2021-09-23 02:16:16 Biden’s Deportation of Haitian Migrants Uses Trump-Era Immigration Tactics

Biden’s Deportation of Haitian Migrants Uses Trump-Era Immigration Tactics

WASHINGTON (AP) — The images could have been lifted directly from former President Donald J. Trump’s immigration playbook: mounted Border Patrol agents rounding up desperate Haitian families at the southwestern border for quick deportation from the United States.

In fact, the aggressive effort to quickly clear a makeshift camp of more than 15,000 Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, was part of a Biden administration response that included “urging” agents to the overrun area and using Trump-era immigration policy to immediately send many people home.

The scenes of agents on horseback, according to President Biden’s spokeswoman, were “horrific” and “not acceptable or appropriate.” “Human beings should never be treated that way,” said Vice President Kamala Harris. The Department of Homeland Security stated that it was looking into the matter.

Nonetheless, the deportations are a stark example of how Mr. Biden — who declared on Feb. 2 that his goal was to “undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration” — is implementing some of Mr. Trump’s most aggressive immigration policies over the last four years.

Mr. Biden has reacted in a way that few of his supporters expected after failing to create a more “humane” set of immigration laws. In case after case, he has demonstrated a willingness to use harsh measures, even as he grapples with a problem that has plagued presidents for decades: securing the borders while meeting the United States’ humanitarian obligations to migrants fleeing economic hardship, political instability, and violence.

The approach has sparked fierce debate within the administration, with some of his top aides advocating tougher policies to deter people from crossing the border, while others advocate a more welcoming stance.

The president’s tough stance has enraged immigration advocates, who have blasted him for expelling Haitians.

However, their dissatisfaction with Mr. Biden extends beyond the current situation. Many people said they were beginning to doubt whether he had the will or desire to follow through on any of his immigration promises.

“The question now is, what makes you different from Trump?” Marisa Franco, executive director of Mijente, a Latino civil rights organization, consulted the Biden campaign as a representative for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. “You campaigned on the fact that Trump was inhumane and failed in immigration. And, as far as I know, Trump is not the president.”

Officials in the Biden administration are outraged by that suggestion, claiming that the president moved quickly after taking office to reverse many of Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. They also claim that advisers are united behind a strategy that includes building a new, robust asylum system as well as cracking down on illegal immigration.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, reiterated Mr. Biden’s hopes for a more open immigration system on Wednesday, even as she acknowledged the administration’s determination to keep the border secure.

“The president remains committed to establishing a humane and orderly immigration system, including a well-established and efficient process for requesting asylum,” she told reporters.

Mr. Biden’s efforts to use his office’s power to enact long-term immigration reform have been stymied by federal judges skeptical of executive power and slowed by a bureaucracy purposefully hampered by the former president. His proposal for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws is dead in the water in Congress, and his hopes for granting millions of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship were dealt a significant setback in the Senate on Sunday.

Mr. Biden’s allies blame Republicans for impeding needed changes because they see the border chaos under his leadership as a good political issue.

“Have the Republicans figured this out?” said Cecilia Muoz, former President Barack Obama’s top immigration adviser and director of his Domestic Policy Council. “You get to demagogue a Democratic administration as long as you can keep it from making progress on immigration. It’s a political tool as long as you keep them from fixing it.”

Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, accused the Biden administration of allowing “continued uncontrolled illegal immigration into the country” during a hearing on Tuesday.

However, for many immigration activists, the president’s reaction to the surge of border crossings — including a firm declaration that the border was closed and a refusal to allow many migrants to seek asylum in the United States — was a grim reminder of the Trump years and Mr. Obama’s aggressive policies.

They point to the fact that Mr. Biden has fought civil rights groups in court to keep one of Mr. Trump’s strictest immigration policies in place: the use of Title 42, a public health law that allows authorities to deny migrants their usual rights to seek asylum during the coronavirus pandemic.

The public health rule does not apply to every migrant at the border. According to government data, officials apprehended approximately 1.24 million people crossing the southwestern border between February and August. The rule was applied to turn them away 56% of the time. Others were permitted to enter the country for a variety of reasons, including exemptions from the public health rule.

However, activists argue that the use of authority should be discontinued entirely.

“This deterrence-first approach is incorrect and simply does not work,” said Todd Schulte, president of FWD.us, a pro-immigration group that has been an administration ally.

In recent days, administration officials, including Ms. Harris’s office staff, have made calls to humanitarian organizations. Senior homeland security officials are meeting with advocacy groups representing the Haitian community and those working on the ground in Del Rio this week. On Monday, top Democrats in Congress sent a letter requesting that the expulsion of Haitian migrants be halted.

According to an official familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, approximately 1,500 Haitian migrants have been quickly deported, even as thousands more are allowed to enter the United States while they await deportation hearings. Many migrants have applied for asylum.

According to Eduardo Maia Silva, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, migrants who were not deported were given monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets.

In some cases, there did not appear to be any clear criteria for who was allowed to stay and who was sent back to Haiti, despite the fact that single adults are primarily deported.

This year, many Haitian migrants are not fleeing natural disasters or political violence. Rather, they have been in South America for years, displaced by previous disasters, insecurity, and poverty. Often, fleeing poverty is insufficient to gain asylum in the United States, and many migrants may be deported.

Several Haitian migrants attempting to cross the border said they were forced to make the journey because they had lost their visas or jobs and had no choice but to find a way to survive in the United States.

Since before Mr. Biden became president, the question of how much emphasis to place on border enforcement has been a source of heated debate in his inner circle.

Mr. Biden promised as a candidate that he would take action on his first day in office to end a Trump-era policy that forced asylum seekers to wait in squalid camps in Mexico while the US processed their claims.

According to several people familiar with the discussions who requested anonymity to discuss the debate, some advisers pushed back against immediately ending Trump’s policy, known as Remain in Mexico, arguing that it made more sense to wind down the program gradually.

They argued that such a sudden change, which would allow asylum seekers to pursue their claims in the United States, would overwhelm US officials’ capacity. Mexican officials shared this concern, believing that abruptly terminating the program would send the wrong message to Central Americans contemplating a journey north.

However, the Biden campaign was already under fire from advocates, many of whom questioned the sincerity of his progressive immigration commitments. And people close to Mr. Biden believed that Trump’s policy had become so politically toxic that the only viable option was to abandon it completely. That point of view eventually prevailed when the administration moved to halt the program on the day of Mr. Biden’s inauguration.

However, a surge in migration forced officials to reconsider the issue in the months that followed. Even as the administration fought a lawsuit filed by Texas and Missouri to reinstate the program, officials were privately discussing ways to resurrect it in a limited form, believing they needed to send a clear signal to migrants not to come to the US.

At the end of the summer, the Supreme Court ruled that the administration must obey a lower court ruling in order to restart the program, a decision that officials said they would follow even as the legal battle continued.

However, within the sprawling federal agencies that deal with immigration — Homeland Security, State, Justice, and Health and Human Services — the debate over how aggressive to be at the border has raged on, contributing to what critics on both sides of the political spectrum say appears to be a chaotic and reactive policy.

According to several officials involved in border discussions, Susan E. Rice, Mr. Biden’s domestic policy adviser, has been a leading proponent of more aggressive enforcement, arguing that it is more compassionate to pursue an orderly immigration system in order to pass broader reforms.

According to three people who have witnessed the discussions, Esther Olavarria, a Cuban-born immigration lawyer who serves as Ms. Rice’s deputy, has frequently pushed to allow more migrants into the United States so they can pursue asylum claims. Several people said that the homeland security secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, is sympathetic to Ms. Olavarria’s point of view, but as the head of the department, he has been the public face of the harsher approach.

Mr. Mayorkas stated on Monday, “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned.” “Your journey will fail, and you will endanger your life and the lives of your family.”

Natalie Kitroeff reported from Mexico City, and Michael D. Shear, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, and Eileen Sullivan from Washington.

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Biden’s Deportation of Haitian Migrants Uses Trump-Era Immigration Tactics