Advocates worry Haitian and Black migrants could still face discrimination after Title 42 ends

Though many applaud the May 23 lifting of Title 42, there is concern that the U.S. immigration system will continue to prioritize asylum seekers from European nations.

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Barring a Louisiana court decision, Title 42, the controversial health law used to enforce immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, will be lifted on May 23. Since being enforced by the Trump administration at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the law has been used to bar migrants seeking asylum from entering the United States.

Haitian migrants outside the Central de Autobuses del Norte in Mexico City, who plan to go to various refugee support offices in the capital to try to carry out a procedure that will allow them to stay longer in Mexico in view of the difficulties their compatriots are having to enter the United States. (Photo by Gerardo Vieyra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Last month, the Biden administration announced that it will terminate its enforcement of Title 42, which goes into effect in just days. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deemed it was “no longer necessary” to suspend migrants from the border due to multiple tools to fight the virus, including vaccines and therapeutics.

As the May 23 date approaches, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security advisor for President Joe Biden, acknowledged that the administration is working on the next steps for when Title 42 ultimately ends.

When asked by theGrio during Wednesday’s White House press briefing how the lifting of Title 42 will impact the immigration process for Haitian migrants, who have faced a large number of deportations, Sullivan said “we will have to see.”

“There are a number of issues bound up in the courts right now,” said Sullivan, who assured that the U.S. has established a process to ensure fairness for Haitian migrants. The national security advisor also claimed that even when Title 42 was in effect, “large numbers of individuals [were] not subject to” the law’s enforcement. 

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R) answers questions during the daily briefing with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (L) at the White House on May 18, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

A White House official close to this issue told theGrio that the new immigration process post-Title 42 will allow asylum seekers to stay in the United States a bit longer than the law currently allows. However, if attempts for asylum are not successful the migrants will be deported. 

In April, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas released a six-part strategy in preparation for an anticipated spike in migrants at the border when Title 42 is lifted, which includes “expanding migrant processing capacity.”

But immigration advocates aren’t so confident in the government’s present or future handling of immigration, particularly for those migrating from Haiti and Africa.

Nana Gyamfi, executive director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told theGrio that she doesn’t have faith in the Biden administration’s border strategy. The immigration expert said that deportations will “happen on an expedited basis, without real due process or effective representation.”

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Greg Meeks told theGrio that he believes the Biden administration will give migrants a fair chance in their pursuit of asylum. The president, he said, wants to ensure there’s an “opportunity for everyone.”

US Chairman, Gregory Meeks speaks to media after a trip to Ukraine at the Bristol Hotel on May 01, 2022 in Rzeszow, Poland. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)

“Those that apply for asylum will get a hearing…as opposed to the backlog that has been taking place in that regard,” said Congressman Meeks.

The Democratic leader also acknowledged that despite his confidence in the Biden administration’s handling of Haitian and other Black migrants, there is no tolerance for the type of mistreatment exposed by the U.S. Border Patrol last year after photos and videos showed officers angrily shouting at Haitian migrants and apparently using horse reigns as whips against them.

“That can’t happen,” said Meeks, who said the images of the mistreatment were “still in [his] mind.” He added, “We’ve got to make sure that…people are treated in a humane way.”

Sullivan acknowledged that the Biden administration is cognizant of the optics in the U.S. welcoming asylum migrants coming from war-torn Afghanistan and Ukraine, compared to the high volume of Black and Brown asylum seekers who have faced deportation. 

Critics of the United States’ immigration policy enforcement have pointed out that Haiti is also a nation rife with violence and instability. The Caribbean nation is considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and continues to experience crises following the assassination of its former president and deadly earthquakes. Gang violence has also crippled democratic rule and has prevented Haiti from holding its elections. 

A woman holds a Haitian flag and roses as people pray together during a church service that is set up outdoors near an encampment after numerous churches were destroyed during the massive earthquake on January 24, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Congressman Meeks said like Ukrainians, Haitians must be “treated with the same dignity and respect,” and that there is still work to be done to ensure that. 

U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones of New York, who represents one of the largest Haitian populations in the country, told theGrio that Title 42 had “no recognizable public health purpose” and “no public health expert has been supportive” of the law. 

However, Congressman Jones said he sees some hope for U.S. immigration policy with the upcoming end of Title 42. 

“It’s a good thing that the Biden administration is now pivoting to other avenues for dealing with the migrant crisis,” he said. “It’s important that we do comprehensive immigration reform moving forward.”

Gyamfi of Black Alliance for Just Immigration said that despite the lifting of Title 42, the administration’s policy is still rooted in racism dating back decades. She is concerned that the administration will continue to prioritize migrants from European nations. 

“Haitian and other Black asylum seekers were not permitted to come in and basically had to watch people go through the white only line,” said Gyamfi, referring to the number of Ukrainians allowed into the United States in recent months.  

Ukrainian Sasha, who is seeking asylum in the U.S., displays her passport as she waits to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine on April 5, 2022 in Tijuana, Mexico.(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

She criticized Homeland Security’s humanitarian assistance program “Uniting for Ukraine” which streamlines the asylum process for “Ukrainian citizens who have fled Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression opportunities to come to the United States.”

Through this program, Gyamfi argued, Ukraine migrants will be able to “seek refuge in ways that we know Haitians and other Black asylum seekers are absolutely not being allowed to come into this country.”

“We are looking at this anti-Blackness and this obvious racism in the asylum policy when it comes to the border and comparing Black asylum seekers with others,” she added.  

While she applauds the ending of Title 42, Gyamfi said she and other advocates are “not naive” in thinking that the racial inequality in the government’s immigration system will suddenly dissipate.  

“[It’s] rife with anti-Blackness that’s going to impact Black migrants in negative ways,” she said. “And it’s something that we’re still going to have to push back against.”

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