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Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.
Haitians aren’t the only ones flocking to the U.S. border with Mexico in large numbers. There are Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and a smattering of Central Americans, too, right now vying for the opportunity to apply for asylum at southern entry points. Everyone is fleeing horrible, oppressive conditions; everyone is nursing the hope of a better life in the United States.
Yet, the Biden administration — under political pressure to address a humanitarian crisis in Del Rio, Texas, being overblown by the right — is throwing the Trump book at some 14,000 Haitian immigrants. He’s sending them home every day in packed flights without the ability to apply for asylum.
And I can’t help but see an old story playing out: The refugees with darker skin are automatically losing rights, automatically rejected without due process.
This doesn’t sound like the Joe Biden on the campaign trail selling us a respite from Trump-era cruelty and a new approach to immigration policy. This isn’t the Biden preaching to the world what Haitians weren’t shown by federal officers accosting them on horseback at the border: decency.
It’s more of the same inhumane treatment and policy dysfunction characteristic of our immigration system. And, in the case of the Border Patrol seeming to wield the reins of their horses as whips, a reminder of how quickly Americans can be moved to show force if it stems migration.
“The U.S. is the most powerful nation in the world. It can do anything it wants, starting by letting our brothers and sisters in!” Miami-based Haitian-American advocate Marleine Bastien said, her voice exuding some 40 years of indignation and, also, fresh outrage.
No, a Democratic administration offers no guarantees at the border, despite GOP rhetoric to the contrary.
We learned this in 1994, when President Bill Clinton interdicted thousands of Cubans at sea and sent them to live in tent-city camps at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo until he could figure out what to do with them.
We learned this when President Barack Obama, dubbed the “Deporter-in-Chief,” had to be shamed by members of his own party into scaling back deportations of Latin American immigrants to criminals only.
Now Biden is following Donald Trump’s manual at the border, minus the children in cages and ripped from their parents’ arms part, but still with the Border Patrol running amok, overstepping, abusing.
For decades, Haitian immigrants, mostly Black, have been mistreated by U.S. immigration authorities, whether it was in the exercise of unequal detention policy, law enforcement or access to political asylum. The Guantanamo camps of the early 1990s held both Cuban and Haitian refugees, but the Cubans were processed after nine months and flown to the United States, while most Haitians were quickly sent back to Haiti.
The justification: Cubans were political refugees, Haitians were fleeing poverty. But this wasn’t as clear-cut as portrayed. Cubans, too, were fleeing the poverty brought on by the end of Russian subsidies. Poverty, in both countries, is political.
This history makes it tougher to swallow Biden fighting in court to keep Trump-era immigration policy at the border. Put in place at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it allows speedy removals from the country under a public-safety clause. His administration is also trying to block more Haitians from crossing the border from Mexico.
On Sunday, the first flight of the massive deportation effort arrived in Port-au-Prince to a country in tatters unable to govern itself, much less provide for its citizens, a country struck by repeated devastating natural disasters, the poorest in the hemisphere.
This automatic mass expulsion — plans are to fly 3,000 a day — feels like an affront to due process. No show of mercy from Biden or his vice president, Kamala Harris, daughter of a Caribbean immigrant.
There’s no excuse for the violence against immigrants trying to seek asylum. There’s no excuse for the failure to set up a system, as was done for Cubans and Central Americans, where Haitians can apply like everyone else for political asylum.
Draconian policies aren’t what the Biden administration was supposed to stand for.
But this is what happens when immigration is mired in partisan politics — and prejudice wins over humanitarian concern.