The footage – of men on horseback, appearing to use reins as whips to surround Haitian asylum seekers trying to cross into the United States from Mexico – sparked an uproar. But for many Haitians and black Americans, they are just confirmation of a deeply held belief:
US immigration policies, they say, are and have long been anti-black.
The border patrol’s treatment of Haitian migrants, they say, is just the latest in a long history of discriminatory US policies and indignities faced by blacks, sparking new anger among Haitian Americans, advocates black immigrants and civil rights leaders.
They point to immigration data which indicates that Haitians and other black migrants routinely face structural barriers to entering or living legally in the United States – and often experience disproportionate contact with the United States criminal justice system that can jeopardize their residence or accelerate their deportation.
Haitians, in particular, are granted asylum at the lowest rate of any nationality with a consistently high number of asylum seekers, according to an analysis of Associated Press data.
“Black immigrants live at the intersection of race and immigration and, for too long, have fallen through the cracks of bureaucracy and legal loopholes,” said Yoliswa Cele of the UndocuBlack Network, an organization national defense of the rights of current and former undocumented blacks.
“Now, through the videos capturing the abuses against Haitians at the border, the world has now seen for itself that not all migrants seeking a better future are treated equally when the skin color is involved. “
Between 2018 and 2021, only 4.62% of Haitian asylum seekers were granted asylum from the United States – the lowest rate among 84 groups for which data is available. Asylum seekers from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, have an equally low rate of 5.11%.
In comparison, four of the top five American asylum seekers are from Latin American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. Their acceptance rates range from 6.21% to 14.12%.
Nicole Phillips, legal director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said racism has long been the driving force behind the US government’s treatment of Haitian immigrants.
Phillips, whose organization is on the ground helping Haitians in Texas, says it dates back to the early 1800s, when Haitian slaves revolted and gained independence from France, and continued for decades. decades of American intervention and occupation in the small island nation.
She said the United States, threatened by the possibility of its own slaves revolting, both aided the French and did not recognize Haiti’s independence for nearly six decades. The United States also loaned Haiti money so that it could, in essence, buy its independence, collecting interest while plunging the country into poverty for decades.
“This mentality and stigma against Haitians goes back to that time,” Phillips said.
The United States violently occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and supported former Haitian dictator François Duvalier, whose oppressive regime left 30,000 dead and forced thousands to flee.
While the United States has long treated Cubans with compassion – largely because of its opposition to the Communist regime – the administrations of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton have taken a hard line on Haitians. And the Trump administration ended temporary protection status for several nationalities, including Haitians and Central Americans.
Time and time again, the United States has passed immigration legislation that excluded black immigrants and Haitians, and promoted policies that unfairly undermined their legal status in the country, advocates said.
When they do manage to enter the United States, black immigrants say they face systemic racism in the American criminal justice system and American police brutality that is endemic for people across the African Diaspora.
The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a national racial justice and immigrant rights group, largely defines black immigrants as people from countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Based on this definition, AP’s analysis of 2019 Department of Homeland Security data found that 66% of black immigrants deported from the United States were returned on criminal grounds, compared to 43% of all immigrants.
BAJI executive director Nana Gyamfi said crimes of moral turpitude, including theft or turnstile hopping, were used as partial justification for denying legal status to black immigrants. “We have people who are being kicked out because of train tickets,” she said.
Leaders of the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of black-led racial justice and civil rights organizations, have highlighted the treatment of Haitians at the border as a rationale for their broader demands for funding from humanitarian organizations. law enforcement in the United States.
Last year, following the murder of George Floyd, the coalition proposed sweeping federal legislation known as the BREATHE Act, which includes calls to end immigration detention, stop deportations due to contacts with the criminal justice system and to ensure due process within the immigration justice system. .
“Often in the immigration debate, black people are erased and black immigrants are erased from the conversation,” said Amara Enyia, policy researcher for the Black Lives Movement.
Ahead of a visit to the Texas migrant camp on Thursday, civil rights leaders called for an investigation into the treatment of black migrants at the border and an immediate end to the deportation of black asylum seekers.
The camp is “a catastrophic and human disgrace,” Reverend Al Sharpton said after an hour-long tour with several black American leaders in Del Rio. “We will continue to come back, as long as necessary. “
At the border and in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where hundreds of people had previously been sent on flights from the United States, Haitians said there was no doubt race played a role. major in their mistreatment.
“They catch people, they disturb us, especially Haitians because they identify us by skin,” said Jean Claudio Charles who, with his wife and one-year-old son, had stayed in a camp on the Mexican side. near Texas for fear of arrest and deportation to Haiti.
Claude Magnolie, a Haitian citizen deported from the United States this week, said he had not seen border patrol officers treating migrants of other nationalities like him and others were treated: “C ‘ is discrimination, that’s what I call it, they treat us very badly. “
And in Miami, immigrant rights advocate Francesca Menes couldn’t believe her eyes as she watched images of asylum seekers surrounded by men on horseback.
“My family is under this bridge,” Menes said, referring to a cousin, his wife and their newborn baby who recently met in a small town on the Texas border. It took Menes’ cousin two months to make the trip from Chile, where he had lived with his brothers for three years, to escape the political turmoil, violence and devastation in Haiti.
“It made me sick,” Menes said. “This did not happen with unaccompanied minors. You did not see people riding horses, essentially herding people together as if they were cattle, as if they were animals. . “
Menes’ outrage only grew, as did his fears for his family. When she overheard her mother on the phone with family members this week, Menes said she wanted nothing more than to tell them to return to Chile.
“We actually tried to discourage our families,” she said. “People are looking for a better life. And we kind of try to anchor our families: do you know what it means to be black in America?
AP staff members Maria Verza in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, Fernando Gonzalez in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jasen Lo in Chicago, and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed. Morrison reported from New York. Galvan reported from Phoenix. Both are members of the AP Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Galvan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/astridgalvan. Follow Morrison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.