Haitian refugee crisis highlights Biden’s immigration shortcomings


Felix Marquez

In this Sept. 19, 2021, file photo, U.S. Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas.

Patrick Kane, World News Editor

A less widely-known immigration crisis that has perplexed this nation for the better half of three decades is that of Haitian refugees. In the early 1990’s (and even before then), millions of Haitians fled their country in fear of war, political violence and economic instability. This crisis was only exacerbated by President Bill Clinton’s occupation of the country. This would later lead to increased restriction on Cuban and Haitian refugees for the first time in 30 years; that being said, Cubans were still treated more favorably. These restrictions would continue until 2010. 

In the aftermath of the infamous Haitian earthquake, President Barack Obama suspended all restrictions (except in cases of national security) on Haitian immigration for the remainder of his presidency. However, when Donald Trump took office, he reinstated these restrictions. In fact, these new restrictions gave over 59,000 legal Haitian immigrants a time-frame to self-deport. Fast forward to 2021, and not much has changed, as thousands of Haitian refugees find themselves stranded in Mexico and Central America due to the actions of current President Joe Biden in continuation of the previous administration.

Simply put, what Biden is doing is conducting mass deportation and rejecting refugees under the Public Health Services Act, a 1893 law giving the federal government, “the power to take extraordinary steps to limit transmission of an infectious disease during a pandemic.” Using this statute, Biden has been able to keep alive the apparent American tradition of denying refuge to Haitians who seek it.

This act by Biden is disgusting and un-American. I have in the past criticized Biden’s handling of immigration, particularly the continued use of child detention. However, Biden’s continuation of Trump era policies is just downright hypocritical. During his campaign for president, Biden vowed to not only reverse the immigration policies set by Trump, but also correct those he helped oversee during the Obama administration. He has, in fact, done the exact opposite: he has continued Trump era deportation tactics. While I will concede that overall deportations have dropped since Biden took over (undoubtedly a good thing), his refusal to help those seeking asylum from Haiti stands out like a sore thumb in comparison, with some comparing it to the immigration policies constructed by infamous Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

While Biden’s handling of the Haitian refugee crisis has been condemned from the start, it reached an acme of public outrage after pictures popped up of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian refugees carrying food and supplies. The pictures spread quickly throughout the Internet, bringing increased public condemnation. And what, you may ask, was the Biden administration’s response to this backlash? Announcing that the Border Patrol will no longer be using horses. It got so bad that Biden’s own Special Envoy to Haiti resigned in disgust. 

Since the pinnacle of the crisis, both parties have attacked Biden on his handling of the crisis. Republicans have claimed that the crisis is a natural result of Biden’s “open borders” policies, while FOX News host Tucker Carlson has criticized it as an extension of his belief in the Great Replacement Theory, a white supremacist talking point claiming Democrats are funneling more and more immigrants into the country in order to make white people a minority. 

For their part, many Democrats have criticized Biden as well. Rep. Maxine Waters of California called for an end to the deportations. Meanwhile, many Democrats in the state of Rhode Island condemned the situation at the border. This is not unimportant, as Rhode Island State Treasurer Seth Magaziner noted, “It was just yards from here that this state, Rhode Island, was founded as a refuge for those fleeing religious and political persecution…”. Biden himself has responded to the controversy, stating his disgust at the tactics of the Border Patrol agents. However, based on his comments, I can’t help but think Biden is more “disgusted” by the optics of the situation rather than the endgame of their actions.

Ultimately, this is a continuation of a humanitarian crisis three decades in the making. Biden, in a similar vein to Obama, has had an opportunity to change course in terms of America’s handling of Haitian refugees; instead, he has imitated the actions of the previous administration, making an already harrowing crisis worse than it needs to be. As I previously mentioned, Biden’s record isn’t all terrible; deportations are at an all-time low, and he notable ended Trump’s controversial Muslim travel ban. However, his inept handling of the Haitian refugee crisis, if it continues as is, is poised to forever overshadow all of that, adding yet another name to the list of presidents at the helm of this humanitarian disaster.