“What the hell are we doing here?”
That’s the question Democratic California Congresswoman Maxine Waters exclaimed last week in response to images of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian asylum seekers who have been living in a makeshift camp in Del Rio, Texas.
“What we witnessed takes us back hundreds of years. What we witnessed was worse than what we witnessed in slavery: cowboys, with their reins, again, whipping Black people—Haitians—into the water, where they’re scrambling and falling down, when all they’re trying to do is escape from violence in their country.”
These images although centuries apart still seem to represent the worst of America’s capacity for humanity. @Potus if the plan is to #BuildBackBetter step 1 must be tearing down a foundation of oppressive practices. pic.twitter.com/bEkGDYl6Wg
— NAACP (@NAACP) September 21, 2021
The U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned his post, stating:
“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees.”
Taking aim at the Biden administration’s involvement in Haitian affairs, Foote added:
“This cycle of international political interventions in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results.”
For all the ways Joe Biden is surprising many by taking more uncharacteristically progressive stances on domestic issues, there is one area in particular where he so far bears little significant resemblance from his predecessor.
While immigration has been an albatross around every president’s neck and there is no panacea for it, there are progressive, humane immigration policies administrations can pursue.
According to a report titled “The Invisible Wall” a coalition of immigrant rights groups authored, the Biden administration is using a controversial Trump-era public health order to refuse asylum seekers basic legal rights, and deported more Haitian immigrants in weeks than the Trump administration did in a year.
To be fair, President Biden ordered DHS to review Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy.
On his first day in office, he sent Congress a bill creating for undocumented individuals a pathway to citizenship, signed a memorandum directing the HHS secretary to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and an executive order repealing Trump’s Muslim ban.
However, if the work of distinguishing his immigration policies from Trump’s is not more delineated, it could hurt the Democratic party’s chances of retaining its majority in next year’s mid-term elections.
Earlier this year, the White House was forced to back-pedal after Democratic backlash ensued regarding the Biden administration’s decision to maintain the Trump-era cap on refugees permitted to enter the United States.
Concerning this latest embarrassment, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) urged President Biden to “immediately put a stop to these expulsions, and to end this Title 42 policy at our southern border.”
“We cannot continue these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws.”
Haitian migrants have recently congregated at the border after fleeing South American countries like Chile and Brazil where many had been living since the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Tightening immigration laws and economic uncertainty have driven them north.
The Chilean interior ministry told CNN:
“Haitian migration has been roaming Latin America for more than a decade. In Chile, their exodus is increasingly notorious, given the current working conditions that do not favor their insertion in the market, even with a visa and work permit.”
“With the rising inflation, the cost of everything has gone up: light, gas, water, food. The minimum wage in Brazil is 1,100 reais (a little more than $200), so you can’t pay rent, food and also help your family. Therefore, a lot of people need to leave and go to the US.”
Concerning America’s immigration course, one DHS official explained:
“We are slowly making progress on policies for creating a more humane immigration system while maintaining some of the most inhumane policies for asylum-seekers. You can reverse all of the terrible court cases…but as long as Title 42 remains in place, none of that matters. We are turning our backs on the most vulnerable.”
Due to the pandemic, the Trump administration leaned on it to issue a public health order to expel refugees at the border without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum.
Immigration director for the International Rescue Committee, Olga Byrne, argues:
“U.S. law says that any person in the United States or at the border with the United States has a right to seek asylum. The legal issue at hand [with the use of Title 42] is that there’s nothing in the law that allows the government to expel [migrants] without any due process.”
Biden has a duty to do better than Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, etcetera.
He has vowed consequences for Haitians’ treatment.
But consequences are not long-term solutions.
Those can only come at the policy level, which means Biden has a duty to be the president to usher in a new, humane immigration policy linked to the climate emergency and economic disparities both here and abroad.
Image credit: Haitian Times