U.S. asylum policy needs to be clear, by Jesse L. Jackson Sr.
10/7/2021, 6 p.m.
Today, the makeshift migrant border camp in Del Rio, Texas, is virtually empty, cleared of thousands of Haitian refugees who went there seeking asylum in America. State troopers now line the border area to discourage others from gathering.
The horrifying images of the crisis — immigration agents on horseback using reins as whips on the helpless; women and children huddled in the heat; distraught Haitians deported back to the Haiti that they had left years ago — will not be so easily erased. And more Haitians and Central Americans are on their way north from Central America as I write.
President Biden denounced the treatment of the Haitians, admitting, “We know that those images painfully conjured up the worst elements of our nation’s ongoing battle against systemic racism.” Yet, the deportations will continue.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas reported that of the 30,000 Haitians that had gathered at
the border, 12,000 were given a chance to make their case for asylum, 8,000 returned to Mexico and some 2,000 were deported to Haiti.
The deportations were carried out under the special order issued by former President Trump, using the pandemic as an excuse to deport refugees seeking asylum.
The contrast of the treatment of Haitians with that of Afghans is stark. There is bipartisan support for resettling in the United States thousands of Afghans fleeing the Taliban. In polls, both Republicans and Democrats support welcoming the Afghani migrants. At the same time, most Americans favor even stricter policies on our southern border, a reflection of Mr. Trump’s success in turning immigration into a racial symbol.
Yet, the kind of peril that Afghans face in their home country is paralleled by that faced by those arriving from Haiti or from Central America. Desperate, they leave their homes fleeing brutal gang violence, extortion, climate catastrophes and desperate poverty, all made worse by corrupt, repressive governments.
Reprimand for the agents on horseback is not sufficient. The United States needs a deep reassessment of its immigra- tion policies and its policies toward its neighbors to the south. Congressional hearings and bipartisan public commis- sions should probe the reality we face — and what a humane, forward-looking policy should include.
Any reassessment must start with the United States dramatically changing its foreign policy priorities. We spent more than $3 trillion on the failed war in Afghanistan. We spend billions of dollars a year to keep troops in Europe 76 years after World War II and in Korea nearly 70 years after the fighting stopped. We spend billions in a misbegotten effort to police the world, with troops engaged in anti-terror operations in an unimaginable 85 countries during the last three years alone.
At the same time, we have short-changed assistance to our neighbors, have limited capacity to aid them in times of calamity and too often have supported dictators and corrupt elites that have preyed upon their own people.
We need to augment our own ability to help our neighbors in time of calamity and we need to invest in our neighbors to build their own capacity to react to what surely will be growing climate catastrophes. Haiti deserves debt relief and reparations from France and the United States, repaying the debt exacted by slave-owning societies for the Haitian revolt that freed the slaves.
Haitians are human, too. In a time of extreme distress, they deserve a helping hand, not the lash of a rein. And for our own sake, we should be working with our neighbors to build prosperity, not building walls to protect ourselves from the misery around us.
The Congress should have hearings on Haitian and immigration policies and Haiti should be included in our budget.
The writer is founder and president of the national Rainbow PUSH Coalition.