Obama’s contradictory stance toward black asylum seekers
Last week President Barack Obama hosted a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees as part of his final presidential duties at the United Nations General Assembly. During the summit, President Obama called on fellow member nations to make a greater commitment to addressing the record-breaking numbers of displaced people worldwide. Urging cooperation and “open arms” during his remarks, he conveniently neglected to mention the plight of thousands of Haitian migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, just days after the meeting where 193 countries adopted theNew York Declaration, aimed at improving the lives of the 65.3 million people forcibly displaced due to political crises and wars, the Obama Administration’s own Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced thatit will expedite the deportation of nearly 3,000 Haitian migrants, including asylum seekers,that sought entry into the country through the U.S.-Mexico border over the summer, arriving now at the rate of over 100 per day.
Far from the refuge and aid Obama urged at United Nations, this shift in policy towards survivors of the 2010 earthquake slams the door shut on thousands of desperate men, women and children. AsMarleine Bastien of Haitian Women of Miami and Steven Forester of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti recently decried in the Miami Herald, this decision is inhumane. Obama’s decision is not only unconscionable, but the ultimate contradiction. Our nation’s first black president, himself the child of an immigrant, turning his back on thousands of black immigrants in their time of need at the end of a presidential term where he has repeatedly made claims to progress on immigration represents a disparity of the highest order.
Ironically, it is America’s own actions that have brought Haitian migrants to our borders, both through a legacy of intrusive policy and the continued undermining of Haitian sovereignty. For these reasons and more, the Obama Administration is obligated to extend humanitarian service to this vulnerable population without delay, and must direct DHS to reverse its decision to resume deportations to Haiti.
The influx of Haitian migrants crossing at the U.S. – Mexico border is neither routine nor driven by self-interest, but a direct result of destructive policies and practices to undermine and destabilize Haiti’s political and economic stability for U.S. interests. Since the 2010 earthquake, private entities such as the Clinton Foundation and the Red Cross have initiated land grabs, wasted millions on ineffective “recovery” efforts, and contributed to corporate-backed political candidates in Haiti’s elections, a move that has produced delays in Haiti’s own presidential transition. These conditions have forced tens of thousands to seek work in Brazil and Venezuela, and then makea harrowing, 7,000 mile journey norththrough Latin America as their only chance for safety and security, while the countries they traverse through experienceeconomic and political turmoil as well. It is truly deplorable that the administration would now criminalize the victims of our harmful policies through punitive enforcement and deportation after all they have already been through.
Second, by citing “improved conditions in Haiti” and existing programs such as Temporary Protected Status and Haitian Family Reunification Parole, the Administration is being deliberately misleading and contradicts itself in the decision to criminalize Haitian nationals arriving at the border. Both of those programs were reluctantly announced following pressure from organizations such as the Black Alliance for Just ImmigrationThe HFRP program awarded after nearly 5 years of delays is woefully limited to a small fraction of eligible candidates. It is the post-earthquake recovery conditions that makes these program necessary, but they do not apply to those now arriving at our border.
The progress in improving Haiti’s conditions has been slow and uneven. There are people still living in tents due to slow reconstruction. The ongoing deadly cholera outbreak, caused by UN forces, has yet to be adequately addressed. Years-long delays of Haiti’s presidential election has caused massive social unrest, with the next scheduled decision just weeks away. Far from shutting the door on displaced Haitians, expanded admittance policies would go further in addressing the gravity of the situation as Haiti is in transition.
Finally, the decision to resume deportations of Haitian migrants is rooted in anti-black racism, as well as a particularly anti-Haitian stigma that refuses to see black immigrants as worthy of humanitarian aid. The U.S. has long characterized Haitian immigrants as criminals. This tradition began in 1963 when the first boat of Haitians seeking political asylum was summarily rejected by U.S. immigration officials, while at the same time the U.S. admitted thousands of Cubans as refugees and political asylees. This practice continues with the detaining and deporting Haitians in disproportionate numbers. The U.S. has exported these punitive, anti-Haitian practices throughout the Caribbean by training immigration enforcement officers in the region anddirectly supporting the building of border walls and detention centers in the Dominican Republic. The U.S.’ refusal to acknowledge the plight of displaced Haitians and maintaining inhumane practices of neglect, disrespect and violence amounts to a gross violation of human rights.
While President Obama’s heartwarming rhetoric urges the international community to greet refugees with open arms, his words ring hollow for the Haitian people displaced as a direct result of U.S. policies. These courageous people, who have sojourned for years in search of a way to feed their families and find a place to call home, will now be met with the cold chains of indefinite I.C.E. detention and an uncertain fate.
With just days left for the Obama Administration, the president must act now to correct this grave injustice, reverse the DHS decision and work to enact meaningful humanitarian assistance to Haitian nationals seeking refuge in the United States.
Tometi is the Executive Director Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) the country’s only national Black organization for immigrant rights. She is also a co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter. The historic political project and leader-full network was launched in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin in order to explicitly combat implicit bias and anti-black racism and to protect and affirm the beauty and dignity of all Black lives. Ms. Tometi is a 1st generation Nigerian-American who was born and raised in Arizona, has been active in the migrant rights movement for over 10 years. To learn more about BAJI please visitwww.blackalliance.org. Follow her on Twitter @opalayo
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