Members Only | September 20, 2021 | Reading Time: 5 minutes
Let the Haitians in, all of them
The United States owes them that much.
President Joe Biden promised during his first joint address to the United States Congress earlier in the year to tackle systemic racism. America and the world was listening, including Haitians.
Some might have thought that beyond the need of the United States to eradicate the scourge of racism evident in many areas of society within its own borders, a radical plan might be implemented to tackle discrimination regarding the heavily criticized border policies.
But as is evidenced with the growing humanitarian crisis witnessed at the US/Mexico border, far from tackling systemic racism, critics say the government is continuing to perpetuate, and even exacerbate it.
Make no mistake: desperate people are capable of remarkable things. Some of those migrants, including the large number from Haiti, have traveled incredible distances, unimaginable for most of us, and have survived innumerable deadly situations, simply for the chance to live.
In recent days the number of migrants, mostly Haitian, amassing at the underpass in the small American town of Del Rio has grown, fast and to incredibly large numbers. By the time you read this, the numbers may match or surpass the size of the population of the town itself.
And despite charter planes already deporting hundreds at a time back to Haiti, despite others being removed, supposedly to be “processed” elsewhere in the US, or also deported, those numbers of Haitians crossing onto American soil are only going to increase.
Militarized border agents in Mexico rounding them up and beating them will not deter them. Border authorities in the US, and the threat of deportation, will not deter them. Nor will the sour words from American politicians prevent them from making the perilous journey from Haiti to the US in the hope of reaching relative safety.
Make no mistake: desperate people are capable of remarkable things. Some of those migrants, including the large number from Haiti, have travelled incredible distances, unimaginable for most of us, and have survived innumerable deadly situations, simply for the chance to live.
What’s left behind means there is only one option for them and their families, and that’s to keep moving forward. To move forward is to live, with the dream of thriving. To go back, or to put it bluntly, to be shackled, chained and forcibly taken back against their will to certain danger, means the strong possibility of death.
All of us would do the same. In fact, many of us privileged Westerners often conveniently forget that many of our ancestors, who came before us, did indeed embark on similar journeys to create a better life. And in fact, this story is the backstory for many Americans, whose forefathers and -mothers struggled to be identified as American, and whose progeny now want to slam the door shut on those fleeing perilous situations back home.
The fact that we are now seeing thousands of Haitians with Black skin being treated like dirt by the system is not a story that’s separate from modern contemporary America. It’s a direct by-product of it. Black people built America by the labor forcibly extracted from those of African descent, and Haiti and its wealth was both a prize fought over by various European colonies in the period of slavery and beyond while remaining an island exploited by the United States.
The United States owes a debt to Haiti and Haitians.
I’ll get to Title 42 in a moment, but the relationship of the United States (and its allies and competitors) in the past with Haiti adds an extra dimension of immorality to the way in which Haitian migrants are currently being treated by immigration authorities.
To put it bluntly, Black lives do not seem to matter, and Black lives still seem to be expendable. As I’ve written about at the Editorial Board previously, were the thousands of migrants gathering at Del Rio and elsewhere of a different background from that which they belong, they would be treated differently. But as the saying goes, for the Haitians in particular, they lack the complexion for protection.
Cynics might call you names and decry anyone like me demanding a change in US border controls and policies as a race-baiting liberal snowflake. But the truth is, that this whole nightmare is born of a basic lack of humanity and decency, something that the US and UK love to talk about in grand terms, but which is seldom enacted by the politicians we elect and the demands we make of them.
But the question of the treatment of migrants, mostly Haitian at Del Rio and elsewhere along the border, is a legal one, as well as moral.
It’s not just the UN which has raised concerns about the Biden administration continuing the use of the controversial Title 42. A federal judge ordered the administration to stop expelling families who cross the border from seeking refuge. The judge has given two weeks to enact it, but in the meantime the deportations continue and are said to be being ramped up. The administration is also appealing.
This administration has repeatedly suggested, in the face of strong criticism, that it is not refusing refuge and the right to apply for asylum for those that need it, insisting that those entering the US need to do it the right way and that measures taken are about the safety of migrants and enforcing perfectly legal border controls. Human rights and legal experts, though, cast doubt on the legality of the expulsions and have slammed them as a cynical exploitation of the law.
Quite apart from the obvious connotations of the imagery of Black people being rounded up by men on horseback, reported to be US border agents enforcing the law, there are many claims of the law being broken too — of authorities forging documentation to justify expulsions, including suggestions that some of those deported to Haiti were not even from Haiti.
The methods used by Mexican and US border authorities, for those concerned with human rights at least, resemble less civil servants carrying out the law and more heavy set men, mostly white or identifying as white, relishing in rounding up, beating and detaining vulnerable people using disproportionate force and violence.
It doesn’t have to be this way, and other options are possible.
And the Democrats in the Congress certainly have the power to change or influence the tide, rather than capitulating to it.
All the evidence shows that migrants do not threaten countries like the US, but bolster its economy and cultural landscape, ultimately enriching it. Donald Trump’s policies shouldn’t be pandered to; they should be smashed and relegated to the dustbin of history, forever. Migrants aren’t any more dangerous than Americans already in America, and they aren’t going to steal your job or homes. They’ll often create jobs and are the ones who might build your home, or design it.
But racism and bigotry, it seems, remain powerful.
There’s a need, argument and necessity for the US to produce sensible and fair border policies giving everyone the right to be processed safely. The White House must drop the pretence of continuing Trump’s Title 42 with the excuse of covid when Haitians camped in dangerous conditions present a potential health crisis in itself.
Federal law, countless legal experts, the United Nations and huge swathes of the international community make a compelling argument that must be heeded. Give the Haitians a chance to live their lives.
They are fleeing a crisis, in part created by the US. The US must now deal with that with a plan grounded in law, reason and basic simple humanity. It’s not a question of means or resources. It’s a matter of political will, and such political will needs to stem from the top.
Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.