Pentagon alerted to potential ‘maritime mass migration’ from Haiti amid Caribbean nation’s spiraling conflict

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The Department of Defense has been alerted to a potential “maritime mass migration” from Haiti that poses security concerns for South Florida amid the Caribbean nation’s turmoil.  

Rebecca Zimmerman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs, testified regarding mass Haitian migration concerns when asked by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday to discuss the U.S. military posture and national security challenges in North and South America. 

“What’s the difference between Haiti and a failed state?” Gaetz asked Zimmerman during his line of questioning. “We can’t really identify because the gangs are in charge, the government has been thrown out, and, as a Florida man, I’m deeply concerned about this wave of people that we are about to have, that we are having coming from Haiti, and it will accelerate.” 

From his time in Opa-locka, Florida, spent with members of Operation Vigilant Sentry, an interagency task force established in the early 2000s to track maritime migration trends, Gaetz said he learned the Haitians who so far have arrived in Broward County and Palm Beach County — “where they don’t disperse throughout the country, they stay in southeast Florida” — had been driven by “the deteriorating condition in Haiti,” signaling that the worsening situation on the ground in the Caribbean nation could prompt more of a surge to the Sunshine State. 

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Men on motorcycles drive past burning tires during a demonstration following the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday. (CLARENS SIFFROY/AFP via Getty Images)

“So what are we doing to prepare for that wave and to ensure that these people are not paroled into the United States as the administration has done with people on the southern border, but instead are repatriated at the dock back at Port-au-Prince?” Gaetz asked. 

“At the moment, we have not yet seen large numbers, what we would characterize as maritime mass migration,” Zimmerman said. “We are alert to that possibility. I think you’re right that the driving conditions in Haiti could very well press more people. We recently approved some additional assistance we could provide to the Coast Guard.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jamaica for Haiti talks

Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane upon departure from Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica, on Monday. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gaetz said the Coast Guard expressed to him a need for more naval vessels as Department of Defense support in anticipation of mass migration. 

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Rep. Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., who serves on the Homeland Security and Armed Services committees, as well as the new Select Committee on China, reacted to the concerns in a statement to Fox News Digital. 

“Six U.S. embassies have been evacuated under Joe Biden’s disastrous foreign policy, with Haiti’s being the latest. Over 10 million people have crossed the border illegally over the past four years. Now, we have yet another migrant crisis at our doorstep due to this Administration’s lack of a strategic vision for our hemisphere,” Giménez said. “Miami-Dade County boasts one of the largest Haitian-American communities in the nation. Our residents want concrete actions and a Haitian-led solution to this humanitarian crisis that restores democracy, safety, and security to the island. These criminal gangs that are terrorizing the Haitian people must be stopped at all costs.”

Haiti crowds

Pedestrians and commuters fill a street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday. Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced Tuesday that he would resign once a transitional presidential council is created.  (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

“Haiti is facing a crisis of Biblical Proportions,” Rep. Maria Salazar, R-Fla., who is Chair of the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, also said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “With gangs overrunning the country, we need to contain this crisis before it overflows to the rest of the Western Hemisphere. Republicans are asking for a clear plan and accountability for the use of U.S resources. We want to see the crisis in Haiti come to an end immediately but need to do it responsibly.”

At a press conference on Monday, Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., who is Haitian-American, warned of a potential security risk if the U.S. fails to act, Politico reported.  

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Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Tuesday announced he would resign, bowing to international pressure to save his homeland gripped by violence and controlled by heavily armed gangsters under the leadership of the notorious Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier. The announcement came hours after officials, including Caribbean leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, met in Jamaica to discuss a solution to halt Haiti’s spiraling crisis and agreed to a joint proposal to establish a transitional council. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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