President Joe Biden’s administration has received a lot of flack from critics in recent weeks and days on a number of issues: the handling of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the response to the Coronavirus, and his handling of some diplomatic difficulties (to put it mildly) with one of our longtime allies (France), to name a few. But in this post, I am not zeroing in on any of these issues, but a different one: his administration’s deportation of Haitian migrants. It’s an issue that was “blind” to many when I first drafted this post. While it is not blind now, especially with our seeing images of the inhumane treatment of migrants, this is too important of an issue for me to stay silent on.
Before going into a critique of Biden’s policy with Haitian migrants at the United States-Mexico border, I should start by acknowledging the difficulty of two parties involved in the current situation: the Haitian migrants themselves, as well as the city of Del Rio, Texas.
The current political, economic, and humanitarian strife Haiti faces is well-documented. There was the massive earthquake in 2010 that destroyed parts of the country. Adding insult to injury was the killing of their president and another earthquake that killed over 2,000 people. Haiti is a country in crisis, and many of the people who live there—or lived there before leaving for elsewhere—are desperate.
Yet, at the same time, as of Friday, September 17th, there were 12,000 migrants at a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. That is a severe influx for a city as relatively small as Del Rio (about 35,000 people), and a city that has already been severely strained from influxes of migrant flows in recent months. While I’m not “on the ground” at the Untied States-Mexico border at Del Rio, I have no reason not to believe Del Rio’s mayor when he says that the situation there is “unsustainable.”
Considering the issues that both the migrants as well as the city of Del Rio face, there is a severe need to process the Haitian migrants at the border with a great deal of speed. That much I think people of a variety of political stripes could agree on. What’s shameful, however, is that, for the most part, it is processing so that these migrants can be deported back to Haiti, without even as much as an opportunity to seek asylum. While there are reports in recent days of Haitian migrants being released on a “very, very large scale” (in a number estimated to be in the thousands), this does not undo the large-scale horrible acts of this mass deportation of Haitians. And this is not something that’s being done by Trump—it’s being done by Biden.
Ironically, what has helped the Biden team do this is a Trump-era policy where, under a pandemic-related order, most migrants can be deported without even getting an asylum hearing. Biden chose to exempt children travelling alone from the policy, which is better than nothing, but is nowhere near far enough when you’re dealing with people from a country with a level of humanitarian crisis as severe as Haiti’s. In fact, the Biden administration is able to deport as many Haitians as they are because the exemption is so limited. And, as a result, the administration is literally deporting people back to the country in crisis that they sought to escape from. It really is a shameful policy.
Critics of my view would argue that “we, the United States of America, cannot handle these migrants.” It’s the sort of view held by people like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who directed the Texas National Guard to shut down the entry points at the Texas-Mexico border, only to backtrack. First of all, I am hard-pressed to imagine that a country that has recently sent billionaires into space can’t find a way to handle Haitian migrants. But even if my imagination is a bit narrow, and even if you’re sympathetic to Governor Abbott’s view, the following question must be asked: If the United States can’t handle the Haitian migrants, what then for the migrants? Send them back to a country where for many, there is no safety and no economic hope? Send them back to a place whose health care infrastructure is significantly worse than that of the United States (flawed as our health care infrastructure is in this country) during the middle of a pandemic, in turn potentially making the pandemic worse in Haiti, and perhaps even the rest of the world (including the United States itself)?
A humanitarian crisis requires a humanitarian response. The humanitarian crisis in Haiti requires a humanitarian response from the United States and other countries that are much better-resourced than Haiti. Deporting people to the country in crisis is not it, and regardless of whether we are talking about Haiti, Honduras, or any other country experiencing strife. Biden, and the United States, needs to do better.
Author’s Note: USA Today has an article listing organizations that are helping with the Haitian earthquake recovery and/or the current migrant crisis. Unfortunately, USA Today also has a paywall with many (if not all) of its articles these days, so I’m going to provide links here to organizations that are helping with the migrant crisis, per the aforementioned article:
- UNICEF USA
- Houston Haitians United
- Guybert Ovide International Fund for Higher Education
- Global Giving
- World Central Kitchen
- Food for the Poor
- Mercy Corps
- GoFundMe Haiti Relief Fund (note that the fundraiser is run in part by GoFundMe itself)