Obama says Haitian migrant crisis ‘heartbreaking,’ immigration system ‘dysfunctional’

"I think we are naturally a people that wants to help others," Obama said.

Former President Barack Obama addressed the “heartbreaking” migrant crisis at the border in Del Rio, Texas, during a recent interview with Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts. 

Obama noted that immigration reform is vital to fix “a system that, overall, is dysfunctional.”

Former President Obama Holds Rally For Joe Biden On Eve Of Election In Miami
Former President Barack Obama speaks in support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during a drive-in rally at the Florida International University on November 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“It’s no secret that we don’t have that. It’s the reason I proposed comprehensive immigration reform. It’s the reason Joe Biden proposed it during his administration, and it’s something that is long overdue,” Obama told Roberts in an exclusive interview that aired Tuesday morning, Yahoo reports. 

Thousands of Haitian migrants camped under a bridge in a small Texas border town, theGrio previously reported. The island nation is struggling to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti’s southern region in mid-August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying or damaging tens of thousands of homes.

At one point, there were reportedly more than 14,000 migrants in Del Rio. Last week, the U.S. began deporting hundreds of them to Haiti. Those deported with young children are especially worried about the recent spike in violence in Port-au-Prince, with gangs controlling roughly one-third of the capital. Kidnappings have become increasingly common, with targets ranging from young schoolchildren to nuns to impoverished families, theGRIO reported

Obama said that the Haitian crisis in Del Rio “is a painful reminder that we don’t have this right yet and we’ve got more work to do.”

Barack Obama Speaks In Berlin
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to young leaders from across Europe in a Town Hall-styled session on April 06, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

“As big-hearted as he is, nobody understands that better than Joe Biden,” Obama added. “And the question is now: Are we gonna get serious about dealing with this problem in a systemic way, as opposed to these one-offs where we’re constantly reacting to emergencies? And I think that that’s something that every American should wanna put an end to.”

The Biden administration remains the target of intense criticism from Black and Haitian communities amid fallout from the mistreatment of Haitian migrants — even as President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and other administration officials, expressed their abhorrence at what transpired and touted the ongoing internal investigation at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, theGRIO reported

Now, Black immigration advocacy groups are applying greater pressure on the administration, demanding accountability and the halting of deportations of Haitian and African migrants.

“Immigration is tough. It always has been because, on the one hand, I think we are naturally a people that wants to help others. And we see tragedy and hardship and families that are desperately trying to get here so that their kids are safe, and they’re in some cases fleeing violence or catastrophe,” Obama said. “At the same time, we’re a nation state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that … as a practical matter, is unsustainable.”

Mexico has also reportedly begun busing and flying Haitian migrants away from the U.S. border.

The criteria for deciding who is flown to Haiti and who is released in the U.S. was unclear, but two U.S. officials said single adults were the priority for expulsion flights.

This article contains additional reporting from theGRIO’s Gerren Keith Gaynor and Associated Press.

Have you subscribed to 
theGrio’s podcast “Dear Culture”? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!