DeWayne Wickham: Biden is only the last president to flee Haitians in need

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On September 24, at the end of a week that began with widely published footage of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback herding Haitian refugees like cattle and ended with reports of thousands of such desperate people summarily sent back to Haiti, Wade Henderson had had enough.

“On behalf of the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the undersigned organizations, we are writing to urge you to immediately suspend the deportation of Haitians to Haiti and to respect basic procedures and human rights for them. Haitian asylum seekers at the US border, ”said Henderson. written to President Joe Biden.

The mistreatment of Haitians seeking refuge under Biden’s watch follows “a long history of discriminatory treatment of Haitians who flee their country in search of a better life,” Henderson told me.

He is right; it’s a story I know all too well – and a story that seems to repeat itself.

In December 1992, I boarded a 10-seat US military charter plane in Florida for a three-hour flight to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For months I had been denied permission to visit the US military outpost. As a journalist, I wanted to see how the Haitians who fled their country following the violent coup d’état that toppled Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected president of Haiti, were treated by the government of the Republican president. George HW Bush.

This clearance only came after I managed to reach by phone General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who cleared the way for me to tour the base. What I saw when I got there, I wrote at the time, was a scene “more like a Nazi stalag” than what most Americans would expect from a refugee camp run by the United Nations. United States.

The Haitians were housed in military tents erected on the tarmac of an abandoned runway. Inside, the temperature has exceeded 100 degrees. Outside, the tent city was surrounded by double rows of barbed wire and heavily armed American soldiers.

The Bush administration called these Haitian refugees “migrants,” a term that sought to make more acceptable its decision to send almost all of them back to an uncertain fate in Haiti.

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Democrat Bill Clinton promised to treat Haitian refugees better. But for much of his first term, he didn’t. In fact, five days before he assumed the presidency, Clinton reneged on that promise. Much to the chagrin of many of his black supporters, Clinton embraced the Haitian policies of his predecessor.

But two years later, pressure mounted on Clinton to change the way he treated Haitian refugees, which the Congressional Black Caucus called racist. “We are upset, we are outraged and we are declaring war on a racist policy,” said Representative Major Owens, DN.Y., at a press conference in March 1994. The following month, Lawrence Pezzullo, l Clinton’s special envoy to Haiti has resigned.

Days later, Clinton appointed Bill Gray, a retired congressman from Philadelphia and former caucus chair, as his special advisor on Haiti. Gray wasted no time saving Clinton from himself. During a whirlwind trip through the region I have covered, he led the leaders of several Caribbean countries to let the United States resettle Haitian refugees within their borders while their demands for asylum were being processed. This gave the Clinton administration time to negotiate a deal that ended the coup, brought Aristide back to power, and stopped the flow of Haitian refugees to the United States.

But it turned out to be a short-lived victory.

When Aristide was ousted from power again in 2004, this time with the assent – and some say the active involvement – of Clinton’s successor, Republican President George W. Bush, a new refugee crisis ensued. is followed. The new Bush administration has placed Haitians they believed to have credible asylum claims in indefinite detention and returned the rest to Haiti. Democrat Barack Obama’s administration resorted to a similar practice in 2016 when the flow of Haitian refugees to the United States increased at the Mexico-California border.

The following year, the administration of Republican Donald Trump announced that it would end in 2019 the temporary protection status that had allowed 59,000 Haitians to stay here temporarily, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The status had been extended several times before Trump took office.

Court challenges kept Trump’s termination order in limbo until Biden moved into the Oval Office. In May, Biden again granted Haitians temporary protection status. But this only applies to Haitians who “have been continuous residents in the United States since July 29, 2021”.

Ultimately, it is not Biden’s use of this immigration provision, but his invocation of Title 42 of the Federal Public Health Services Act that may well be the legacy of his treatment of Haitians trying to enter the United States under his surveillance. The 1893 law gives federal officials the power to take extraordinary measures to limit the transmission of an infectious disease during a pandemic. It is one of the tools the Biden administration uses to forcibly return Haitian refugees to their countries of origin.

“What are we doing?” Representative Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Asked last week at a press conference about the treatment of Haitian refugees by the Biden administration. The answer should come as no surprise to anyone who has paid attention to how a long line of Republican and Democratic presidents have treated the most desperate people in the American hemisphere.

DeWayne Wickham is Dean Emeritus of the School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University, former columnist for USA Today and founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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