In September, images of U.S. Border Patrol officers whipping Haitian migrants at Del Rio in Texas went viral online. The President Joe Biden responded to the incident by suspending horse patrols. However, the photos and subsequent reports quickly became controversial: It appeared that “whips” were actually whips.
The media kerfuffle diverted attention from a very real problem: In spite of Biden’s promises to sculpt immigration policy into something more humane, the Haitian migrants in those pictures—seen running from government agents on horseback—essentially had no legal avenue to come to the United States. The problem is not the Border Patrol, but the policies that it enforces.
Border Patrol apprehended more than 45,000 Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border during the fiscal year that ended on September 30—an increase of more than 530 percent from the 4,395 Haitians apprehended in fiscal 2020. More than 17,000 arrests occurred in that final month alone, after the July assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in August. The U.S. Immigration policy was unchanged as the camps of Haitians at their southern borders grew and the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, gang-infested by gangs, worsened.
Biden claimed to be an anti-immigration politician, but his administration invoked Title 42. Title 42 is a public provision which allows the government expel immigrants upon their arrival. It allows the government not to allow them to apply for asylum at the port of entry, however, this law allows the United States to. Trump invoked Title 42 during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Biden did not change this policy, even though COVID-19 vaccinations were available.
Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security warned that “our borders aren’t open” in September. “People shouldn’t make dangerous journeys.”
Some still tried. In fiscal 2021, only a few hundred Haitians with immediate family in the U.S. were issued work visas while many others were immediately arrested and deported. Last fall, the U.S. sent approximately 8,500 migrants via plane to Haiti.
Biden made one small policy adjustment almost a year after he took office. The administration declared that six migrants from six different countries would be again eligible for temporary visas to work in seasonal jobs. This was a policy change that Trump ended in 2018. Haiti made it on the list. This gave a small number of migrants from Haiti at least one legal way to the United States.