By Alex Jennings
Note: Mentions of suicide and rape.
Summer usually serves as a lull in America’s ongoing immigration crisis. The merciless heat, consistently exceeding 40°C, makes journeying thousands of miles an unendurable task. Yet, in a sign of their desperation to reach the United States, thousands of Haitians recently camped in Del Rio, Texas, have done just that.
Fleeing a country with extreme political, economic, and humanitarian problems, almost all of these migrants left their homeland several years ago. They generally settled in South America for a while before a lack of work, and rumours that they were welcome in President Biden’s America, urged them to make the long journey north.
Those who eventually made it to the US border gave harrowing accounts of passing the dead bodies of other Haitian migrants in the mountainous jungles, of being robbed by violent gangs, and of women being raped. The searing summer temperature, it seems, was negligible by comparison.
The Haitians form yet another part of the growing humanitarian crisis facing Biden. Since he took office in January, Customs and Border Protection says it has encountered more than 1.2 million people entering the US illegally from the south. The chaos at the US-Mexico border surely risks becoming the defining crisis of Biden’s presidency.
Ever since Biden took office, criticism of his actions at the border has come from across the political spectrum. On the campaign trail, he vowed to “take urgent action” to undo the immigration policies of Donald Trump. In many respects Biden has done so – but he has also left in place a Trump-era Covid-19 emergency policy, Title 42, which allows US authorities to immediately deport all undocumented migrants at the border, bypassing the usual laws and protections.
It is this approach which has been the focus of most recent criticism surrounding this group of Haitians. At least 1,400 of those taken into custody were immediately flown back to Haiti. An extremely dangerous and anarchic country, many of those deported had not been there for years. Some were reportedly shackled on the plane with their shoelaces removed by US officials as an anti-suicide measure.
Such deportations triggered the resignation of the US Haiti envoy, Daniel Foote, while Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Biden that the US “cannot continue these hateful and xenophobic Trump policies that disregard our refugee laws”. Republicans, on the other hand, were angered when it emerged that more than 12,000 of the Del Rio migrants had been admitted into the US.
Yet for all the focus on Biden, it is the enduring failure of Congress to come together on a broad immigration law that is ultimately responsible for the ongoing crisis. Not since 1986, during Reagan’s presidency, has an Immigration Reform Act been passed in the United States.
Biden has sought to rectify this, proposing a major immigration bill that would offer a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the country while also providing permanent protection for young migrants, known as ‘Dreamers’.
However, the policy is already floundering in the face of vigorous opposition from Republicans and even some moderate Democrats. Like so many other pressing issues in such a politically polarised country, the immigration crisis will no doubt remain an unsolved problem left to deteriorate.
Image: BBC World Service via Flickr