By Barrington M. Salmon
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In her time as co-director of the UnDocuBlack Network, Patrice Lawrence said she has seen coverage that’s startled and jarred her. But one particular image she saw this week, of officers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on horseback grabbing for and roughing up a Haitian man, left her bereft.
“I thought of a few things immediately: the savages on horseback whipping people and the one who grabbed that young man should be fired with immediate effect and replaced with people able to offer care, assistance and cater to the migrants’ healthcare and other medical needs,” she said. “They have ramped up deportations and are deporting children. I’m just so angry. I can’t stop bawling. It’s evil. Evil. Makes no sense.”
The unidentified man was one of 10-15,000 primarily Haitian migrants who had crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the U.S. and gathered under the International Bridge in Del Rio. The officers’ aggressiveness, the use of their long reins to try to corral the men, women and children and the inhumanity of their actions stirred deep anger and resentment.
Lawrence, a Jamaican who has lived the undocumented immigrant experience in the U.S., heads an organization which concentrates on the needs, concerns and issues of Black undocumented and formerly undocumented individuals. Having defended their interests across a number of fronts, she said she is also incensed because Fox News flew drones over the encampment and drummed up anti-immigrant fears of Black hordes overrunning America.
“Fifteen thousand migrants is not a crisis. It is something the U.S. government can handle. They need to stop the foolishness,” Lawrence said.
She is not alone in her outrage.
Civil rights organizations also put the Biden Administration on blast this week. One after the other issued press releases and statements decrying the treatment of the Haitian people seeking asylum.
“This cruelty is utterly sickening. The events that took place yesterday are all too familiar to those that are aware of America’s ugly history. Brutality and violence against immigrants and refugees were inhumane under the last administration, and that sentiment remains. No person fleeing poverty and hunger should be treated in this egregious manner,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson in a statement. “It is no secret that Haiti – the first Black republic – has been severely punished by western powers for centuries. This latest incident is nothing short of adding insult to injury. While President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Senate Majority Leader Schumer have since denounced the violence, in this instance, words mean nothing without action.”
Veteran Haitian activist Dr. Ron Daniels, founder of the Haiti Support Project, released a scathing statement.
“We are absolutely outraged by the images of Haitians being herded and whipped like cattle,” he said. “In the minds of African Americans, it conjures up traumatic images of water hoses turned on Black children in Birmingham and horses trampling protesters on the Edmund Pettis Bridge. No human being should be brutalized like this. It must stop immediately.”
Amidst the blistering criticism, the White House released the following statement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in attempt to explain the administraton’s position and decry the images that harkened back to slavery:
“DHS does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody, and we take these allegations very seriously. [Customs and Border Protection’s] Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating the matter and has alerted the DHS Office of Inspector General. In addition, Secretary [Alejandro Nicholas] Mayorkas has directed that personnel from the Office of Professional Responsibility be on site full-time to ensure that the responsibilities of DHS personnel are executed consistent with applicable policies and training and the Department’s values.”
The statement continued, “Secretary Mayorkas visited Del Rio today and witnessed the extraordinary work of DHS personnel. The footage is extremely troubling and the facts learned from the full investigation, which will be conducted swiftly, will define the appropriate disciplinary actions to be taken. We are committed to processing migrants in a safe, orderly, and humane way. We can and must do this in a way that ensures the safety and dignity of migrants.”
Haitian activist Monique Clesca points out that many of the Haitians who massed at the US-Mexico border came after the July 7, 2021, catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people and left thousands of others homeless and in devasting conditions. But thousands of other people left Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people. Many relocated to Brazil and other parts of South America.
“A lot of them are not coming directly from Haiti,” said Clesca, a journalist, international development consultant and a retired United Nations official. “Some people have crossed 8, 11 countries trying to get to the US. They may have had residency elsewhere such as Brazil or Chile and been pushed out or left. If someone is coming from Brazil for example, they should be spoken to and given the option of going back to Brazil and not be sent [back] to Haiti.”
UCLA Sociocultural Anthropology Professor Dr. Jemima Pierre said too often, the true reasons for the steady stream of migrants from Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala and elsewhere are lost in conversation and debates. She says a seminal reason for the movement of migrants north stems from U.S. foreign policy, American embrace and support of repressive governments. In Haiti’s case, it’s been the occupation of the island nation since 2004.
“It’s a long story,” Pierre says. “This was not a sudden increase in the numbers of people. It’s an increase in draconian conditions. The U.S. closed the borders which is illegal and does not allow people the opportunity to seek asylum or refuge. It’s terrorism that is bringing Black people, Colombians and others,” she said. “The US policy is racist.”
Pierre and Clesca agree that the current situation on the ground in Haiti is calamitous. The island nation of 11 million has recently endured the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse onJuly 7, an earthquake that measured 7.2 on the Richter scale that caused widespread death and injury on the South of the island; then a tropical storm that heaped on additional misery.
And then there are the political storms.
“[Michel] Martelly and Moïse have been devastating for Haiti,” said Clesca who was in Haiti when Moïse was assassinated and when the earthquake hit. “They have been devastating for the economy, for human rights, in terms of opportunities. Home is no longer home or welcoming for many Haitians. People have been selling their clothes, land and other possessions to be able to go elsewhere.”
Dr. Pierre, a Haitian native who emigrated to the U.S. as a child, said U.S. imperialism and White supremacy have governed the way that successive American governments have treated the Haitian people. She said the intervention of a US/UN/Canada/France/OAS coalition into Haiti’s affairs has been fueling the Haiti crisis.
“The terrible actions of the US include the removal of (former President Jean-Bertrand) Aristide in 2004 and US support of horrible, corrupt governments … Biden picked the latest prime minister. This is the story,” said Dr. Pierre, the Black Alliance for Peace’s Haiti/Americas Coordinator. “They know they can get away with treating Black immigrants this way without people making a lot of noise and pushing back. And they think that we’re a bunch of negroes who can’t take care of ourselves.”
Clesca adds, “The rulers in the last 10 years have overseen misrule, misgovernment and corruption,” she added. “People have left to find schooling for their children, jobs and opportunities. This is pretty much the situation. A Human Rights organization said recently that almost half of the country is gang territory, controlled by gangs. There are also kidnappings. It’s not possible to go to the bank or the supermarket without your heart in your mouth. It’s a dire situation.”
She echoed Dr. Pierre’s comments, saying Haitian sovereignty and control of their own affairs has been choked off by U.S. and western countries in league with a small clique of the Haitian elite.
“There is lack of opportunity or investment in human rights or Haitian education. Regimes have broken human rights records, yet all have been supported by the US, Canada, the United Nations and France, and money has been misappropriated, all under the watchful eye of the US, France and Canada,” said Clesca, who has been active for the past seven months with a commission of political parties, civil society organizations, Haitians in the Diaspora and others working on a political framework that would produce a participatory, democratic, transparent mechanism to choose a prime minister and president of a transition government.
The Biden administration has ramped up deportations ahead of a judge’s ruling that could put a hold on the removal of undocumented immigrants. There are reports that as many as 6,000 people have been returned to Haiti on flights leaving Texas several times a day. Administration officials estimate that all of the migrants will be removed over the course of the next week.
Clesca concludes with harsh words for the Biden administration.
“These policies they have developed are inhumane and not respectful of anybody’s human rights,” she said. “There has to be a better, more humane way that this can be done. I say shame on the Biden-Harris administration for treating Black people this way. This has to be decried by Black Lives Matter, all Black people.”
She recalls, “I saw a man on a horse throw down a man. This would be lynching in the 2021 Biden-Harris America…Beyond the optics, it’s absolutely unacceptable to treat human beings in this manner because you entered the U.S. illegally. It’s heartbreaking.”