Many Americans are shocked to witness yet another atrocity taking place at the southern border. But, to many Black people, the abuse of Haitian refugees at the Texas-Mexico border is just another in a long line of humanitarian injustices that have ceased to surprise us.
The horrors that 14,000 Haitians are facing in Del Rio, Texas are not new phenomenons. Photos of Texas rangers on horseback using their reins to whip wet, Haitian men, women and children as they traverse the Rio Grande clutching the little food they have are gut-wrenching but familiar, reminiscent of the countless paintings, newspaper graphics, postcards and photos recounted and collected throughout the history of a country defined by slavery and civil rights abuses.
Images of Texas border agents surrounding Black immigrants seem fit for Civil War reenactments of the racial abuse and violence suffered by people searching for freedom. One Mexican border ranger was seen kicking a Haitian man surrounded by armed officers. Videos showing Haitians fleeing from border agents on horseback, berating them and screaming obscenities, have gone viral for the cruelty of the officer’s tactics. And all of this is happening, yet again, in our own backyard.
One officer was recorded shouting toward refugees, “Let’s go! Get out now; back to Mexico,” with another officer yelling at a Haitian man, “This is why your country’s shit, because you use your women for this,” while staring down from horseback. This is the cruelty that happens to the people that look to the U.S. for safety after fleeing a country where they have been denied the resources needed to survive.
As refugees, the thousands of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas are entitled to certain protections under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. When Haiti was granted an 18-month extension of protective asylum in the U.S. on May 22, Haitians who had been present in the U.S. since Aug. 3 and had resided in the U.S. since July 29 were given the chance to escape deportation to a country in turmoil. Those who did not meet the criteria, however, have suffered innumerable abuses just for being two months too late.
Refugees who seek asylum as non-TPS holders must prove that they have been persecuted for their race, religion, political opinion or membership of a certain social group. However, Haitians claiming they are eligible for refugee status have been dismissed as economic refugees and are therefore less deserving of asylum according to U.S. law. This technicality enabled government officials to bar entry for those that they feel do not meet the very specific criteria for asylum. Despite the recent assassination of former President Jovenel Moise in July, rampant gang violence and continual kidnappings in their home country, Haitian claims of political or social persecution have been met with forced removal.
More than 40 of the almost 1,500 Haitians deported on Sep. 22 were children without Haitian passports. Children born during their parents’ search for asylum in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Venezuela are being forcibly exiled to a country in turmoil — a country that they are not familiar with and may be unable to leave until they have earned citizenship years in the future.
When comparing the Haitian repatriation effort to the U.S. treatment of the more than 23,000 Afghan refugees granted entry as “at risk” refugees in 2021, the classification of political asylum vs. economic asylum is blurred. Rather than determining whether immigrants are in danger or if asylum may be the difference between life and death for those seeking temporary protection from the U.S., government officials instead use rigid classifications to determine who can live or die. But Haitians facing poverty, homelessness and violence are judged differently than migrants claiming political persecution, despite the fact that Haitians have been politically, economically and socially persecuted for over a decade.
The battery, sexual violence and human rights abuses that not only Haitian, but Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern refugees, among others, suffer in search of safety will never be justified. This country abuses minorities for sport and apologizes for it later. The act of deporting and physically abusing refugees is, if not unlawful, inhumane, regardless of the nature of their persecution. Pending investigations and paid leave will never solve America’s problem with racism.
On the contrary, the abuse of Haitian refugees serves as more proof that the country does not wish to change. Haitians are expendable in the eyes of those that could save them and their suffering does not fit the criteria for those who deserve protection.