Commentary

The hypocrisy in how refugees are treated by the US government

Hatian people deserve the same protections as Afghans seeking survival and safety in the United States

September 27, 2021 5:00 am

Immigrants walk towards the Rio Grande to cross into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021, from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. Mexican immigration officials had launched an operation in a small migrant camp on the Mexican side of the river, and many families, fearing deportation, surged across the border to take their chances on the U.S. side. (Photo by 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 the 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 have 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 U.S. 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 after a presidential assasination and an earthquake. The 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.

Rapidly resuming removals to Haiti is simply appalling, especially considering many of the people on the border have legal claims to humanitarian protection under U.S. law.

As we look in horror at the Border Patrol’s violent 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 are true. 

First, entering a country seeking humanitarian protection, regardless of 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 down due to the pandemic, there was the option to turn yourself in directly at the 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 U.S. does have the resources to help 12,000 Haitians. In a matter of weeks, 60,000 Afghan refugees were brought into the U.S. in a peaceful and orderly manner for processing. They are being held at military installments and processed humanely. There is no reason we cannot do this with arriving Haitians. Even if we wanted to use detention centers to hold Haitians — which we absolutely should not— we are paying private prison corporations nightly for around 20,000 unused beds. It is extremely galling that our lack of humanity is a resource issue 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 last week 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.

Savagely pushing desperate people into Mexico or deporting them into a catastrophically dangerous country is as indifferent as abandoning Afghan families on the runway in Kabul.

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 Haiti. 

The main difference is that the Biden administration faced enormous public pressure to extend a hand of protection to Afghan people. The public in the U.S. 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.

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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. Currently 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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