand the Migrant Operations Center to house 400 additional beds.
“The history of Haitian migration to the U.S. is filled with racism, discrimination, mistreatment, and deceit,” said Petit. “The history of Haitians in Guantánamo, an unforgettable example of it, is not yet forgotten. Yet, the Biden Administration is considering reenacting this despicable moment. While they entertain a discourse of help and support to Haitians, the plan to prevent people subjected to a humanitarian crisis to even reach the U.S. main territory—an opportunity granted to other migrants—is the proof of the hypocrisy that has always existed with Haitians, and the different treatment Black migrants are subjected to.”
From September 2021 to September 2022, the Biden administration deported more than 20,000 Haitians. Though Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas extended Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in May 2021, Petit says Haitians need humanitarian parole to allow migrants to work and send money back to their communities at home, which would help their economic situation and reduce forced migration. On Nov. 4, the Haitian Bridge Alliance—along with 288 other undersigners— echoed this sentiment in an official letter to the White House, calling on the Biden administration to prioritize protections for Haitian nationals and provide swift, safe pathways to asylum instead of sending them to Guantánamo Bay.
“It is time that the racism stops,” Petit said. “It is time the mistreatment of Haitians stops. It is time the people of Haiti, my people, get equal treatment. The Biden administration came into Florida and they made promises to the Haitian community, and all we are asking is, as allies, be accountable to the word you gave to the Haitian community.”