Commentary

The U.S. government’s treatment of Haitian asylum seekers reeks of hypocrisy

They deserve the same protections as Afghans seeking safety here

September 28, 2021 7:00 am

Immigrants walk towards the Rio Grande to cross into Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 23, 2021. Credit: John Moore/Getty Images

After horrific photos emerged of men falling from airplanes and babies in great peril at the Kabul Airport weeks ago, I noticed a dramatic uptick in my various news feeds of the phrase “moral obligation.”

Across all mediums, I heard righteous call for the United States and nations around the globe to remember promises made as part of the U.N.’s Refugee Convention to receive people fleeing persecution.

On one hand, it was wonderful to see people articulating the correct moral duty we owe to Afghan refugees. On the other hand, I was filled with sadness to know that we do not extend the same humanity to people on the United States border.

Nowhere has that lack of humanity been more evident than the Border Patrol’s violent response to Haitians entering the United States. Pictures emerged days ago of agents on horseback charging Black migrants as they attempted to cross the river near Texas. The abject horror of these photos and their historical implication should make anyone sick to their stomach.

Yet it isn’t only about the images. The Biden administration is also rapidly expelling individuals and families on flights to Mexico and Haiti following a presidential assasination and an earthquake in the island nation. Conditions in Haiti were so devastating that five weeks ago the Biden administration re-extended rarely used temporary protective status to Haitians, stopping all deportations to the country.

As we look in horror at the Border Patrol’s aggression and Biden’s callous deportations, we are told to believe a few things: that these people broke the law, that there isn’t room or resources to process them humanely, and that expelling them directly to Haiti is a legally sanctioned option for the president to choose under immigration law. None is true.

First, entering a country seeking humanitarian protection, regardless whether you end up qualifying for it in the long run, is legal. There isn’t an exception. Previously, when the border wasn’t shut due to the pandemic, there was the option to turn yourself in directly at a port of entry. This was often seen as the more legal way to do it, but crossing between the ports is a completely sanctioned way to seek protection under U.S. law, which is exactly what these Haitians are doing.

Second, the United States does have the resources to help 12,000 Haitians. In a matter of weeks, 60,000 Afghan refugees were brought into the country in a peaceful and orderly manner for processing. They are being held at military installations and processed humanely.

There is no reason we cannot do this with arriving Haitians. Even if we wanted to use detention centers to hold them — which we absolutely should not — we are paying private prison corporations nightly for around 20,000 unused beds. It is galling that our lack of humanity is attributed to lack of resources when it is not.

Finally, the government’s strategy of expulsion is not legal. Title 42, the public health order that has kept the border closed since March 2020, does not authorize the government to deport refugees to their country of origin without due process. The whole concept of expulsion was invented during the pandemic as a vicious tool of border control. Just recently, a federal judge ruled against the practice of expelling families under Title 42.

The Biden administration feeds us misinformation to chill our outrage about the blatant injustices being perpetrated against Haitian refugees.

Haitians have the exact right to ask for humanitarian protection that Afghans do under international law. The fact that U.S. military interventions and imperialism helped fuel the violence in Afghanistan is not an exception. Even if it were, there is plenty to point to in U.S.-Haiti relations that caused today’s disaster in that country.

The main difference is that the Biden administration has faced enormous public pressure to extend a hand of protection to Afghan people. The American public must raise similar hell to demand Haitians are protected, as well  — that they are peacefully and humanely processed and that deportation flights are immediately stopped.

We can extend the same welcoming spirit to Haitians that we did to Afghans. It is not only what’s legal and just, but also our moral obligation and duty.

This article was first published in Source NM, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom, which includes the Florida Phoenix.

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Allegra Love
Allegra Love

Allegra Love is an immigration attorney from Santa Fe. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of New Mexico School of Law. She is the founder of and former director of Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a legal services organization serving immigrants and refugees. She works with the El Paso Immigration Collaborative to represent detained asylum-seekers in the Southwest and in the national movement to abolish immigration detention in the United States.

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