By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
For a considerable period of time, Haiti has experienced unprecedented economic, political and environmental problems. In July 2021, Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in the middle of the night, pushing this country – the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere – to the brink of political disaster.
Haitian families do not have basic medical care, and their children suffer from malnutrition. Due to a lack of money, Haitian children are often unable to attend school.
Powerful, deadly gangs thrive throughout Haiti, controlling the roadways and other main areas of travel in the country. In fact, the gangs have more influence and control in Haitian communities than the police.
In addition, there have been devastating earthquakes and other natural disasters. On January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that killed over 230,000 people. In September 2017, Hurricane Irma caused devastation in Haiti, and the country was hit with another devastating earthquake in August 2021.
Violence is extremely high in Haiti, and it continues to be an unsafe country to enter. In March 2022, a U.S. faith-based humanitarian plane was destroyed and burned at an airport in Les Cayes, because demonstrators thought it was a politician’s plane.
Haiti’s Problems Explain the Rise in Haitian Immigrants Trying to Reach South Florida
Violence, a destroyed economy and desperate living conditions may explain why there has been an increase in Haitians who risk their lives by attempting to travel over the ocean to south Florida. Often, Haitians will pay for transportation in unsafe smuggling operations involving unseaworthy vessels that lack sanitation, safety equipment and navigation equipment.
These vessels are often grossly overloaded, which makes for an extremely dangerous voyage to south Florida. The trip can take as long as 14 days.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepts about four Haitian immigrant vessels per month with an average of 150 people on board. The Washington Post also notes that the Coast Guard has stopped 2,953 migrants from Haiti at sea since October 1, 2021, a rise from the approximately 1,500 Haitians stopped at sea last year.
The Washington Post adds that the Coast Guard is currently on track to stop 15 times more Haitian refugees this year compared to the fiscal year 2020. In one smuggling incident in March of 2022, a vessel carrying around 300 Haitian migrants arrived in the Florida Keys, resulting in 163 migrants swimming to shore.
These smuggling events are highly dangerous as Haitian immigrants entering the water are at risk of drowning. In the Florida Keys alone, there have been over 800 Haitian immigrants who have landed on American shores since the beginning of the year. According to the Sheriff of Monroe County located in the Florida Keys: “These boats just seem to be drifting, with no electronics, and very little ability to navigate.”
Haitian Immigrants Continue to Travel to South Florida despite the Danger
For immigrants, smugglers commonly arrange the dangerous voyage from Haiti to the shores of Florida, Tragically, smugglers have little regard for the immigrants’ safety, and it is common for Haitian migrants to arrive in Florida dehydrated and in need of medical care. According to Chief Patrol Agent Walter Slosar from the U.S. Border Patrol Miami Sector, “The criminal organizations that overload these vessels sacrifice the safety of the migrants for the sake of profits.”
Until conditions drastically improve in Haiti, Haitian immigrants are likely to continue risking the dangerous voyage to Florida. Hopefully, smuggling organizations will be held accountable in the future to mitigate the risk that these voyages present for Haitian immigrants.