Haiti is in a state of political and seismic upheaval, but that hasn't stopped the deportation of hundreds of Haitian migrants back to Haiti from the U.S. Many watched in horror as recent photos showed U.S. Border Patrol agents chasing Haitian migrants on horseback along the Rio Grande River in Del Rio, Texas, as they attempted to enter the U.S. to seek asylum. For immigration activists and former Haitian detainees from Miami, these developments are disturbing but unsurprising.
Advocates with Immigrant Action Alliance, a local nonprofit that assists people detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, say planes carrying detainees from Krome Detention Center in Southwest Miami-Dade and Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee leave for Haiti every month, and that movement hasn't stopped even after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, or the recent devastating earthquake on August 14.
"After the assassination and then the earthquake, the country is dangerous, and the deportations are still going on," says Bud Conlin, chairman of Immigrant Action Alliance.
Immigrant Action Alliance executive director Wendy King tells New Times that Haitian detainees at Krome held a hunger strike last month to demand their freedom rather than be deported. King says her organization received reports of a similar strike last week at the Glades County facility, which advocates have criticized for alleged mistreatment and harassment of detainees, primarily men and women of color.
Conlin says many of the people who have been deported to Haiti from Miami had lived in the U.S. for much of their lives and have little left in the way of family or support waiting for them on the island.
"These people get to Haiti with nothing," Conlin says. "Only a few of them may have a grandmother left there, but most of their ties to Haiti have long been gone. They hardly even remember it."
Since the political upheaval and the earthquake, Conlin says conditions on the island have worsened with reports of roving street gangs. Several deported Haitians have asked the Immigrant Action Alliance for financial help to leave the city out of fear for their safety.
Maxime Cherilus, who currently lives in Tabarre, Haiti, was deported in 2017 while he was living in Coral Springs. A few years earlier, he'd been sentenced by Broward Judge Matthew Destry — whom a New Times investigation found to hand down exceedingly harsh and random punishments — to ten years in prison for selling $50 worth of cocaine. Cherilus was a first-time offender and placed on probation in 2016 after the sentence was reversed by the Fourth District Court of Appeals. But a year later he was picked up by ICE agents, held under harsh conditions at Krome, and then sent back to a country he hadn't lived in since 2007.
In recent weeks, Cherilus says, he and others fear for their lives whenever they leave the house.
"Right now it's hell," Cherilus tells New Times. "Gangs are everywhere, and even the cops can't do anything. At six o'clock every night people go inside because they're scared."
Cherilus says most of his neighbors are trying to find safe passage to other countries to escape the poor conditions. He is trying to leave for the Dominican Republic because he can't return to the U.S. owing to his prior conviction.
Seeing the treatment of Haitians at the Texas border, Cherilus is appalled, yet the news and photos resonate with his own experience.
"I was surprised that with all that’s going on with so many people trying to go to the Land of the Free, that that’s the way they treat them," Cherilus says. "I was crying, but I thought, I’ve been through this."
Local officials from South Florida, including Florida State Rep. Dotie Joseph of North Miami, have called for an investigation into the actions of border patrol agents who have been photographed chasing Haitians on horseback and swinging ropes, recalling images of this nation's racist past. Homeland Security officials pledged this week to investigate the matter and ensure border patrol agents are treating migrants fairly.
Two Haitian priests from Miami — Father Reginald Jean-Mary, pastor of Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission; and Father Fritzner Bellonce, pastor of Holy Family Church — are traveling to Del Rio on Friday to console Haitian migrants at the border.