The Biden administration is weighing options to respond to what could soon be a mass exodus of migrants from Haiti, including temporarily detaining migrants in a third country or expanding the capacity of an existing facility at Guantanamo. according to two US officials and an internal planning document reviewed by NBC News.
Currently, the White House National Security Council is asking the Department of Homeland Security what number of Haitian migrants would require the United States to designate a third country, known as the “water lily”, to detain and process Haitian migrants. which are prohibited at sea, and how many would overwhelm a country with water lilies and require Haitians to be taken to the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the document.
For more than 30 years, Guantanamo Bay has had a Migrant Operations Center that houses migrants picked up by the US Coast Guard in the Caribbean. He is not part of the prison for suspected terrorists. Planning currently under consideration would roughly double the capacity of the migrant operations center to 400 beds, according to the document.
In late September, violent gangs seeking to overthrow the Haitian government staged a land blockade of the country’s main fuel supply point, preventing fuel from leaving the depot and frustrating the hopes of those seeking to leave the country by boat.
The Biden administration predicts that when fuel is no longer blocked and migrants can buy gasoline to power boats, there could be a mass exodus of Haitians attempting to make the dangerous journey to the United States by sea route, U.S. officials said.
In recent days, the White House National Security Council has held a series of meetings on the issue, involving the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and State.
The Biden administration has received bipartisan criticism for its handling of a massive influx of Haitian migrants in September 2021, which led to more than 12,000 gatherings under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Most of these migrants, however, had left Haiti many years earlier to seek work in South and Central America and attempted to cross the US-Mexico land border as their economic opportunities began to dry up in countries like Brazil.
The Biden administration has stepped up deportation flights to deal with the influx, but so far those flights have been on hold since August 2022.
An NSC spokesperson said, “The United States remains committed to supporting the people of Haiti. We recently delivered security equipment purchased by the Haitian government, including tactical and armored vehicles and supplies, which will assist the Haitian National Police in its fight against criminal actors inciting violence.
The spokesperson also said USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have personnel on the ground in Haiti to respond to the cholera outbreak in the country.
A DHS spokesperson said the agency “continues to closely monitor the situation in Haiti and has longstanding contingency plans ready in the event of an increase in maritime migration. As we have repeatedly said, irregular sea travel in the Caribbean is always dangerous and very often fatal, and we urge individuals not to endanger their lives.
“DHS components, including U.S. Border Patrol, Air and Marine Operations, and the U.S. Coast Guard, along with our federal partners, maintain a continuous presence with air and maritime assets in the Florida Straits and the Sea of Caribbean, as part of a tiered approach to interdict migrants attempting to enter the United States,” the DHS spokesperson added.