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Biden calls Haitian migrant crisis 'an embarrassment'; advocates say racism at root

Cindy Carcamo, Andrea Castillo and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

A district court judge ruled the following year that the Haitian detention program was illegal, but in response, the Reagan administration instituted a new, broader detention policy. That meant asylum-seekers from around the world joined Haitians in detention when they arrived, establishing the basis for the country’s modern immigration detention system.

A month before the 2020 presidential election, Biden stumped in Little Haiti in Miami. Biden promised Haitians that he would ensure that Haiti and the Haitian people are treated with the “respect and dignity that they deserve.” Florida, an important swing state, eventually voted for former President Donald Trump.

Bastien voted for Biden and loudly advocated for his election. She even starred in an national election video urging viewers to vote for him.

In 2011 Haitians were granted temporary protected status, a form of humanitarian relief granted to countries devastated by natural disasters or war that allows beneficiaries to work legally while they remain in the U.S. Though Trump moved to end the program for Haitians and people from other countries, the Biden administration extended it for Haitians through next year, citing human rights abuses security concerns, social unrest and crippling poverty.

Temporary protected status does not provide beneficiaries with a path to permanent residency and citizenship. And the status only applies to Haitians who have been in the U.S. since July 29, disqualifying more recent arrivals.

Bastien said Haitians had expected Biden to do away with a public health order invoked by the Trump administration and continued by Biden to quickly expel migrants — including those in Del Rio — encountered along the U.S.-Mexico border.

By continuing Trump immigration policies, Biden broke his promise to Haitians, she said.

“He claimed that he would bring equity and fairness to his administration. Where is the fairness, Mr. Biden?” Bastien said Wednesday after returning from a rally in Miami protesting the Biden administration’s handling of the Haitian humanitarian crisis. “In our culture a promise is a debt, Mr. Biden. When you make a promise, you need to keep it.”

On Thursday, Daniel Foote, the U.S. special envoy to Haiti, resigned with a scathing letter criticizing the treatment of Haitians and their removal from the camp.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Caribbean, Haiti and Hispanic caucuses also called for the Biden administration to halt the expulsion flights, designate Haitians as stateless and provide them refuge. They condemned what they called racist treatment of the migrants and white supremacist behavior of border agents.

“What the hell are we doing here? What we witnessed takes us back hundreds of years,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said at a news conference Wednesday. “They’re trying to take us back to slavery days.”

Vice President Kamala Harris echoed Waters’ sentiment during an interview Friday on ABC’s “The View.”

 

Among the Republican legislators who criticized the Biden administration’s response to the migrants in Del Rio was Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. During a hearing Tuesday, Portman took Homeland Security Department Secretary Mayorkas to task for increasingly allowing migrant families with children to stay in the country and pursue asylum as Mexico has accepted fewer expulsions.

He said Haitians traveled to the border because smugglers got word that they could get in.

“I want to get it right so we have an orderly, lawful process,” he said. “So the most generous country in the world in terms of immigration can continue to be so, and our citizens can support it.”

Meanwhile, during a news briefing near the Acuña-Del Rio International Bridge on Friday, Del Rio Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano, a Democrat who has criticized Biden’s response to the influx of migrants into his border city of 36,000, said he warned the administration about the uptick in migration earlier this year. Local officials are now watching for the potential arrival of up to 30,000 more migrants they believed were converging in the north Mexico industrial hub of Monterrey.

Gabriel Valdeim, 32, said he walked for a week with his wife and toddler across the Darien Gap, the lawless jungle between Colombia and Panama, where they witnessed other migrants raped by robbers.

When the family from Port-au-Prince arrived at the U.S. border last week, they didn’t expect to witness fellow Haitians harassed by Border Patrol agents near the river. Afraid that the agents wanted to kill the migrants, his wife Celestine, 27, started to cry.

“We knew we were going to suffer, that they were going to try to deport us,” Valdeim said. “We were prepared for discrimination because we suffered in all the other places we passed. But we know how it is in the U.S., that it’s a country of human rights.”

Afraid of being deported, Valdeim and his family left the camp in Del Rio on Tuesday. Now they are staying at a shelter just across the Rio Grande in Acuna, where Mexican immigration authorities have also urged them to leave.

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(Los Angeles Times White House reporter Chris Megerian contributed to this report.)

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