We thought the days when our country treated asylum-seekers with cruelty and disdain might be ending. This month we learned we were wrong.
Most of us were shaken and horrified, and the country rightfully embarrassed, by images of US border patrol agents on horseback attacking asylum seekers, including at least one child, in Texas. Thankfully, that has been stopped and an investigation is now underway. We need more than an investigation, though: we need to know that nothing like that will ever happen again.
We also need our government to stop violating basic human rights by deporting asylum-seekers to Haiti. Coming just a month after a catastrophic 7.2-magnitude earthquake and a destructive tropical storm struck Haiti, and just two months after the Haitian president Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home, these deportations are appalling and inhumane. There is no question that Haiti is not safe right now, and that the lives of those we are deporting will be in grave danger.
The magnitude of the suffering in Haiti is hard to fathom. That’s why so many Haitian families have risked their lives to leave and seek asylum here. Many arrived with young children, desperate for sanctuary and water, food, shelter, medical care, and other basics. It was a treacherous journey for most, and for some it had the unhappiest possible ending. The Haitian migrants weren’t met with open arms or treated with compassion and respect when they got to the United States. Those we deported to a country in chaos and weren’t even allowed to apply for asylum, which is their legal right under both US and international law.
The deportations must stop now. The Biden administration was right to extend temporary protected status to Haitians living in the United States until early 2023 – but deportations of Haitians at the border must stop as well. In particular, we must ensure that no child is deported to such unsafe conditions and that all families seeking asylum are allowed to remain together.
Good intentions aren’t enough. This is a moment for political courage, for everyone from local community to national leaders to stand up for immigrants, who make our country stronger. We must resist the cynical hate-mongers who stoke anti-immigrant sentiment and use this issue to divide us, now and for ever.
We must stop using Title 42, a provision of health law that has been used during the pandemic to deny immigrants the opportunity to seek safety in the US. Countless public officials, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said there is no scientific basis for this policy. Instead, public health measures such as testing, quarantining and vaccination can effectively prevent the spread of Covid-19.
We must implement commonsense public health measures and invest in community-based processing and legal support. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people comply with immigration requirements to appear in court when they are released from detention, especially if they have a lawyer assisting them. Congress can meet this need by funding humanitarian and legal assistance. There are solutions.
We must remember that seeking asylum is a right guaranteed by our laws, and that nobody deserves to be punished for seeking protection.
We must rid our immigration system of the racism that seems evident in its treatment of Black and Brown asylum-seekers.
We must demand that national leaders create a fair and humane immigration system, including a path to citizenship for immigrants, and a safe and fair asylum process for Haitians and all others seeking refuge in the United States. We must live up to our civil and human rights commitments as a nation.
Perhaps most of all, we must ensure that the United States of America finally treats every asylum-seeker and every immigrant with compassion, dignity and respect.