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How Haitian migrants were treated by the Border Patrol was just plain wrong

What happened in the small town of Del Rio, Texas, only reinforces the perception that our nation’s immigration policies discriminate against Black and Brown people.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande River Sept. 19 near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande River Sept. 19 near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
Paul Ratje / Getty Images

If you could stand the sight of Border Patrol officers on horseback running off Haitians at the Del Rio border, something’s wrong.

It is not right.

Everyone ought to be able to see that.

These Black bodies belong to people who survived natural disasters, violent political upheavals that led to the recent assassination of their president and extreme poverty — in addition to corrupt government officials and armed gangs.

And despite carrying the weight of misfortune that goes with being born in one of the world’s poorest countries, these Black bodies didn’t sit on a rock and die.

They gathered their paltry goods and hiked through terrain most of us will never see, let alone have to cross.

I imagine their escape felt much like the one I made as a child felt to me when I got lost in a cotton field — in the dark, in the middle of a storm. Terrifying.

But the promise of a new life on American soil allowed these Black bodies to maintain a flicker of hope.

I happened to be in San Antonio, about 150 miles from Del Rio, the border town between the United States and Mexico, when the migrants were crossing. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on the news.

These beleaguered migrants, most of them Haitians, had traveled hundreds of miles on land. They waded through dark water up to their waists for a chance at having a life filled with something other than toil and disasters.

And then Border Patrol agents on horseback tried to turn them away like they were slaves escaping a plantation.

The migrants who made it, about 15,000 of them, set up an encampment under an international bridge.

The sight of their tired Black bodies huddled under makeshift tents, surrounded by squalor and scowling faces, was the most distressing thing I’ve ever seen.

In response to their plight, the Biden administration launched a full-scale effort to clear the encampment, which led to mass expulsions that experts said we haven’t seen the likes of in decades.

According to UNICEF, more than two-thirds of the Haitian migrants who returned to Port-au-Prince are women and children.

“Haiti is reeling from the triple tragedy of natural disasters, gang violence and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director. “When children and families are sent back without adequate protection, they find themselves even more vulnerable to violence, poverty, and displacement — factors that drove them to migrate in the first place.”

Knowing the hardships these migrants have endured, how can we NOT see the inhumanity of these expulsions?

Daniel Foote, Biden’s special envoy to Haiti, who was appointed after that country’s president was assassinated, quit his post in protest of the large-scale expulsions.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Foote wrote: “I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs to daily life.”

On Friday, the mayor of Del Rio announced the last of the migrants were gone. How many were sent back to Haiti and why is still unclear.

Nearly 32,000 Afghans deemed “at-risk” are not only being welcomed with open arms but are being embraced. At the same time TV stations were running images of the squalid migrant encampment, they also showed Afghans being escorted from planes to their new lives in the United States.

How do we justify such a difference?

It is not right.

If you want to help Haitian migrants, please consider donating to the Haitian Bridge Alliance at Haitianbridge.org.