Miami Archbishop Slams Biden for ‘Unconscionable’ Deportation of Haitian Refugees

According to an April 22 United Nations report, roughly 2,500 people were killed or injured in Haiti in the first quarter of this year.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Fla.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Fla. (photo: Joe Raedle / Getty)

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami is criticizing President Joe Biden for resuming deportations of Haitian refugees, which he called “unconscionable.” 

After first making his strong statements in an interview with OSV News, the Miami archbishop doubled down on his criticism of Biden while also calling on the U.S. to extend blanket temporary protective status to all Haitian migrants in the U.S.

“What President Biden has done is unconscionable when you think of the fact that he’s deported over 28,000 Haitians back to Haiti in the last three years, at a time when Haiti has been in a political, social, and economic freefall,” the archbishop told CNA. “If a house is on fire, you don’t force people to run back into the burning house.”

He also criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for increasing the presence of state officials in southern Florida to redirect any Haitians arriving by boat back to their home country.

“They are speaking about them as if they were an invasive species, [when] they’re human beings,” Archbishop Wenski lamented.

What is Going On in Haiti?

Haiti is a small Caribbean nation that has been suffering from political instability for the past several years. Currently the country is experiencing widespread crime, violence, and food shortages in the wake of a long-simmering government meltdown.  

Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince has descended into chaos in the last several months. With a widespread lack of food, health care, and drinking water, among other needs, the government has been largely incapable of controlling criminal elements in the capital and throughout the country. 

At a United Nations Security Council briefing, Maria Salvador, head of the U.N. mission to Haiti, testified that “it is impossible to overstate the increase in gang activity across Port-au-Prince and beyond, the deterioration of the human rights situation, and the deepening of the humanitarian crisis.” 

According to an April 22 United Nations report, roughly 2,500 people were killed or injured in Haiti in the first quarter of this year. About half the population — more than 5 million people — are going hungry while hundreds of thousands have been displaced. 

Amid the chaos, there have been lootings of homes and hospitals as well as kidnappings of religious sisters, brothers, priests, and other innocent bystanders. Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of the Catholic Diocese of Anse-à-Veau was injured in an explosion in Port-au-Prince on Feb. 18.

Despite all this, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resumed deportations of illegal Haitian migrants earlier this month after temporarily pausing removals in recent months. A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed with CNA that authorities have thus far repatriated approximately 50 Haitian nationals.

The spokesperson also told CNA that “individuals are removed only if they were found to not have a legal basis to remain in the United States.” 

While noting that DHS is “monitoring the situation in Haiti and coordinating closely with the State Department and international partners,” the spokesperson said that “all irregular migration journeys, especially maritime routes, are extremely dangerous, unforgiving, and often result in loss of life.”

“U.S. policy is to return noncitizens who do not establish a legal basis to remain in the United States,” the spokesperson continued. “DHS will continue to enforce U.S. laws and policy throughout the Florida Straits and the Caribbean region, as well as at the southwest border.”

Miami Archbishop Responds

The Miami area has the largest Haitian population in the country. As a parish priest, Wenski said that he learned to celebrate Mass in Haitian Creole.

According to the archbishop, Haitians make up an essential part of the Church in Miami, with at least 13 Haitian Catholic churches and about a dozen Haitian priests in the archdiocese. He praised Haitians’ devotion to their faith, saying that “there are a lot of vocations,” with Haitian priests serving the Church all across the Eastern seaboard.  

Archbishop Wenski said “there’s an inconsistency in the application of the laws,” and “sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason behind some of the American actions.”

He claimed that the federal government’s removals violate portions of international law that the U.S. has signed onto, namely the “principle of non-refoulement,” which prohibits the removal of refugees if it presents them with a real danger of irreparable harm, torture, ill treatment, or other serious human rights breaches.

Archbishop Wenski called on Biden to extend temporary protective status for all Haitian migrants “regardless of how they arrived.” 

“Are you going to now order people back to the countries where they came from? And what happens if the conditions in the countries haven’t changed? Can you really do that?” he asked.

By extending temporary protective status and allowing Haitian migrants to live and work in the U.S. legally, Wenski said that it “not only helps the Haitians, but it also helps everybody else” because “that means they’re contributing their taxes, they’re paying into Social Security, et cetera, et cetera.”

Immigration Expert Disagrees

Andrew Arthur, a Catholic, former immigration judge, and resident law and policy fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, told CNA that while he understands Wenski’s stance on this issue, he believes the deportations are the ethical thing to do.

Arthur said that he could “dispositively” confirm that all of the Biden administration’s recent deportations of Haitian migrants are in full accordance with U.S. and international law.

According to Arthur, Haitians can still take advantage of several other legal pathways for refuge in the U.S. as well as many other American countries. He said that 168,000 Haitian migrants have legally entered the country since January 2023 through a special humanitarian parole program available for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans.

He explained that the only Haitian migrants being deported by the Biden administration are people who have either committed crimes or entered the country illegally. Regarding the non-refoulement principle, Arthur said the Biden administration is only deporting migrants who have been determined to be not at risk of persecution or torture in their home country.  

In Arthur’s opinion, returning illegal Haitian migrants is the moral answer, since he said that not doing so would encourage still larger numbers of people to attempt to cross into the U.S. illegally in a journey that he said results in untold deaths and trauma, especially to migrant children.

“About two-thirds of all of those migrants [coming illegally] are assaulted on their way to the United States,” he said. “It’s an extremely dangerous process, and we want to deter people from undertaking that. That’s the moral side of this. We don’t want them to put themselves in a position of danger.”

Bishops’ Conference Has Yet to Weigh In

At the time of publication, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not reply to CNA’s request for comment about Wenski’s statements. However, the bishops have previously called for the international community and American Church to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti.

In a March 15 statement, Bishop Elias Zaidan, head of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee, said: “I heartily join our Holy Father Pope Francis in his expression of concern and support for the people of Haiti and who recently invited us to pray for the people of this land through the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, patroness of Haiti that violence cease, and peace and reconciliation in the country be realized with the support of the international community.”