In recent weeks, the topic of immigration has been prevalent in our national dialogue. However, I’ve felt a lot of whiplash – trying to decipher what is the policy that the Biden administration wants to promote. Let’s start out with the removal of Haitian migrants on the U.S. – Mexico border and the deportation of more than 5,000 Haitians at the end of September.
The images of immigration entering the encampments under the bridge in Del Rio, Texas – mounted on horseback – enraged me and made me temporarily wonder if we weren’t still under the Trump Administration, but no – here we are in supposedly a new era. Maybe some of you, like myself, have seen videos or journalistic coverage of the horrific trip north undertaken by Haitian migrants (and migrants from other countries) – crossing the Darien Gap – a jungle without roads or pathways, which is the only form to cross from Colombia to Panama to continue north.
I’ve been thinking of the lives of these immigrant families – many of whom left Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010 when more than 200,000 Haitians were killed, and more than 1.5 million were made homeless by natural disaster.
Many Haitian immigrants have lived for years in South America, facing increasingly anti-immigrant policies and discrimination. They hope to settle in the United States to join a large Haitian community and to build a better life for themselves and their families – like most immigrants.
These movements on the border are a sign from the Biden administration of how they are seeking to placate anti-immigrant fanatics – while at the same time, the Administration wants to build goodwill with the immigrant community.
A few weeks ago, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced new directives for immigration officials, saying that being undocumented should not be an adequate basis for detention and deportation of immigrant community members. Just this past week, DHS announced that they would no longer use workplace immigration raids as a tool for immigration enforcement, and that instead of criminalizing workers, that they would look to hold accountable abusive employers.
In the press conference on September 30, when new directives were announced, Secretary Mayorkas said, “Are we going to spend the time apprehending and removing the farmworker who is breaking his or her back to pick fruit that we all put on our tables?” “Because if we pursue that individual, we will not be spending those same resources on somebody who does, in fact, threaten our safety.”
However, he also said that the Administration would continue to prioritize the arrest and deportation of immigrants who had crossed the border into the U.S. illegally. Now, obviously, some of these policies are favorable to our community. We want to support that immigrants not be deportable based solely on their immigration status, and we want to see an end to workplace raids.
The problem lies in the artificial division of a community – that those who have been here for a longer time are pitted against those currently arriving – when we know that ALL of these individuals and families have more in common than separates them. The factors that have pushed them to come to the U.S. to seek a better life and opportunities for their families are the same.
In addition to this commitment to continue to criminalize recently arrived migrants, the Biden administration has worked to keep in place a Trump-era policy – Title 42 – that authorized the expulsion of migrants at the border for the protection of public health.
The truth is that the Administration (both under Trump and now Biden) has allowed many people to cross the border – from the U.S. to Mexico and vice versa – BUT it used this policy to prevent the entrance of asylum seekers. From the beginning of his presidency, long before COVID-19, the Trump administration was looking for how to use this policy that gave the President executive powers. Now, although we find ourselves with a different president, this policy is still active, and the Biden Administration has actively defended its continued use.
So, on one hand the Administration seems to be working to curry favor with the community (another small positive moment is the work to reactivate the DACA program with a new published rule and public comment period in the federal register), while also working to continue the criminalization and discrimination against the immigrant community.
We invite you to contribute a public comment in support of DACA and it’s expansion while also registering your concerns about the need for ample protections for the ENTIRE immigrant community – United We Dream has created a great platform for this here: https://comment.homeishere.us/ As a community, we need to keep our eyes and ears open to the attempts to divide our movement – to pit groups against one another – and seek to keep unity and solidarity. We invite you to support especially our Haitian brothers and sisters. Faith in New Jersey and other organizations are organizing a rally next Friday, October 22, in Newark, NJ, at 12 pm.