Haitian migrant families wait in front of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance to request refuge in Mexico. – Mexico City, Mexico – September 23, 2021 (Shutterstock)
By Janet Howard
Children in cages. Mexicans are rapists. Haiti and Africa are “shithole” countries. The image of a mother and her two young children fleeing as they were being tear-gassed. These words and images were some of the hallmarks of the Trump Administration as he and his evil enablers unleashed a reign of terror on immigrants in this country. Footage showed Border Patrol agents on horseback, using lariats to whip or threaten to whip Haitian refugees at a migrant camp near Del Rio, Texas. In one scene, a Border Patrol officer tells a group of immigrants, “This is why your country’s shit,” while charging his horse towards a group and nearly hitting a child. The agents were trying to stop the migrants from re-entering the camp after they left to cross back into Mexico in order to get food, Al-Jazeera reported. These images of Haitian migrants being whipped and corralled like cattle were images I didn’t expect to see in the Biden administration. Immigrants had such home when one of us, albeit a different color, was appointed as Secretary of Homeland Security. Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he was “horrified by what I saw” and that the images “troubled me profoundly.” He added that, “One cannot weaponize a horse to aggressively attack a child. That is unacceptable,” Mayorkas said. “We will not tolerate mistreatment. And we will address it with full force based on the facts we learn.” But that’s exactly what was done, sir.
Many of the Haitian migrants are fleeing natural disasters, poverty and political turmoil, and making a treacherous journey through Latin America to reach the border.
Of the Haitians, a significant number were those who fled after a devastating earthquake struck the country in 2010 and took up residence in Brazil and other South American countries. Haiti has also suffered from years of political instability, culminating in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July. In August, the country suffered another deadly earthquake. Haitians are just seeking a decent life, looking for a ray of hope, trying to survive.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Immigrants of color are watching how America is welcoming refugees from Afghanistan, rightfully so, and wondering why some of that same “Welcome to America” has not being extended to Black and Brown immigrants. Haitians have long been treated as the scourge of immigrants in America and this latest incident is just simply too much to bear. These shocking images in 2021, of horse-mounted officers corralling Haitian migrants along the US-Mexico border are conjuring dark comparisons to US slavery and the country’s historical mistreatment of black people.
To add further insult to injury, Haitians who migrated from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, and were living under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, are being sent back to Haiti. The United States government repatriated 435 Haitian migrants from Texas via three flights that landed in Port-au-Prince over the weekend, according to Haiti’s National Office of Migrants (OMN). The landings were the first of daily flights that the U.S. says it will send to Haiti as it attempts to clear more than 12,000 Haitian migrants.
Many of the Haitian migrants were shocked about being sent back to Haiti. They stated that they were not informed that Haiti was the destination and that many of them had fled Haiti some ten years ago since the earthquake in 2010 and no longer considered Haiti home. Plus, there is no “home” really to go back to with this summer’s earthquake.
Outrage and Reaction
The images sparked outrage, particularly within President Joe Biden’s own party. Democrats had spent the past several years criticizing the Trump administration’s treatment of families at the border, and the response from some lawmakers reflected those criticisms. Immigrant advocates expressed their shock, dismay, and disappointment in the treatment of the Haitians immigrants.
Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said the images were “horrible.” She lamented that, “Human beings should never be treated that way, and I was deeply troubled about it.”
On Monday, White House Press Secretary said she’d seen the video and that she “can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate.”
On Tuesday, Psaki was more forceful, describing the footage as “horrific” and said, “that’s not who the Biden-Harris administration is,” in an interview with CBS News.
Clarke Calls for the Immediate Halting of Haitian Repatriation Flights
Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Immigration Task Force and Co-chair of the House Haiti and House Caribbean Caucuses, released the following statement calling for the immediate halting of Haitian repatriation flights and emphasizing the need for a comprehensive pathway to citizenship:
“More than 14,000 Haitians will be expelled from the United States in the coming weeks, and it is unconscionable DHS would seek to return Haitian migrants to a country in turmoil. My colleagues and I have repeatedly spoken out and penned numerous letters requesting the ceasing of targeted deportations of Haitian migrants. However, this dangerous and wholly unnecessary practice continues. Haiti is still reeling from a series of compounding crises: rising coronavirus rates and vaccine hesitancy, a political crisis stemming from President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, increased gang violence, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake where more than 800,000 people have been affected and 650,000 are still in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, a tropical depression leaving almost 2,000 dead, and thousands without shelter. I am calling for a humanitarian moratorium on these targeted deportations. Now, more than ever, we must reimagine the immigration system in a humane, just, and fair manner. I am the daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica, and this is personal to me. I have dedicated my career to building an immigration system that lets people live without fear and gives immigrants – like my parents – who sought a better life and to contribute to our nation, a fair opportunity to thrive,” said Clarke.
“Additionally — despite the decision of the Senate parliamentarian to exclude the proposal to create pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers, and essential workers in the reconciliation process — we remain committed to advancing alternative proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. Let me be very clear; we’ve prepared for this, and we have a plan. Immigration reform isn’t just about mundane policy changes and politics-as-usual; it is about people. It is about our families, friends, and neighbors who have contributed to our country for decades. Opening the door to citizenship would not only provide a necessary measure of justice, but it will also serve as a powerful injection of energy and vigor into our economic recovery.”
Cruel Response to Haitian Migrants at Border Must Be Condemned
The following is a statement from Nicole Melaku, executive director of National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), regarding the U.S. response to Haitian migrants at the border:
“The cruel treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S. border is unacceptable and must be immediately condemned. The Biden administration must fully investigate U.S. Customs and Border Protection and hold them accountable for their inhumane actions against the Haitian migrants at our border. The use of whips and other inhumane means of responding to their desperation is a despicable result of both racism and our broken immigration system, and the officers involved must be penalized.
Haitian migrants at Del Rio are refugees in need, and yet they are being treated as less than human. This treatment is rooted in racism and a long history of discrimination against Haitians in our immigration laws and is simply unacceptable. Haitian children and families are at our borders because they were pushed away by a series of crises, including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, continuing food insecurity, the recent 7.2 magnitude earthquake and Tropical Storm Grace, as well as decades of the United States contributing to the political and economic reasons why Haitians must leave their country.
President Biden and Sec. Mayorkas must take immediate and aggressive action to put a stop to the mistreatment of Haitian migrants, provide urgent humanitarian relief, and stop deportation flights to Haiti. Haitians should be granted humanitarian parole so they can be transferred to safer conditions, and the U.S. must provide assistance in securing food, water, safe shelter, and health care to those camped out in Del Rio simply awaiting a chance to request protection. The United States should also address root causes for migration in Haiti and create safe paths for migration and family unity, including but not limited to reestablishing the Haitian Family Reunification Program. The administration should also immediately break with the previous administration and end its continued use of Title 42, which prevents Haitians and other migrants from seeking asylum and other forms of humanitarian protection. These actions are necessary to preserve America’s standing as a nation of refuge.”
Page Out of Trump Playbook
The following is a joint statement from Alianza Americas and Presente.org in response to the mass expulsions of Haitian refugees by the Biden-Harris administration:
“What we have witnessed over the last few days is despicable, inhumane, and resembles a page out of the Trump playbook. Haitian refugees being met with whips by Border Patrol agents, packed into planes, and deported to Haiti is indicative of an immigration system rooted in white supremacy. We demand that all deportations be stopped immediately and that the administration once and for all end Title 42. The first step to addressing the root causes of forced migration is welcoming refugees with humanitarian support including access to shelter, food, legal assistance, and healthcare,” said Mirtha Colon, Alianza Americas board president, as well as president of the Central American Black Organization.
“Anti-Black violence and racism from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) blaring on our TV screens, newspapers, and social media feeds mirrors the images of bounty hunters from old films glorifying slavery and colonization. The Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian and Central American refugees is abhorrent. The administration needs to end expulsions of Haitians and Central American nationals immediately, hold law enforcement officers accountable, terminate Title 42, and immediately grant humanitarian relief and protection to Haitian, Central American, and other asylum seekers,” said Leticia Casildo, an Alianza Americas board member, as well as executive director at the New Orleans-based Familias Unidas en Acción.
An End to Brutal Treatment of Refugees
The Haiti Support Project (HSP) condemned the brutal treatment and mass deportation of Haitian migrants. “We are absolutely outraged by the images of Haitians being herded and whipped like cattle” complained Dr. Ron Daniels, Founder of HSP. “In the minds of African Americans, it conjures up traumatic images of water hoses turned on Black children in Birmingham and horses trampling protesters on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. No human being should be brutalized like this. It must stop immediately.” HSP is demanding an immediate halt to the mass deportation of Haitians and the granting of Temporary Protective Status.
HSP is calling on Congressman Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, who has taken a particular interest in resolving the political crisis in Haiti, to mobilize the Congressional Black Caucus, Civil Rights and Human Rights leaders to support the demand for Temporary Protective Status and Humanitarian Assistance to Haiti.
In the meanwhile, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Boston, Co-Chair of the House Haiti Caucus and Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez of New York are also appealing to the Biden Administration to immediately halt deportations and take urgent action to provide massive support to assist the Haitian people in the wake of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti last month.
“The Biden Administration cannot claim it is doing everything it can to support the Haitian community while continuing to unjustly deport Haitians as the island weathers its worst political, public health and economic crises yet,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “We have a moral obligation to lead with compassion. That means immediately halting the cruel and callous deportations of our Haitian neighbors and leveraging every resource available to support those fleeing the humanitarian crisis on the island.”
Stain on the Country
“It doesn’t matter if a Democrat or Republican is President, our immigration system is designed for cruelty towards and dehumanization of immigrants,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said. “Immigration should not be a crime, and its criminalization is a relatively recent invention. This is a stain on our country.”
Your move, Mr. President.