While there have been few, if any, Haitians attempting to leave Haiti since the 12 January earthquake, and while the US has deployed a significant naval force in Haitian waters for the purpose of providing humanitarian relief, the deployment of the US Coast Guard vessels serves the dual purpose of discouraging boat people.
The US Air Force is flying a C-130 plane along the Haitian coastline broadcasting AM radio messages to Haitians on the ground – among the pre-recorded Kreyol language broadcast is a message from the Haitian Ambassador to the US, Raymond Joseph:
“Listen, don’t rush on boats to leave the country. If you do that, we’ll all have even worse problems. Because I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.”
The US is also erecting tents and other facilities at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba in preparation for the mass detention of thousands of Haitians should there be a sudden surge in departures from Haiti.
The research office of the US Congress has issued an updated report on Haitian migration warning of possible mass migration:
“There are growing concerns that the crisis conditions in Haiti may result in mass migration from the country. Not only has there been massive displacement of people caused by the earthquake, but observers of the situation warn of potential and widespread lawlessness as well as outbreaks of disease. These health, safety, and security factors—individually or in combination—could trigger an exodus of Haitians seeking refuge in nearby countries, including the United States. At least five federal agencies now handle Haitian migrants: DHS’s Coast Guard (interdiction); Customs and Border Protection (apprehensions and inspections); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (detention); U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (credible fear determination); and DOJ’s EOIR (asylum and removal hearings). DHS would take the lead in handling a potential mass migration and has long had a set of operational plans in place to respond to such a situation. In her TPS announcement, Secretary Napolitano warned of the consequences of Haitians fleeing to the United States.
At this moment of tragedy in Haiti it is tempting for people suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake to seek refuge elsewhere. But attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation…. It is important to note that TPS will apply only to those individuals who were in the United States as of January 12, 2010. Those who attempt to travel to the United States after January 12, 2010 will not be eligible for TPS and will be repatriated.
The balancing of DHS’s border security and immigration control responsibilities in the midst of a humanitarian disaster poses a unique challenge.”
Click here for US Congressional Research Service Report.