By Daina Beth Solomon and Doina Chiacu
CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. special envoy to Haiti resigned in protest on Thursday in a letter that blasted the Biden administration for deporting hundreds of migrants back to the crisis-engulfed Caribbean nation from a camp on the U.S.-Mexican border in recent days.
Daniel Foote, a career diplomat named to his post in July, said conditions in Haiti were so bad that U.S. officials were confined to secure compounds. He said the “collapsed state” was unable to support the infusion of returning migrants.
“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants,” Foote said in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that circulated publicly on Thursday.
The United States has returned 1,401 migrants from the camp to Haiti and taken another 3,206 people into custody, the Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday.
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has gone through profound instability in recent weeks, including a presidential assassination, gang violence and a major earthquake.
Filippo Grandi, the head of the U.N refugee agency, warned that this week the U.S. expulsions to Haiti might violate international law.
Foote submitted his resignation to Blinken on Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson said, adding that Washington was committed to the long-term well being of Haiti, as well as offering immediate help to returning migrants.
The resignation follows growing pressure on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden from the United Nations and his fellow Democrats over the treatment of Haitians in a sprawling impromptu migrant camp in Texas near the Mexican border.
Biden’s handling of what Republicans portray as a crisis at the border – including record numbers of migrant detentions this year – has led to growing disillusionment from advocates who hoped for an end to deterrent measures brought in by his predecessor Donald Trump.
A State Department spokesman said Foote resigned on Wednesday and gave no indication of a change in policy, saying the United States is working with the International Organization on Migration to ensure that returning Haitian migrants are met at the airport and provided with immediate assistance.
“We are working to identify ways to provide more comprehensive assistance going forward,” the spokesperson said.
As well as the Haitians, the United States frequently deports Central American and other migrants caught crossing the border.
Foote’s decision to leave was interpreted and welcomed by rights groups as a stern criticism of the administration’s immigration strategy.
“A big bold move. And a big deal,” said William O’Neill, a lawyer specializing in humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. “He will be missed.”
As many as 14,000 people gathered in the camp en Del Rio, Texas last week. The population has been reduced by expulsion flights and detentions. Others have left the dusty riverbank on the Rio Grande for Mexico to avoid being sent home.
There were 3,671 migrants in the Del Rio camp as of Thursday morning, according to Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens.
Wade McMullen, an attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization, said several hundred people, mostly pregnant women and parents with children, had been released in Del Rio, Texas, over the past several days.
Images of U.S. border guards on horseback using long reins to whip at Black migrants at the weekend caused outrage within the White House and from rights groups and prompted Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday to seek answers from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Ciudad Acuna and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Humeyra Pamuk and Kristina Cooke, Editing by Heather Timmons, Laura Gottesdiener and Alistair Bell)