Haitians have been buffeted by natural disasters and political turmoil, including the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Economic strife abounds in the hemisphere’s poorest country. So it’s hardly surprising that thousands of Haitians are swarming to U.S. shores, similar to a seaborne exodus toward Florida in 1994. Only this time, they’re swarming the tiny landlocked border town of Del Rio, Texas.
Border agents responded by mounting horses, donning chaps and cowboy hats, and engaging in an old-fashioned roundup, as if the migrants were cattle. Horrific photos depict a horse-mounted patrol agent appearing to use his reins to whip his Black prey into submission.
The world saw enough brutally callous images when then-President Donald Trump’s administration yanked migrant children from their parents’ arms and locked them in cage-like cells. This time, the unacceptably iron-fisted response is coming from the supposedly compassionate administration of President Joe Biden.
About the migrants themselves: Of the estimated 9,000 who encamped under a border-crossing bridge outside Del Rio, most reportedly are Haitians. That’s an oddity all by itself, since Haiti is more than 1,900 miles from Del Rio. Reporters are finding when they interview the migrants that many didn’t come directly from Haiti but instead have lived for years across Latin America.
Some quit good jobs in countries like Panama and Chile to head northward. The surge actually started in June — months before Moise’s assassination and the recent, devastating earthquake in southeastern Haiti. Even if the migrants had come directly from Haiti, they could not claim refugee status simply by citing political turmoil or complaining that the economy is bad there. And if they uprooted themselves from comfortable lives in other countries, as many say they did, there’s even less of an argument for special consideration by the United States.
U.S. law is precise about the conditions under which migrants may appeal for asylum and jump ahead of those who have taken the lengthy and arduous approach of applying for legal migration. The rules are justifiably narrow, requiring that the applicant demonstrate persecution based on religion, political opinion, race or nationality. In some cases, battered spouses and their children qualify. The quest for a better life — the typical undocumented migrant’s justification — is not sufficient grounds for any immigration judge to grant asylum.
It’s not that Biden or his predecessors were being hard-hearted by refusing entry. If the United States suddenly declared that the quest for a better life qualified migrants for entry, the swarm from around the world would make the current crisis seem like a microscopic speck by comparison.
That said, Biden is hiding behind a cheap excuse— Trump-imposed pandemic restrictions — to deport planeloads of migrants without asylum hearings. And the image of a ranch-style human roundup must never again be the face America shows to the world.
This editorial originally appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.