Resignation of Special Envoy to Haiti Must Serve as a Wake-Up Call to Biden Administration: Leading Global Human Rights Organization Calls on Administration to Reverse Course, Halt Deportations, and Listen to Haitian Civil Society

In response to the sudden resignation of the United States’ special envoy for Haiti, Ambassador Daniel Foote, and the devastating treatment of Haitian migrants at the US Southern border, Tracey Gurd, senior director of civil and political rights and advocacy at American Jewish World Service (AJWS), issued the below statement:

“Ambassador Foote’s resignation as the US special envoy for Haiti must serve as a clear and powerful wake-up call to the Biden Administration to immediately change course on Haiti. The administration must both stop the US’s horrifying treatment of Haitian migrants at our southern border and shift US foreign policy towards Haiti itself by listening to Haitian civil society. A career diplomat and high-level official within the US government, Foote resigned only two months into his tenure, citing a “deeply flawed”  US policy approach to Haiti. Ambassador Foote’s dramatic action highlights that the Biden Administration is failing to live up to its promises of centering democracy and human rights in its domestic and foreign policy.

“As Ambassador Foote’s own resignation letter points out, the Haitian migrant situation at the US border cannot be separated from the current political crisis in Haiti–which in turn is directly related to the US’s current and long-misguided foreign policy in Haiti.

“For years, Haitians have lived in a state of terror under a dysfunctional and criminal government, headed since 2016 by the late President Jovenel Moïse and his political party, Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK). The Moïse government systematically dismantled Haiti’s democratic institutions, corrupted the economy, and provided protection, guns and money to the gangs that continue to murder, kidnap and violate Haiti’s population. In the wake of Moïse’s assassination in July 2021, the caretaker government led by Ariel Henry and filled with PHTK members and their allies, continues to perpetuate the dysfunction, violence, corruption and political crisis that Moïse and his cronies started, prompting thousands of Haitians to flee their homes simply to survive.

“Yet, throughout this destruction of democracy and security, the US government—under former President Trump and now under President Biden—has continued to throw its political weight behind PHTK and its allies, regardless of the cost to the Haitian people. At the same time and flying in the face of US commitments to uphold human rights standards, the Biden Administration largely continues to refuse entry to Haitians into the US, even as they flee for their lives. Tragically, the US has been summarily deporting Haitians back to Haiti, a country that is wholly unable to receive them or ensure they are protected from potential harm.

“The Biden Administration has taken this poor foreign policy path despite the fact that an alternative and credible option exists to ensure a democratic and safe future for Haiti through the efforts of the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis. This option, led by the Commission, offers the best chance to reduce the number of Haitians fleeing to seek asylum in the US due to the instability in Haiti. It is also one which has buy-in from, and credibility with, a vast swath of Haitian civil society, churches and political parties.

“The Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis was set up in early 2021 to seek a political way forward for Haiti after President Moïse overstayed his electoral mandate, which Haitian legal experts and judges agree ended in February this year. This Commission has released a political accord setting out a process for naming a transitional government to prepare the country for free and fair elections, including by reforming the electoral commission, police and judiciary; getting the gangs under control; and providing a better economic future for the Haitian people in their own country.

“In the wake of this week’s devastating events on the border and with Ambassador Foote’s resignation, the US administration must:

  • Stop propping up illegitimate political actors—such as the Ariel Henry government—and instead support the political process laid out by the Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis.
  • Immediately appoint a new special envoy for Haiti who can inspire the trust of civil society and has clear and deep knowledge of Haiti and clearly defined decision-making power when it comes to US foreign policy regarding Haiti. This special envoy should report directly to the US Secretary of State.
  • Place a moratorium on all deportations of Haitians back to Haiti until Haiti’s current political and security crisis stabilizes.
  • Abide by its commitments under international refugee law, including the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol, of which the US is a signatory, and allow Haitians seeking asylum at the US border to enter and make their asylum claims as required by US law.”

Background: 

Over the past months AJWS has continued to forcefully call on the US government to listen to Haitian civil society, including in our statement following the assassination of Jovenel Moïse, Haiti’s former president, and in our statement released following the devastating earthquake last month. At the start of this month, following the US Agency for International Development’s pledge of additional humanitarian assistance to Haiti, AJWS released these key principles we believe should guide the US humanitarian response. In March 2021, we also released this explainer outlining the background on the political crisis in Haiti to that date.

If you are a member of the press and wish to obtain information about our work or speak to a member of our global team on deadline, please contact Madeline Cohen at mcohen@ajws.org during AJWS office hours from 9 am to 5 pm eastern time, Monday through Thursday. If you are on an urgent deadline on a Friday, over a weekend or during evening hours, please write Stuart Schear at sschear@ajws.org.