In recent days, images of border agents on horseback chasing and snatching Haitian migrants at the United States’ southern border are highlighting the moral and logistical issues at the heart of U.S. immigration policy.
The shocking footage comes from Del Rio, Texas — a small border town that has seen a rush of migrants, including many Haitians, looking to enter the U.S. in recent weeks.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the images “horrific” Monday, but the backlash is putting heat on the Biden administration as it clings to a controversial policy introduced during the Trump era.
To deport Haitian migrants, the Biden administration is relying on Title 42, a policy invoked by the Trump administration that gives the Department of Homeland Security power to turn migrants away by labeling them as potential transmitters of infectious diseases. Title 42’s power stems largely from a 1944 law known as the Public Health Service Act, which authorized health officials to suspend the “introduction of persons or goods” ostensibly out of concern for public health.
Last year, the Trump administration used the coronavirus pandemic to justify its crackdown on migrants wanting to enter the country. Beginning in March 2020, the Trump administration used Title 42 to deport migrant children before they could reunite with their families or seek asylum — and these children were deported regardless of whether they showed symptoms of Covid-19.
For Trump, this was unsurprising. He is, of course, the former president who infamously referred to countries with large Black populations — including Haiti — as ‘shithole’ countries back in 2018. (Yes, the white man who helped fuel a deadly, largely white revolution against public health in his own country somehow believes other countries are dirty.)
Though Trump was the one who uttered the offensive phrase, the Biden administration is effectively embracing it with its actions. In approving Title 42, President Joe Biden has literally adopted an immigration policy that stemmed from Trump’s racist view of nonwhite countries.
Although Biden has rolled back a number of cruel immigration policies enacted during the Trump administration, he has also been roundly criticized by human rights groups for some of his border control efforts, including Title 42.
Just last week, the Biden administration appealed a judge’s order that had barred the use of Title 42 as a basis to expel migrants before allowing them to apply for asylum. U.S. officials said earlier this year that “more than 1 million” migrants who have tried to enter the U.S. through Mexico were returned back to Mexico as a result of Title 42, including thousands of potential asylum-seekers.
Unlike many of the Afghan people who have been granted refugee status following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last month, thousands of Haitians at the border have not been granted refugee status. This, despite Haiti reeling from tandem crises throughout the latter half of this year. The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July has created a power vacuum and spurred conflict among rival factions in the country, and the already-impoverished country was devastated by an earthquake in August.
On Monday, Biden announced the U.S. will raise the cap on refugee admissions for the next fiscal year — starting Oct. 1 — to 125,000 people. He previously raised this year’s cap to 62,500 people, after Trump had slashed the number to 15,000, a historically low number.
Still, there is no guarantee Haitian migrants, who have traditionally been denied refugee status, will qualify even under the expanded refugee policy.
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