These past few weeks, I have been inundated with inquiries, and engaged in discussions in chat rooms, in-person and virtual conferences with Haitian-Americans and non-Haitian BIPOC and allies (regular folks, legal minds and law-makers) on the topic of immigration and more specifically the Haitian migrant border crisis.
Although I am NOT an immigration attorney, foreign policy expert or politician, I suspect because I’m Haitian-American and an attorney, my opinion has come to matter more than usual these days.
Among most of my Haitian-American brothers and sisters in my community, including myself, the subject of the Haitian migrants/refugees has become all-consuming. As we watched a few weeks ago in horror the images of Haitian migrants subject to human rights violations by the Border Patrol at the Del Rio, Texas border, we felt helpless, anger and grief. While many Haitians throughout the diaspora would love to return to a free Haiti once called “la Perle des Antilles,” an overwhelming number of Haitians have fled Haiti over several decades ago yearning to breathe free from the oppression of their government, gang violence, political/ economic instability, and natural disasters.
With this new wave of Haitians fleeing from their homeland and the brutal treatment they have received recently, Haitian-Americans having been watching intently the response of the government many voted into office. For the most part, Haitian Americans living in the U.S. are registered Democrats and have supported or voted for the Biden/Harris ticket in the presidential election of 2020. As a result, there has been an outcry overall by the Haitian-American community on the Biden Administration’s mishandling of this crisis.
However, there are also some Haitian-Americans (albeit a small minority) who expected as much from the Biden administration. These Haitian-Americans left the Democratic party since the days of the Clinton administration because some of Clinton’s economic policies concerning Haiti have had devastating effects on Haiti and the Haitian people. These Haitian-Americans have asked me why Haitian-Americans continue to support a Democratic Party that doesn’t support us? Well, to my Haitian-American brothers and sisters who ask that uncomfortable but very important question, here is my response.
Without equivocating, I must make it clear that I am disgusted with President Biden’s refusal to act by executive order to reverse Title 42. I am also disappointed that although President Biden has, by executive order, reversed the decision of former Trump Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr regarding the presentment of gang /domestic violence evidence to establish credible fear, I’m disappointed nonetheless, this re-reversal does not go far enough.
Biden’s administration (specifically, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department) have ordered the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to issue regulations defining who qualifies for asylum based on a “particular social group” (PSG). For over 30 years, the DOJ and DHS have failed to fully address this issue and have left it to the courts to make a determination on a case by case basis. It is disappointing that the administration did not grab the bull by the horns and define PSG on its own terms. It has left it up to the DOJ and DHS who may further complicate the matter with inconsistent rules. And worse yet, if Congress asserts it’s power to clarify the scope of asylum protection, we are subject to a political contest that may never resolve itself.
Haitians and Haiti cannot afford to wait. Our fellow brothers and sisters deserve action now! Haiti has given so much to the United States since it became the first and only free republic that gained its liberation from an enslaved people’s revolution. Haitian soldiers helped the American colonists at the Battle of Savannah in 1779 to fight for their own freedom from Britain’s tyrannical rule in the American Revolution. And let’s not forget how Napolean had to sell the French territories now known as the Louisiana Purchase in order to raise money to fight the Haitian Army.
Many historians have argued that this was the most significant real estate transaction in history as it helped to double the size of the U.S., providing economic stability to the U.S. and establishing the fledgling U.S. as a formidable world power for centuries to come. Haitian-Americans are proud of our ancestors’ contributions and remember it well. And that is why many Haitian-Americans ask why we continue to support one party over another when it seems both have forgotten us and one is no different than the other.
But, I think by comparing two very different parties’ philosophies and saying one is “no different than the other” is getting into the “weeds” of moral equivalency. We should not take a page out of Trump’s moral equivalency playbook and compare the two parties as though their policies and history are equal. Remember when Trump compared the white supremacists in Charlottesville with the BLM protestors, stating, “[t]here are very good people on both sides.” Noooooo, like back then and now, Dems and GOP are very different! That’s not to say there aren’t good Republicans. I know and love many and some are even in my family.
But overall, the Democratic policies/platform concerning many basic civil, criminal, health, education rights are definitively more progressive than the GOP policies/platform and are geared to expand rights of all people in this country rather than restrict rights. The GOP has consistently failed to act and passed laws more times than I can count to disenfranchise, roll back and counteract measures that would improve the lives of the BIPOC, LGBTQ, immigrants, non-Western religious groups, and others who have faced discrimination and inequity in this country.
Although the Democratic Party looks more progressive on paper, the full enforcement of those policies/platform to actually make a difference in the lives of others has been a greater than usual challenge during these recent years. Unfortunately, one has to look at the back story of this nation the past few years during and after President Obama was in office to see that narrative in action. After he left office, there was definitely what CNN political analyst Van Jones called a “whitelash.” The toxic climate in Congress became worse.
Butthis partial explanation does not mean that we as Democrats should give the Democratic Party “carte blanche” and excuse inaction where they can in fact act. We still need to hold their feet to the proverbial fire to do the right thing and press through the drama. Voting is key.
So getting back to the current Haitian refugee situation, although I am calling out President Biden to do the right thing, that doesn’t mean that I’m naïve to think that there aren’t great impediments to accomplishing that. I know the immigration laws are horrible (even before Biden became President they were). And I know President Biden has so much undoing of Trump’s policies while balancing a political tightrope to appease both sides of his party (progressive and moderate wings, i.e., AOC & the Squad in the House and Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin). I know if he loses his party, he won’t be able to move forward with his agenda and what he campaigned on last year.
But what I am saying is this: Biden’s Administration has no choice but to do the right thing as a matter of preserving our democracy. The right thing here is not to do things against our Constitution by denying Haitian migrants their due process rights and releasing Haitian refugees into the community to get arrested on petty trespassing laws by Texas state police and then summarily deporting them back to Haiti, or allowing border agents to lie to them and tell them they are going to Florida and putting them on a lateral flight and deporting them back to Haiti, or rounding them up and dumping them in the most dangerous cities in Mexico without money, food or the ability to speak the language.
The right thing to do is to be transparent. The right thing to do is revoke Title 42. The right thing to do is to STOP deportations and give the refugees their due process hearings. America is better than that. We are better than that. Haitians deserve better than that.
Reine Boyer is an attorney with the Fairfield County Law Group, LLC.