Members Only | August 10, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

When it comes to treatment of Haitians, there’s little difference between Biden and Trump

By sending them back to poverty, detainment, persecution or worse, the US forfeits the moral high ground regarding human rights.  

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At least two US citizens as well as mercenaries said to be trained by the US are among those allegedly involved in Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s assassination. Also in the mix is the suggestion the FBI knew.

Notwithstanding the other ways in which the US has influenced instability in Haiti, if these claims are true, at best the US security apparatus, the world’s most sophisticated, has failed abysmally.

The official investigation is of course ongoing. But the worst-case scenario implicates the US in a far more sinister picture raising serious questions that may yet prove to elicit incredibly damning conclusions.

In the first few weeks of 2021, the administration has deported more Haitians than the previous administration managed for all of 2020. Yes, you read that correctly.

While Moise is dead, the chaos and desperation that preceded his murder has worsened. As the official investigation continues, many are pointing the finger at the US. The waters remain murky and uncertain.

But whatever questions are raised about the role of the security services, or as some argue, the complicity of US citizens in the murder of the Haitian president, this chapter of Haitian history has occurred under Joe Biden’s administration. There’s no getting away from that.

Therefore, some might think, Biden, who is widely hailed as offering the opposite of Trump, might seize the moment and offer a different approach to Haiti and to the plight of Haitian refugees now seeking to reach the sanctity of the US as a direct result of the turmoil.

Sadly, the opposite is true. Not only is the opposite true, but research indicates that Haitian refugees who are seeking asylum in the US as it stands, arguably have it worse under Joe Biden than Donald Trump.

According to a report by the think tank Invisible Wall, a dangerous trend has been established. In the first few weeks of 2021, the administration has deported more Haitians than the previous administration managed for all of 2020. Yes, you read that correctly.

Under Trump, Title 42 within the Public Health Service Act was implemented as a justification to increase the removal of Haitian migrants already in the US, suggesting they posed a public health risk due to the pandemic. But experts have argued, what’s being done under the law in the name of public health is little more than a ruse to ramp up deportations of Haitians. It’s also believed that such moves trample on the legal rights of those seeking potential asylum.

Ironically, the hike in expulsion of Haitians runs in tandem with increased arrivals, particularly via the Mexican border, fuelled by the false perception that Biden’s presidency would mean more relaxed border controls. If Biden is attempting to counter such a notion for political expediency, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkasis is the latest government official to quite brutally hammer home the messaging. Bear in mind Mayorkas himself was born of parents who once fled Cuba for the safety of the US.

But echoing Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent words in Guatemala, Mayorkas, addressing Haitians (and Cubans), stated: “Allow me to be clear, if you take to the sea you will not come to the US.”

These chilling words are compounded by the fact that the US Coast Guard is patrolling US waters and US territories to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from reaching US soil. They are policing the borders at sea. They turn boats around, while sending other migrants to third countries, and some to immigration detention centers. 

While the Mexican border is a favored route, Miami remains an option as does Pueto Rico, or even passage via other Caribbean islands. These routes are taken because once you’ve set foot on US soil, asylum can be claimed regardless of the method used to get there. This right, like the universal freedom of movement, is enshrined in international and domestic law. And that’s exactly how it should be in an ideal world.

Any idealism and pretty rhetoric espoused by the current administration regarding human rights and national security is apparently eclipsed by ruthless political pragmatism and the appeasement of America’s unfounded border paranoia. 

The sad truth is that those fleeing to the US are often doing so as a result of the mess often created, and contributed to, by the US. Legal experts argue that the Coast Guard repelling boats full of migrants, while others are deported from the US mainland, is quite simply a breach of international and domestic law as well as human rights.  There have been legal challenges over the years, but the inhumanity toward Haitians continues and, according to the data, is worsening.

Some might point out that the hostility faced by Haitians and other migrants to the US is not new. They are exactly right. Biden alone is not responsible for it. Existing policies toward Haitians, and also Cubans, were worsened under Trump and preceded his presidency.  

But numbers don’t lie. More Haitians are being deported under Biden than under Trump while the Coast Guard acts as the mobile border wall in the sea, which Trump could never build on land.

There’s nasty twist. Groups working with Haitian migrants say that not only are they dealing with all sorts of hostilities at the border, but that they face anti-Black racism from other migrant communities. They are often last when receiving food, medical care and support. Put simply, the conditions faced by Haitians are unimaginable for most of us.

The Coast Guard has the capacity to act as the most formidable search and rescue operation in the world if it really wanted to. This happening, though, is probably the fantasy of another universe.

More certainly, acting as an intimidating deterrent to those who need help, prowling US waters, turning migrants away and sending them back to poverty, detainment, persecution or worse, means the US forfeits the moral high ground regarding human rights and decency.  

The same phenomenon, too, is happening in the Mediterranean as migrants try to reach Europe. They are being left to fend for themselves or worse while politicians describing themselves as modern democrats politely explain to millions of Black and Brown migrants why they can’t benefit from the democracies that were built from the wealth and human labor extracted from their homelands.

Bold action by Biden could have a significant influence around the world. God knows, with Boris Johnson here in the UK, we need something to turn the tide. But rather than forge a different path from previous administrations, and show some new leadership, Biden is doubling down on the very policies that he pitted himself against, and That helped him into office. The president’s migration policies are not offering any break from Trump’s, but are simply accelerating them.

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.

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