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Top State Department Official Resigns, Saying Haitian Deportations Violate Law

The Biden administration has deported thousands of Haitians in the past few weeks alone.

State Department legal advisor Harold Koh testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the War Powers Act on June 28, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

A top official at the State Department has left his post, citing the Biden administration’s continued use of Title 42, a Trump-era statute that enables the government to deny asylum seekers at the border. This marks the second high-profile departure from the Biden administration over the president’s policies on Haitian asylum seekers.

In a scathing memo obtained by Politico, former senior adviser and legal appointee Harold Koh referred to the administration’s use of Title 42 as “inhumane.” He also expressed the belief that the deportation of Haitians is illegal under domestic laws and in violation of the United Nations (UN) Refugee Convention.

“I believe this Administration’s current implementation of the Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return (“refouler”) individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially migrants fleeing from Haiti,” Koh wrote in the memo. “Lawful, more humane alternatives plainly exist, and there are approaching opportunities in the near future to substitute those alternatives in place of the current, badly flawed policy.”

Since February, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has deported 700,000 people to countries including Mexico, Guatemala and Haiti, Koh said. He continued by citing disturbing reports that “some migrants were not even told where they were being taken when placed on deportation flights, learning only when they landed that they had been returned to their home country or place of possible persecution or torture” — what he says constitutes the “exact act of refoulement” that is forbidden by domestic and international laws.

In September, Title 42 made headlines when pictures and videos were released showing Border Patrol agents on horseback, cracking their whips at Haitian asylum seekers. Migrants have been fleeing desperate conditions in Haiti, which was plunged into political unrest after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July and devastated by a deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake in August.

Despite the potential violence that some Haitians face if they return to Haiti, the Biden administration has been deporting en masse. About 4,600 Haitians have been deported since mid-September — and the U.S. government’s hostile treatment of Haitian migrants has forced asylum seekers to reconsider their entry into the U.S., despite promises from Democrats that Haitians would be granted protected status in the country.

Koh called the deportations “particularly unjustifiable” when considering the Temporary Protected Status that Haitians were supposedly given by the Biden administration earlier this year. Pointing out UN statistics indicating that millions of Haitians are in dire need of humanitarian aid, he asked: “If Haiti is undeniably a humanitarian disaster area, the question should be: at this moment, why is this Administration returning Haitians at all?”

Koh concluded by asking for all Title 42 flights to be stopped.

His departure follows that of Daniel Foote, a former special envoy to Haiti who resigned last month, also citing the Biden administration’s cruelty toward Haitians. “I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision [to deport Haitians],” Foote wrote.

Even in the face of progressive outrage and pleas from refugees and advocates around the world, the Biden administration has shown little intention of revising its tyrannical immigration policies. Despite President Joe Biden’s raising of the refugee cap, refugee admissions have fallen to a record low this year. According to the Associated Press, a total of 11,445 refugees were allowed into the U.S. during the budget year that started in October of 2020 and ended last week — a small fraction of the 62,500 cap that Biden set earlier this year.

Biden has also been ramping up immigrant detention and imprisonment. The number of immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has gone up by 70 percent under Biden, with relative silence from Democratic lawmakers who expressed outrage about immigrant families in cages under Trump.

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