US suspends Haiti deportation flights as Biden administration tries to control Ice

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Halt came after activists and staffers called homeland security secretary’s office but it is unclear how long it will last

The US has suspended deportation flights to Haiti, in the latest sign the Biden administration is attempting to assert control over the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Ice, according to community activists and congressional sources.

The reported halt to Haitian flights came after a night of frantic calls from community activists and congressional staffers to the office of the newly confirmed secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas. It is unclear how long the suspension will last, and Ice did not reply to a request for comment on Friday morning.

On taking office, Joe Biden ordered a 100-day moratorium on deportation while the system and procedures for removal of migrants and asylum seekers were subject to review. But on 26 January, a Trump-appointed Texas judge issued a stay on the moratorium being implemented, and Ice resumed – and in some cases stepped up – deportations to Africa, Haiti and Central America.

The deportations defied guidelines laid down by the Biden team, stipulating that removals should be focused on suspected terrorists and convicted felons who were a danger to the public. Since being confirmed by the Senate, Mayorkas and his team have been seeking to rein in Ice, according to congressional sources.

A flight due to leave for Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo was halted from taking off at the last minute on Thursday, so that the would-be deportees could be witnesses in an investigation into allegations of physical abuse by Ice agents. The cancellation and investigation mark a significant change in policy.

Ice had also stepped up flights deporting Haitians detained at the southern border. On Thursday, there were two flights. Most of the removals were deemed expulsions under a 1944 public health statute, called Title 42, which had rarely been used before the Trump administration.

Human rights activists have argued that the upsurge in political violence and lawlessness in Haiti meant that any deportations there would be unsafe.

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