Exclusive: U.S. border authorities warn of possible influx of Haitians migrating by boat

·4 min read

The Department of Homeland Security is warning of a possible influx of Haitian migrants headed to the United States by boat, according to an intelligence alert obtained by Yahoo News.

The alert, which was unclassified and marked “for official use only,” was issued on Thursday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Intelligence. It states that Border Patrol apprehensions of Haitian migrants in Miami and Puerto Rico have been on the rise since May, “with September likely to be the highest month in fiscal year (FY) 2021.”

Migrants aboard a 35-foot sailing vessel are interdicted by a U.S. Coast Guard crew approximately 12 miles east of Biscayne Bay off Florida on Sept. 16.
Migrants aboard a 35-foot sailing vessel are interdicted by a U.S. Coast Guard crew approximately 12 miles east of Biscayne Bay off Florida on Sept. 16. (U.S. Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

According to the bulletin, the influx in maritime migration is probably being fueled by “an evolving perception amongst the Haitian community that Haitian migrants detained by United States law enforcement agencies will automatically be sent to Miami for further release into Florida.”

Additionally, the report explains that “Haitian migrants encountered in the maritime environment have identified their desire to migrate to the United States because of economic opportunities, the elevated levels of violence in Haiti, and a perception that they will be allowed to stay in the United States.”

CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent on Thursday passes Haitian immigrant families who have crossed the Rio Grande to Del Rio, Texas, from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent on Thursday passes Haitian immigrant families who have crossed the Rio Grande to Del Rio, Texas, from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The intelligence alert comes amid intense scrutiny over the Biden administration’s response to a recent surge in Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Over the past few days, immigration authorities have moved to clear thousands of mostly Haitian migrants from a makeshift encampment that sprang up suddenly under a bridge along the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas. As of Thursday, Homeland Security officials told reporters that more than 1,400 people had been returned to Haiti so far, with deportation flights expected to continue in the coming days.

Yahoo News reported Thursday that the Biden administration failed to anticipate the latest influx of Haitians at the U.S. border with Mexico, despite tracking Haitian migration for months. Several internal government documents obtained by Yahoo News show that multiple intelligence agencies within the Department of Homeland Security had repeatedly downplayed the potential for mass Haitian migration to the U.S. since as early as March 1.

Among those documents was a situational report issued by the Coast Guard’s Maritime Intelligence Fusion Center in mid-July, about a week after the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse. The Coast Guard report noted that maritime encounters with Haitian migrants had increased 7 percent during the month of June, but predicted that Haitian migration to the U.S. would decrease in the aftermath of the president’s assassination, concluding that “Haitian maritime mass migration is very unlikely in the near-term.”

Despite this assessment, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas sought to discourage a possible wave of migrants taking to the sea, warning at the time that anyone seeking to flee Haiti by boat, including those with a credible fear of persecution, would not be eligible for asylum in the United States.

Protesters at a USCIS immigration services building in Miami on Wednesday denounce the expulsion of Haitian refugees from Del Rio, Texas.
Protesters at a USCIS immigration services building in Miami on Wednesday denounce the expulsion of Haitian refugees from Del Rio, Texas. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 According to the intelligence alert issued Thursday, many of the Haitians who have been detained by U.S. authorities in Puerto Rico probably did not set sail from Haiti but rather from the Dominican Republic, where Haitians are paying boat captains “between $5000-$7000 USD cash up front per person for a seat aboard a Puerto Rican-bound yola,” a small vessel typically used for smuggling.

The DHS alert notes that in previous years, border officials have encountered an average of 350 Haitians headed to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic, but that the number has tripled this calendar year to more than 900 so far.

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