Haitian mistreatment at border was like a scene from Django — America, do better

OPINION: The United States is in fact complicit in many of the issues that have been occurring in Haiti. U.S. Border Patrol's treatment of Haitian migrants only scratches the surface.

Like a scene out a Django Unchained, a white slave catcher, excuse me, border agent herded immigrants like chattel under the boiling hot heat of the Del Rio International Bridge. Horrifically, this was not a scene from a movie set or even a very real depiction of a Black person’s reality in these United States up until as recently as the 1960s.

U.S. Border Patrol agents interact with Haitian immigrants, thegrio.com
U.S. Border Patrol agents interact with Haitian immigrants on the bank of the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas on September 20, 2021 as seen from Ciudad Acuna, Mexico. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The image of white men on horseback with whips in their hands certainly is not a novel one — but it is jarring to witness in 2021. State-sponsored violence? Under a Black vice president? The same vice president who has so significantly modulated her stance on immigration reform that it is hardly recognizable.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, stood bombarded and seemingly dumbfounded by the rain of questions on the Haitian migrant border crisis — as once again her administration hung her out to dry, sending her out to deal with a conflict that she was under informed on at best and ill prepared for at worst. Vice President Kamala Harris’ statements were painfully underwhelming, as she provided no concrete plan as to what the fate of these migrants would be. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden spoke for the first time on the matter saying, “We will get the situation under control.”

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Vice President Kamala Harris, theGrio.com
Left to right: White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Vice President Kamala Harris. (Photo: Getty Images)

But the lack of a concrete plan from the Biden administration is a complete and utter embarrassment. An administration that solicited and profited off the backs of Black voters — namely the Haitian community. Let us not forget the excitement we experienced when we saw our very own Karine Jean-Pierre appointed as the White House’s principal deputy press secretary. And yet now the silence from the White House has become deafening. How could an administration riddled with Haitians and Haitian Americans alike allow such a travesty to occur on their watch? And why hasn’t the situation been remedied?

This is a humanitarian crisis occurring on United States soil. And the world is watching. Jarring as it might be, the Biden administration has done nothing about it. And while this very administration continues to fret over the Afghani crisis, they seem less than concerned about the thousands of people being held in less than humane conditions at the border. I wonder what the differences in the groups might be? Perhaps a few shades of melanin. Perhaps that is why Airbnb has yet to pledge their support to the people of Haiti — when they just announced their commitment of providing temporary housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees worldwide. One must wonder why Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb has yet to speak on the issue. 

Or perhaps it is the centuries of racism propagated against the small island nation of Haiti. Haiti has been treated like the stepchild since its liberation in 1804. The French and the other colonizing powers certainly did not take it well that their top earners had suddenly revolted against them and defeated their leader, Napoleon Bonaparte — largely regarded as the most prominent military and political leader of his time. The Haitian Revolution marked the first successful insurrection by previously enslaved people. But after Toussaint Louverture sent Napoleon packing, the problems began.

Haitian general Toussaint Louverture, theGrio.com
Haitian general Toussaint Louverture (Photo: New York Public Library)

Most know the story of the Haitian Revolution and the freedom that followed but for many, the story stops there. What folks don’t seem to understand is that the French were determined to make Haiti pay for their freedom — literally. After Haiti won her freedom in 1804, France, the ever sore loser, sailed back almost 20 years later in 1825 demanding Haiti compensate France for the loss of slaves. France demanded 150 million Francs. France also required that all Haitian goods that were sold to them be sold at a 50% discount. You read that correctly, modern day extortion. In 1838, France agreed to reduce the debt to a mere 90 million Frances over a period of 30 years — the equivalent of $21 billion.

So the next time someone refers to Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, make sure they have their facts clear. 

The United States is in fact complicit in many of the issues that have been occurring in Haiti. For months prior to the assassination of the late President Jovenel Moïse, thousands of Haitians took to the street protesting his nefarious regime. The United States continued to publicly back the regime even when there was no real plan for equitable elections in sight. When the late president was assassinated, he was ruling by presidential decree — but yet the United States, protector of all democracies, saw fit to support him. And when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti last month, we heard lip service from the Biden administration about their intent to help the people of Haiti.

A woman stands in front of a destroyed home in the aftermath of an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday, with the epicenter about 125 kilometers ( 78 miles) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, the US Geological Survey said. (AP Photo/Duples Plymouth)

But where is that help now?

Thus far, over 1,000 Haitians have been repatriated. 8,500 Haitians remain. The border patrol agents who maliciously whipped Haitian migrants have been put on administrative leave, pending an investigation. Yet and still the reports of violence in Haiti continue to rise, with armed robbery and kidnappings on the surge. And finally, we are hearing reports of some Haitians being allowed to stay with instructions to return to an immigration office in 60 days.

One must ask is the United States finally taking the crisis seriously or are they only slapping a Band-Aid on a laceration so deep that the public could no longer ignore it? What will be the fate of these migrants who have risked their lives to enter a country once heralded as the “land of the free and the home of the brave?” Will they find an opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Or be thrust into America’s never ending cycle of racism and white supremacy? Only time will tell. 

Wen-Kuni Ceant, theGrio.com

Wen-kuni Ceant is the CEO and Co-Founder of Politicking. She is a Fulbright Scholar and through the fellowship she studied health infrastructure in Senegal during the last year. She received her Masters in Public Health in Health Management and Policy in 2016 from Drexel University. Before Drexel, she attended Howard University, in Washington, D.C. where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and with honors with a Bachelors of Science in Biology.

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