Haiti has been plagued with violence in recent weeks, with gangs overtaking the island’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Odelyn Joseph/AP

Republicans’ Urgency on the Migrant Crisis Grinds to a Halt With Haiti Aid

“They’d rather continue to blame Biden for their inaction,” says one Democratic lawmaker of Republicans.

Democrats see a migrant crisis in the making just off the coast of Florida. Gang violence in Haiti has caused a political and humanitarian crisis that could hit the U.S. at any moment.

“Haiti is right off of our borders; people can swim to it from Florida,” Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke, who co-chairs the Haiti Caucus, said. “We can either pay for it now or pay for it later. We are paying for it anyway.”

Republicans, however, aren’t ready to pay for it at all.

“I will not support sending money that is unaccounted for,” Florida Rep. Carlos Gimenez said. “We learned lessons from the money that was sent during the earthquake where a lot of it just disappeared.”

The Biden administration is asking Congress to release an additional $40 million to assist a multinational security mission to Haiti, which was approved by the United Nations Security Council in October last year. But congressional Republicans have blocked the funds. The U.S. is the single largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Haiti already, according to the White House; the U.S. sent an additional $58 million just last week.

Republicans say they were just presented with the plan last week and are not on board with the administration’s request.

“The State Department has been rather ineffective, to say the least,” Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told NOTUS. “What I have seen from this administration on Haiti is, at best, clueless and missing in action.”

In a joint statement, Rep. Michael McCaul, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Sen. James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Republicans received information about the mission too late.

“After years of discussions, repeated requests for information and providing partial funding to help them plan, the administration only this afternoon sent us a rough plan to address this crisis. Whether it’s ‘credible and implementable’ remains to be seen.”

The mission, to be led by Kenya with other Caribbean countries, would send forces to restore law and order. Haiti has been plagued with violence in recent weeks; gangs overtook the island’s capital, Port-au-Prince, burning down police stations and releasing thousands of prisoners calling for the acting prime minister Ariel Henry to step down from power. Henry vowed to resign last week. Haiti’s main airport was shut down after an armed attack.

Democrats warn that without funding, the United States runs the risk of another migration crisis. This week, officers at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported intercepting a boat with over two dozen Haitian passengers being smuggled into the state. U.S. officials have not yet reported any sudden influx of migrants in South Florida.

Republicans have made immigration one of their biggest talking points, decrying the Biden administration’s migrant policies. Gov. Ron DeSantis warned that if any migrants from Haiti do land in Florida “their next stop very well may be Martha’s Vineyard.” Florida has deployed state law enforcement to South Florida in anticipation of an influx of migrants.

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But Republicans themselves walked away from a bipartisan immigration deal just last month — a reality Democrats are quick to emphasize.

“Speaker Johnson is holding up the money because he and Republicans do not care about Haiti,” Democratic Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove said. “Also, it would mean that they’re doing something about a potential migrant refugee crisis, which they don’t want to because they’d rather continue to blame Biden for their inaction.”

The chaos in Haiti is developing as Congress remains in a stalemate over border and immigration reform as well as foreign aid. Sending funding to Haiti and not doing it for Ukraine and Israel “probably doesn’t square with their base,” Kamlager-Dove added.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who said he is not confident in the State Department’s plan, told NOTUS the “number one” thing Biden could do is declare an “anticipated mass maritime migration,” which he says will activate naval vessels “to deter more people taking to the water and repatriate people back to Port-Au-Prince.”

Not all Republicans are against the mission. Sen. Marco Rubio, referencing a call he had this week with Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader, worries the window to conduct it is quickly closing as gangs take over.

“If you send multinational forces, they will need to partner with a viable and operating local force,” Rubio said. “The real concern is that by the time that multinational force gets there, that partner won’t exist.”

A coalition of nations, including the U.S., tasked political leaders in Haiti with naming nine individuals to become the country’s presidential transitional council and lead them through fair elections as they await the multinational security mission. Ariel Henry has agreed to step down as prime minister once the council is installed.

But, time is not on Congress’ side, and members on both sides of the aisle recognize that. Although there is no consensus on how, lawmakers agree that the U.S. must intervene.

“We have to walk and chew gum at the same time. Haiti is in our sphere of influence, and there could be malign actors that come in there if we don’t,” North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said. “Sadly, when you’re the leader of the free world, you’ve got to play wherever the world is.”

Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.