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Chuck Schumer ripped him. So did members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus and Progressive Caucus, 17 Democratic attorneys general, and a host of other advocacy groups across the country.
This week’s cavalcade of outrage directed at President Joe Biden’s handling of Haitian migrants at the U.S. southern border was as fierce as it was uncharacteristic.
Taken together, the scathing criticism revealed the growing political cost of the disconnect between Biden’s promise of a fair and humane immigration system and his use of a Trump-era public health order to kick out migrants — a crack in the Democratic coalition that threatens the party’s morale and unity in advance of the 2022 midterms.
“The continued use of Title 42 is a glaring failure by this administration,” said Julián Castro, former Democratic presidential candidate and housing secretary in the Obama administration. “Its continued use will not only hurt people who are seeking a better life, but risks the collapse of the Democratic coalition that elected Joe Biden.”
Since taking office, Biden has continued utilizing Title 42, a border policy invoked by Trump early on in the pandemic to swiftly expel migrants without allowing them to seek asylum. It’s generated a consistent stream of criticism from Democrats, immigrant advocates and public health experts who say its use is illegal, inhumane and not justified.
But the spotlight on Haitian migrants in recent days — and news cycles dominated by disturbing images from the border — has opened up Biden to a heightened level of criticism from all across the party, including from organizations and leaders that traditionally don’t weigh in on migration issues.
Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, summarized the position for many organizations in a statement this week: "If we were to close our eyes and this was occurring under the Trump administration, what would we do?”
And the outrage wasn’t limited to one specific aspect of Biden’s response. There was outrage over the squalid conditions at the makeshift camp in Del Rio, Texas. Outrage over the images of Border Patrol agents on horseback treating migrants harshly. Outrage over the deportation of thousands of the migrants back to Haiti, a country still reeling from the assassination of its president, a recent tropical storm and 7.2-magnitude earthquake.
On Friday, Biden took some responsibility, promising consequences for errant Border Patrol agents. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the makeshift camp where thousands of migrants were staying under an international bridge had been cleared out. A day earlier, Border Patrol temporarily suspended the use of agents on horseback in Del Rio.
But Biden officials have publicly doubled down in defending the continued use of Title 42. Speaking at the White House press briefing on Friday, Mayorkas repeatedly said how Title 42 is a “public health imperative” and not a policy aimed at controlling migration. Mayorkas also said U.S. officials believed that Haiti, in spite of the political instability and devastation, was in a position to accept deportees.
None of it was enough to address the concerns of members of Congress and other leaders who remain troubled by the racial implications.
“They have to do a heck of a lot more,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who continues to call on the administration to stop deportation flights to Haiti.
“World leaders are looking at what’s taking place here in this country and they’re saying do Black lives really matter? They're looking at violations of international standards of human rights,” Lee added. “This is a stain on our country.”
Civil rights leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with White House officials this week to discuss the treatment of Haitian migrants at the border. On Thursday, a group of civil rights leaders held a phone call with the White House to express their anger.
“[W]hen it comes to Black migrants, it’s a painful realization that a country that has this promise of democracy and equality … that your Blackness makes you impacted negatively by policy after policy,” said Nana Gyamfi, executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
Gyamfi added that a number of organizers with BAJI have become increasingly demoralized by the Biden administration’s handling of the influx of Haitian migrants and, particularly, its continued use of Title 42.
“People are saying, ‘we voted and this is what we got,” Gyamfi said.
The fact the focus has been on Black immigrants, Castro said, added a “different dimension” and activated groups like the Congressional Black Caucus and NAACP — all of them critical elements of the Democratic coalition that put Biden in office, and essential to the party’s success in November 2022.
“That creates a bigger headache frankly for Joe Biden,” Castro said, adding how having a wider swath of groups and leaders actively speaking out “helps build a stronger coalition” to put pressure on Biden for change.
Some leading Democrats hope the simmering outrage will result in the Biden administration reevaluating how it has been handling immigration so far. It could be a real inflection point, they say.
“This has been one hell of a week,” said Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.). “It is a wake-up call for us to deliver — for the administration and certainly for Congress to deliver on changing the cruel and humane policies.”
Maya King contributed to this report.