Mayorkas says Haitian gangs ‘targeted’ American personnel, prompting evacuation order

Armed groups in Haiti were targeting Americans in Port-au-Prince before the U.S. State Department ordered the families of American diplomats and non-essential personnel to leave the country in July, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday.

Mayorkas described the targeted threat against Americans there to justify why DHS continues to deport Haitian nationals back to the country, despite State Department warning against travel to Haiti.

“The threat to Americans in Haiti was quite targeted,” Mayorkas said, asked by McClatchy at a small gathering of reporters why it was safe for Haitian nationals to return.

“The embassy — there was a particular interest on the part of gangs there to control transit, means of transit, and that is quite distinct from an overall inability of individuals to be returned to Haiti,” he added.

A U.S. travel warning for Haiti issued on July 27 laid out the order for American personnel and their families, and said that U.S. officials remaining in the country could not use “any kind of public transportation or taxis,” leave the embassy compound without prior approval, travel anywhere between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. or drive at night.

Then on Aug. 30 as neighborhoods near the U.S. embassy compounds in the Tabarre suburb of the Haitian capital came under increased gunfire from gangs, U.S. citizens were urged, once more, to depart Haiti “as soon as possible.” The next day, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement charter flight arrived in Port-au-Prince with 66 Haitian nationals who had been deported back to the country.

The deportation immediately drew criticism from Haitian and immigration rights groups. In a statement, Guerline Jozef, co-founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance in the U.S., called the move “outrageous.”

“This act puts lives in danger and is a clear human-rights violation, and if allowed to continue, it will go into the history books as a crime against humanity. We urgently call upon President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Mayorkas, and the entire administration to cease all deportations to Haiti,” she said. “We also call on Congress to step up and demand that the administration stop all deportation flights to Haiti because it is a travesty, undermines international law, and unconscionably puts lives in immediate danger.”