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Abuse of Haitian Migrants at the Border

by Kimberli Mejia Quito

Recently there has been widespread footage of Border Patrol agents riding on horseback, Haitian immigrants seeking asylum at the southwest border. The videos showed Haitian migrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas while Border Patrol agents chased and screamed, “Let’s go! Get out now! Go back to Mexico!” The footage has provoked public outrage and condemnation which caused the Department of Homeland Security to suspend horse patrols and order an investigation into the Border Patrol agents’ actions.

More than 10,000 migrants have been residing under a bridge on the Mexico-Texas border, suffering from extremely unsanitary conditions. Many have been deported which angered advocates who say that Haitian migrants aren’t being provided with a fair opportunity to obtain asylum. Currently the Biden administration has planned the wide scale deportations of Haitian migrants by putting them on flights to Haiti. According to CBS News, “in just nine days, the U.S. has expelled nearly 4,000 Haitian migrants,” including hundreds of families with children, without allowing them to seek asylum.

Haiti has suffered several intense events within just the past few months, involving a presidential assassination, tropical storms, and an earthquake. According to estimates by UNICEF, “close to 1.2 million lives have been affected by the earthquake, with around 540,000 of them being children." These events have been entirely detrimental to the nation, leaving many with no access to shelter, food, clothes, and various other essentials. As reported by the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability, the “current death toll has crossed 2200, with nearly 320+ still missing.” Haiti continues to struggle to begin recuperation and reconstruction, especially while still in a pandemic.

After Joe Biden took office, many migrants believed that it would be easier to enter the U.S. compared with how it was under the Trump administration. Biden renewed Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the U.S. earlier in the year. That status which the Trump administration had revoked in 2017, permits migrants to remain in the U.S when conditions in their home country keep them from returning securely regardless of legal status. However, this policy only applies to Haitians who were living in the U.S. as of July 29, not to those currently seeking asylum at the southwest border.

The photographer behind the viral footage of Border Patrol agents on horseback brutalizing Haitian migrants was Paul Ratje. He revealed in a telephone interview that he “observed that migrants who had crossed back into Mexico to get food and water were attempting to return to the U.S. side when they were blocked by Border Patrol agents on horseback.” Many migrants feared separation which led to “Haitian people pleading with the officers on horseback” as indicated by Ratje. It was likewise reported that a Border Patrol agent swung his horse’s rein in the air while migrants were in the river. One migrant holding bags of food fell backward. One of the images displayed an agent leaning down and grabbing the migrants by the shirt while other migrants fled. Another image exposed a Border Patrol agent grabbing a Haitian migrant while he had “his reins in his left hand,” Ratje commented.

Indisputably the mistreatment of Haitian migrants was a complete violation of human rights. The inhumane treatment of migrants, especially black migrants, is still an ongoing issue which completely contradicts the promises of Biden’s campaign to convey racial justice and undo Trump-era immigration policies. The human rights abuses of black Haitian migrants have roots in the mistreatment of black people by white men during the Jim Crow Era and enslavement. It’s fundamental to have histories of state sanctioned violence and racial violence recognized and discuss the relationship between the past and present.

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