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Trigger warning: This story includes descriptions of law enforcement violence.
The images are shocking. U.S. border agents on horseback are whipping at Haitian asylum seekers carrying plastic bags of food and clothing. They reach out to grab the shoulders of people fleeing barefoot or in flip-flop sandals.
This is what’s underway in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, where an encampment of about 14,000 migrants await asylum. Over the weekend, U.S. Border Patrol agents began deporting Haitian migrants under a Trump administration-era pandemic order, flying them to Port-au-Prince or sending them fleeing across the Rio Grande into Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.
The horrifying scenes are the latest evidence that our immigration enforcement machine is operating with the same cruel logic that it has for centuries. Biden ran on a campaign that made big promises — namely, to be trusted to undo the work of the Trump administration. In July, the White House even released a fact sheet on its “Fair, Orderly and Humane Immigration System,” with a particularly relevant opening line: “The United States can have an orderly, secure, and well-managed border while treating people fairly and humanely.”
If it can, this isn’t it. At least a dozen of the refugees forced onto planes on Sunday told The New York Times that border officials initially misled them into thinking the planes were headed to Florida. But this isn’t about being disappointed by one party or another’s false promises; after all, it’s no secret that enforcing border security is a bipartisan priority — one that upholds our broader system of policing, poverty, and incarceration, as violent under the Obama administration as it was under Trump. Abolishing borders, or at the very least protecting migrants’ basic human rights, is incompatible with leadership that sees immigration policy as a political football and a funding source.
Criticism from those within the U.S. and Haiti, as well as from human rights groups, poured out in response to the graphic and horrifying images. “So many Haitian immigrants and refugees came to this country to escape devastation — only to be greeted by being whipped and handcuffed,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) on Monday night. “[President Biden], you must put an immediate stop to this. We demand better. They deserve better.”
Many Democrats lambasted Biden for continuing policies set during the Trump administration that Biden campaigned on moving away from. “Haitians are fleeing disaster, poverty, and political turmoil, only to be denied the legal right to an asylum claim. It’s wrong — under Joe Biden or any president,” tweeted former presidential candidate Julián Castro. “Asylum is a fundamental human right that the U.S. has suspended for 18 months now…. The [Biden administration] must reverse course or we risk allowing Trump’s policies to become the default.”
Immigration officials have begun an investigation into the reports. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the images “horrific” and said she “can’t imagine what the scenario is where that would be appropriate.” Still, Psaki demurred when asked if the Biden administration was considering changes to their deportation plans for Haitian migrants, saying only that the White House is “constantly assessing circumstances on the ground.”
The situation on the ground is dire. Haiti is struggling under the impact of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July, and an earthquake in August that killed over 2,200 Haitians — all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trouble in Haiti forced a rapid, mass movement toward the U.S.-Mexico border for safety, where the encampment in Del Rio, under a bridge that connects the two countries, quickly grew. A month after the earthquake, according to the UN, 980,000 Haitians are struggling with “acute” food insecurity. Jean Negot Bonheur Delva, head of Haiti’s national migration office, told the Times, “We are here to say ‘welcome,’ they can come back and stay in Haiti, but they are very agitated. They don’t accept the forced return. The Haitian state is not really able to receive these deportees.”
To deny entry to a country that bears no small amount of responsibility for the causes pushing people to seek asylum is, while an especially American tendency, reprehensible. “When you have a world and an economy dominated by white supremacy — everything dominated by white supremacy — you will have what you have in Haiti as a result,” Etant Dupain, activist, journalist, and director of the documentary Madan Sara, told Teen Vogue contributor Christine Jean-Baptiste in March. “Talking about dictatorships and talking about political corruption fails to contextualize the fact that what we’re all seeing right now happened after a devastating earthquake, happened after perhaps even billions of dollars of aid were wasted, lost, looted, mismanaged into oblivion.”
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: There Is No Return to ‘Normal’ on Immigration
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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue