Haitian Migrants Have Lowest Rate of U.S. Asylum Approvals Since 2018

Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the United States have had the lowest approval rate since 2018 among 84 groups for whom data is available, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

From 2018 to 2021, only 4.62 percent of Haitian asylum seekers were approved by the U.S. Asylum seekers from the Dominican Republic have a similarly low rate of 5.11 percent. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Comparatively, four of the five top U.S. asylum applicants are from Latin American countries, with acceptance rates ranging from 6.21 percent to 14.12 percent. Those countries are El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras.

"Black immigrants live at the intersection of race and immigration and, for too long, have fallen through the cracks of red tape and legal loopholes," said Yoliswa Cele of the UndocuBlack Network, a national advocacy organization for currently and formerly undocumented Black people.

"Now through the videos capturing the abuses on Haitians at the border, the world has now seen for itself that all migrants seeking a better tomorrow aren't treated equal when skin color is involved."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Haitian Migrants Del Rio
Haitian migrants have had the lowest asylum approval ratings in the U.S. since 2018 out of 84 groups with data available. Above, Haitians wait to cross the Rio Grande into Del Rio, Texas, from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, on September 23, 2021. John Moore/Getty Images

The images—men on horseback with long reins, corralling Haitian asylum seekers trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico—provoked an outcry. But to many Haitians and Black Americans, they're merely confirmation of a deeply held belief:

U.S. immigration policies, they say, are and have long been anti-Black.

The Border Patrol's treatment of Haitian migrants, they say, is just the latest in a long history of discriminatory U.S. policies and of indignities faced by Black people, sparking new anger among Haitian Americans, Black immigrant advocates and civil rights leaders.

They point to immigration data that indicate Haitians and other Black migrants routinely face structural barriers to legally entering or living in the U.S.—and often endure disproportionate contact with the American criminal legal system that can jeopardize their residency or hasten their deportation.

Nicole Phillips, legal director for the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said racism has long driven the American government's treatment of Haitian immigrants.

Phillips, whose organization is on the ground helping Haitians in Texas, says this dates back to the early 1800s, when Haitian slaves revolted and gained independence from France, and has continued through decades of U.S. intervention and occupation in the small island nation.

She said the U.S., threatened by the possibility of its own slaves revolting, both assisted the French and didn't recognize Haitian independence for nearly six decades. The U.S. also loaned money to Haiti so that it could, in essence, buy its independence, collecting interest payments while plunging the country into poverty for decades.

"This mentality and stigma against Haitians stems all the way back to that period," Phillips said.

The U.S. violently occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and backed former Haiti dictator Francois Duvalier, whose oppressive regime resulted in 30,000 deaths and drove thousands to flee.

While the U.S. long treated Cubans with compassion—largely because of opposition to the Communist regime—the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton took a hard line on Haitians. And the Trump administration ended Temporary Protected Status for several nationalities, including Haitians and Central Americans.

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a national racial justice and immigrant rights group, largely defines Black immigrants as people from nations in Africa and the Caribbean. By that definition, AP's analysis of 2019 Department of Homeland Security data found 66 percent Black immigrants deported from the U.S were removed based on criminal grounds, as opposed to 43 percent of all immigrants.

Nana Gyamfi, BAJI's executive director, said crimes of moral turpitude, including petty theft or turnstile jumping, have been used as partial justification for denying Black immigrants legal status. "We have people getting deported because of train fare," she said.

Leaders within the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of Black-led racial justice and civil rights organizations, have pointed to the treatment of Haitians at the border as justification for their broader demands for defunding law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

"A lot of times in the immigration debate, Black people are erased and Black immigrants are erased from the conversation," said Amara Enyia, a policy researcher for the Movement for Black Lives.

Ahead of a Thursday tour of the migrant encampment in Texas, civil rights leaders called for an investigation into the treatment of Black migrants at the border and for an immediate end to the deportation of Black asylum seekers.

The camp is "a catastrophic and human disgrace," the Rev. Al Sharpton said after an hourlong tour with several Black American leaders in Del Rio. "We will keep coming back, as long as is necessary."

In Miami, immigrant rights advocate Francesca Menes couldn't believe her eyes as she watched images of the asylum seekers being corralled by men on horseback.

"My family is under that bridge," Menes said, referring to a cousin, his wife and their newborn who recently met up in a small border town in Texas. It took Menes's cousin two months to make the trek from Chile, where he had been living with his brothers for three years to escape Haiti's political tumult, violence and devastation.

"It made me sick," Menes said. "This didn't happen with unaccompanied minors. You didn't see people riding on horseback, basically herding people like they were cattle, like they were animals."

Haiti Border Abuse
The Border Patrol's treatment of Haitian migrants has sparked anger among Haitian Americans, Black immigrant advocates and civil rights leaders. Above, U.S. Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. Felix Marquez, File/AP Photo