By now, I’m sure many of you have seen the recent disturbing images and footage of the U.S. southern border in Del Rio, Texas. Even if you aren’t fully updated on the details of the situation or haven’t been following the news at all, your social media has likely been circulating with photos of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback grabbing Haitian migrants, many of whom are carrying food and supplies for their families. Widely shared on my feed was a post that compared one of these photos from the border to a historical drawing of a slave being struck by a white man on horseback with a whip.
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
This image is important for contextualizing what has been going on at the border and understanding the U.S. immigration system as a whole; it is a visual reminder of the legacy of the institutions in this country that continue to inflict violence against people of color. The violent response to Haitian migrants at the border is “all too familiar to those who are aware of America’s ugly history,” stated Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. While some have described the cruel treatment of Haitian migrants at the border as “un-American” or “not who we are,” I would argue that it is, in fact, reflective of America, aligning with the historical policies and ideals that have outlined who is protected here and who can access resources.
When my professor asked our Sociology of Immigration class last week for our thoughts on what was unfolding at the border, most of our responses suggested that while our knowledge of the racism and discrimination embedded in the U.S. immigration system meant we were not necessarily surprised, we were still disappointed to see President Biden continuing to uphold these structures.
In many ways, Biden has maintained Trump-era immigration practices instead of attempting to deconstruct them like he indicated he would during his campaign. Immigration detentions have skyrocketed under Biden with the number of detainees at nearly 27,000 by the end of July, a number that has more than doubled since February. Many of those detained have passed initial screenings for asylum and are housed in private prisons for immigration detention, which Biden had vowed to end.
Particularly upsetting is the Biden administration’s use and support of Title 42, even after it was declared unlawful by a federal judge on Sept. 16. Title 42 is a clause of the 1944 Public Health Services Law that was created to prevent new individuals from coming into the country during public health emergencies. During the Trump administration, it was interpreted to allow rapid deportations without hearing asylum claims in the name of “public health concerns.” Between October 2020 and August 2021, 938,045 migrants were expelled under Title 42. Seeking asylum is perfectly legal, and to me, Title 42 seems like a violation of U.S. asylum laws. However, the judge’s recent injunction only blocks the use of Title 42 against families, not single adults, and it does not go into effect until Sept. 30.
Over the past two weeks and up until this past Friday, Sept. 24, thousands of migrants, most of them Haitians, were huddled under the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuña International Bridge hoping for the chance to seek asylum. The Biden administration invoked Title 42 and ultimately organized mass deportations. On Sept. 18, almost 15,000 migrants were waiting at the border crossing, but as of this past Friday, no migrants remained; many were sent back to Haiti, which has been battling the impacts of the recent earthquake as well as the assassination of their president over the summer.
Even before these events, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was well aware of the social and economic turmoil in Haiti, citing “security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic” to explain the rationale behind their temporary protective status of Haitians in the U.S. back in May 2021. So, why send them back? Why not listen to their asylum claims after they’ve travelled all this way in search of safety and a better life? The lack of compassion is overwhelming.
On Sept. 23, Daniel Foote, the U.S. special envoy for Haiti, resigned in protest of these mass deportations. In a letter to Secretary of State Blinken, Foote wrote that he “will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life.”
More statements like this will help hold our government accountable for the violence it is commiting and hopefully motivate leaders to finally restructure our immigration system to better incorporate a sense of humanity. The Biden administration has pledged to address the root causes of migration, but in order to actually fulfill this goal and the commitments outlined in his plan, the U.S. must take responsibility for perpetuating this issue through reactive measures such as swift deportations and failing to hear asylum claims.