U.S. shouldn’t punish Haitians at the border. This country is to blame for their misery | Opinion

·3 min read

The Biden administration’s response to last week’s arrival of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas — a massive, illegal expulsion airlift — may reduce some criticism from immigration opponents, but it will not reduce the arrivals of Haitians at our borders. The United States can only reduce migration pressure from Haiti by ending decades-long policies that have undermined Haiti’s democracy and economy and forced Haitians into the desperate measures we see at Del Rio.

The airlift will deliver its passengers to a dangerous and unstable country. In the past 10 weeks, Haiti has endured the assassination of a president (still unsolved), an earthquake, a tropical storm and pervasive gang violence. But the people at Del Rio left Haiti long before the July 7 murder of President Jovenel Moïse. Most left years ago, part of the steady flow of Haitians fleeing the increasing corruption, brutality and poverty of the administrations of presidents Moïse (2017-2021) and Michel Martelly (2011-2016), who governed Haiti for most of the past decade.

Martelly came to power after the Obama administration forced Haiti’s electoral council to change the results of the 2010 preliminary elections, placing Martelly in the runoff. He and his hand-picked successor, Moïse, enjoyed persistent support from the Obama and Trump administrations, despite spectacular corruption, government-linked massacres and the resolute dismantling of Haiti’s democratic structures.

President Biden continued this support, backing Moïse’s effort to extend his term and a self-serving, illegal constitutional amendment process. The United States continues to prop up Moïse’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, despite more electoral manipulation and Henry’s firing of a prosecutor for suggesting that the prime minister’s 4 a.m. calls with a principal suspect in the Moïse assassination be investigated.

The United States has been destabilizing Haiti — and generating refugees — since the country emerged from a slave revolt in 1804 into a world run by slaveholding countries that felt threatened by the example of successful, self-emancipated Black people. The United States immediately imposed an embargo on Haiti and refused to even recognize the country’s sovereignty until 1864, just after our Emancipation Proclamation. Haitians started fleeing in large numbers in the 1980s, in response to terror inflicted by the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. They came in overwhelming numbers after the 1991 overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, fleeing the brutal the FRAPH death squad — which also received U.S. support — and again when another brutal regime replaced Aristide after the Bush administration forced him into exile in 2004.

The United States has also undermined Haitians’ ability to provide for themselves in their own country. President Bill Clinton apologized in 2010 for forcing Haiti to reduce tariffs on U.S. rice, which allowed subsidized rice from this country to overwhelm the markets and put Haiti’s farmers out of business. The United States also imposed a development assistance embargo on Haiti in 2000, because it did not like the elected government’s progressive economic policies. When Haiti’s President Rene Préval tried to raise the country’s minimum wage to $5 a day in 2011, the United States forced him to cut it to $3 per day, about one-quarter of the minimum needed to support a small family.

The Biden administration knows that it cannot reduce migration pressure at our border without addressing the root causes forcing people to flee their homes. It even issued a strategy for doing so in Central America in July. But this strategy is mostly suggestions for other governments, with some promise of U.S. help. It includes zero discussion of changing the US policies that have been driving immigration from Central America, or Haiti. If the Biden administration is serious about reducing the crisis in our border, it will start by looking in the mirror.

Human-rights lawyer Brian Concannon is a board member of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.