United States Border Patrol agents on horseback tries to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.
Video from border shows agents pushing people back on horseback. CNN speaks to migrants there
03:21 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

Horrific images of Border Patrol officers on horseback aggressively herding migrants in Del Rio, Texas.

Mass expulsions of immigrants from the US border.

Jill Filipovic

Families, some with young children, desperately waiting in squalor for help – only to find that their imagined safe harbor refuses to welcome them and is instead sending them back to homelessness, instability and a bleak future.

The Biden administration was supposed to be better than this.

In Texas, US Border Patrol officers have been rounding up migrants, who are mainly Haitian and have been camped under the bridge in Del Rio, and sending them back to Haiti as part of the Biden administration’s stated plan to immediately expel them, according to news reports.

On Wednesday, Biden’s special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned, citing the administration’s “inhumane, counterproductive decision” to send the migrants back to a country struggling with a humanitarian crisis.

Some of the migrants, it seems, have been released back into the US under a longtime monitoring program (similar to that in use during both the Obama and Trump administrations), though their precise circumstances are unclear. (As CNN noted, families seeking asylum could, under US and international law, be allowed to stay in the country while they await an immigration hearing.) But some 1,400 have already been removed, according to US Customs and Border Protection, and thousands more are awaiting their fates.

During the Trump era, immigration abuses were a galvanizing force for the left. Progressives rightly protested Donald Trump’s executive order, issued in 2017, that barred immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, quickly labeling it “the Muslim ban.”

Immigrant detention centers, and the exorbitantly expensive and grossly ineffective border wall, became physical symbols of the then-President’s xenophobia and cruelty. The Trump administration’s family separation policy, which tore children away from their parents and loved ones, shocked and appalled the world.

These outrages animated the broad moderate-to-left coalition that opposed Trump and was key to Joe Biden’s victory. But Biden still has not delivered on many of his immigration-related campaign promises. While children are no longer being taken from their parents, many families separated under Trump still have not been reunited. Migrant detention centers remain.

And those who planned and executed the family separation policy have still not been held to account, despite Biden’s promise of a thorough investigation.

Worse yet, the President has inexcusably kept some of the ugliest Trump policies in place, including the strategy of rounding up and expelling migrants before they have a chance to exercise their legal right to an asylum claim.

The Biden administration is, like the Trump administration before it, using an obscure rule – Title 42, a section of the Public Health Service Act of 1944 – that allows the federal government to bar immigrants in order to prevent the spread of disease. Covid-19 remains the convenient pretext for exploiting a rule that deprives refugees of their rights when they are fleeing persecution.

And it’s not necessary: The US government can implement common-sense public health practices while still meeting our legal obligation to allow migrants to make asylum claims. There are other measures the Biden administration could take to prevent the spread of Covid during border processing – as a federal judge just ruled.

Still, many migrants are being denied their basic right to claim asylum and being shipped to Haiti, a country marred by instability – with a president recently assassinated, and an impoverished populace still recovering from yet another devastating earthquake.

A great many of the Haitian migrants being removed from Texas are people who left Haiti long ago, who have been working across Latin America, and who, even if they are not applying for asylum, are seeking entry into the US in the belief that life will be better here. Now, they’re in limbo, deported to a country rocked by tragedy, where they have few ties and few hopes for a good future.

It’s a shameful violation of America’s promises, and of Biden’s. The situation in Haiti is so bad that the country is asking the US to place a humanitarian moratorium on forced returns. So far, the Biden administration hasn’t complied.

It is true that the Biden administration is not as bad as the Trump administration when it comes to immigration.

Biden has raised the refugee resettlement cap to 125,000 (a rule that does not affect Haitian migrants already in Texas, who are not refugees outside of US borders in need of resettlement). But for context, the refugee cap in 1980 was more than 230,000 (and for further context, under Trump it had fallen to 15,000).

It’s also true that the Biden administration was trying to create a pathway for citizenship for millions of undocumented people in America, but the Senate parliamentarian this week rejected their attempt to do so by incorporating it into the proposed $3.5 trillion environmental and social welfare package that is being furiously negotiated on Capitol Hill.

And even as this administration is scheduling deportation flights, they are allowing some Haitians to stay in the country, under strict monitoring protocols. The people allowed to stay will at least be able to make claims for asylum.

Biden is not Trump 2.0 on immigration.

But this President was supposed to be more than just a little better than Trump; he was supposed to be day to Trump’s night. Trump dropped the bar of decency and openness to immigrants so low that it would take effort for a Democratic president not to clear it.

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    And yet here is Biden, dispatching hundreds of border agents to round up thousands of desperate people and send them back to a country that is increasingly unlivable. Many of those people say they fear a life consigned to poverty – or no life at all.

    It’s a humanitarian disaster and a moral failure. And people who were enraged and heartbroken by Trump’s immigration policies should be taking a hard look at Biden’s choices right now and asking whether such egregious behavior is acceptable – just because the President had a D next to his name on the ballot.