Haitian migrants,
A migrant migrant wades across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, to Del Rio, Texas, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The U.S. is flying Haitians camped in a Texas border town back to their homeland and blocking others from crossing the border from Mexico. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

At the height of the Haitian “boat people” crisis in the 1990’s, a group of Haitians heading to South Florida happened on a carrier loaded with Cubans stranded at sea. The Haitians, despite their vessel being full, made room for the Cubans and continued sailing northward. 

When the group reached Florida, the Cubans were reunited with friends and family members, while the Haitians were jailed and eventually deported. 

The preferential treatment given to Cubans was a decades-old policy dating back to the Cold War, known as “wet-foot, dry-foot”.  In 2017, President Barack Obama ended the practice, which had given Cuban refugees the right to live in America if they reached U.S. soil.

Over the years, we’ve seen a version of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy play out vis-à-vis Haitians and other migrants seeking asylum here. Haitians are still being deported while others get to stay. 

Latest case in point: Ukrainians. With Russia invading Ukraine, unleashing holy hell on its western neighbor, Ukrainians have been fleeing by the thousands, with many heading to the United States. 

To be clear, I deplore the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Vladimir Putin deserves the sanctions imposed on his country and his minions across the globe. Despite the sheer size of his military, the Ukrainians have proven to be tough as nails. But this war, unfortunately, will drag out for a long time. The Russian army looks like a Potemkin force and Putin badly underestimated the fight in the Ukrainians.

As I watch American political leaders of all stripes demand that President Joe Biden welcome Ukrainians to the U.S., I have been thinking of the wet-foot, dry-foot policy. Last week, Ohio Republican governor Mike DeWine, said that the Buckeye State was built by immigrants and will welcome any refugee from the Ukraine. He made no such comment last summer as Haitians fled in droves after Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and the country plunged into chaos, punctuated by a series of natural disasters. 

The Ukrainians deserve refuge from war, and so do the Haitians whose country is experiencing a series of never-ending kidnappings, killings and a non-functioning government. Haitians have been sheltering in place for more than three years as gangs rule the streets and the police remain unable to restore order. 

I understand Ukraine’s geopolitical importance. It literally sits at a crossroads between Russia and the West, and many of us worry that this conflict may unleash World War III. Haiti, on the other hand, is seen as more of a nuisance than of any geopolitical importance. Plus, the idea of admitting thousands of Black people into the U.S. scares right-wing zealots to death — and liberals as well. The latter, remarkably, has shown no outrage at the naked unfairness of the policy. 

Still, while Haiti does not command any geopolitical significance, it is however a symbol of Black Lives Matter movement. Haiti has been front and center of this racial struggle for centuries, long before the term was coined. Its independence from France in 1804 was seen as a major threat to European hegemony, especially the peculiar institution known as slavery that enriched the U.S. southern states.

Democrats and Republicans alike have not embraced the plight of Haitian asylum seekers. True, the Obama administration gave Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after the earthquake in 2010. But the first Black president  has deported so many migrants, largely from Latin America, that he was given the moniker of “deporter in chief.” 

Biden has not been any kinder to Haitians. Steve Forrester, a long-time advocate of Haitian rights, has kept a daily log of Haitians deported back to Haiti. According to Forrester’s Mar. 18 update, the Biden administration has chartered 210 deportation flights, sending thousands of Haitians back to a country that the U.S government deems too unsafe for Americans to travel. 

“Today’s Haiti expulsion flight is Biden’s 210th expelling about 20,800 Haitians since February 1, 2021, his 173rd expelling about 18,700 Haitians since September 19, his 82nd since December 13, 57th this year, and 21st since February 1… At least 45% of the expellees are women and children including many, many hundreds of infants.  Meanwhile, violence and impunity in Haiti continue, and Haitian boat migrant arrivals in Florida have been on the rise.”

So as things continue to fall apart in Haiti, Haitians are forced to endure food insecurity, violence, and governmental corruption, and there is no respite ahead. They are told to suck it up because they’re not wanted here, nor anywhere else for that matter. 

What the Ukraine situation has laid bare is that there is a double standard at play here: If you’re white, welcome. If you’re Black, get back. I challenge my white liberal friends and family members to push back on that statement. One of the themes that emerged from the BLM reckoning is that silence is complicity. 

I don’t expect people to take to the streets or petition their government for just and equitable treatment of Haitians trying to flee the dysfunction in their country. It’s not going to happen. But I think it’s time that we Haitians look to our cousins, the African Americans, and solidify the bond. 

Last year, everyone watched in horror as U.S Border Patrol agents, mounted on horses, whipped Haitians traversing the Rio Grande. Black lawmakers’ immediate and forceful outrage made a difference. 

I remember the indignation of Maxine Waters, the California Congresswoman, vividly as she raised her raspy voice to its highest decibel, rightly comparing the searing photos of the agents’ actions at the border to slavery. 

Under blistering pressure, Biden allowed a few hundred Haitians to seek asylum, cynically knowing that eventually their cases would be denied. At the same time, the Administration carries out daily deportation flights to Haiti ‘til this day.

Daniel Foote, the ex-diplomat picked by Biden to be his special envoy to Haiti after troubles there escalated, resigned following the incident at the border. Foote said the agents’ actions had undermined his ability to be effective. 

Last month, I asked Foote about his mandates from the Administration during a live streamed community conversation hosted by The Haitian Times. Foote, a former football player at Columbia University, was very candid, unlike most diplomats. He said he didn’t have one. He said that he was chosen because he had worked in Haiti and was sent there to appease the diaspora and the Congressional Black Caucus, who were demanding that the Administration do something to restore order in the perpetually troubled Caribbean nation.

I do hope that Ukraine prevails, and Ukrainians can rebuild their country after the daily pounding from Russian bombs stop. No matter the outcome, Ukrainians will come in droves here and will be welcomed with open arms. I would simply ask that the same courtesy be extended to my compatriots whose homeland is as damaged as the Ukraine.    

It’s the moral thing to do.

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

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9 Comments

  1. Of course Haitian asylum seekers should be granted the same consideration! They live in our hemisphere and should have priority for assistance.

  2. Jah & Jahes love. Thank you very much, Mr. Pierre-Pierre, for writing this opinion that outlines why people from Ayiti should also be given the right to take refuge in the United States. Unfortunately, the U.S. and European immigration policy has always been anti-black and pro whites. And, people of Ayiti descent have experienced discriminatory practices and policies explicitly directed against them. Various U.S. Presidents and their administrators starting with Thomas Jefferson, made statements to the U.S. public that refugees from Ayiti should be shunned and not welcomed! In my lifetime, Ronald Reagan accused Ayiti people of bringing HIV/AIDS to the U.S., and Bill Clinton, whom many Haitians claimed was a friend, had members of his administration make similar statements on major news media networks. We should reach out to generational African Americans to form a coalition to fight for the rights of black folks in the U.S., including the refugees from Ayiti who should be given the proper treatment and services. Each time Ayiti has an emergency (created mainly by U.S. foreign policy with assistance from Canada and France), some countries whose population has white or near-white skin develop a worse case! I’m thinking about the bombing in Afghanistan that happened a few days after Jovenel Moise was assassinated. The refugee deportation crisis was beginning to get more media attention, but somehow, a situation developed between Ukraine and Russia! We need better Representatives who will insist that our Black Lives Matter and that the Session will continue until they pass bills to help us. Finally, I was shocked that Congress passed a $13Billion Aid Bill and an additional $800 million in Military Aid to Ukraine when they’ve had a hard time passing bills to help the homeless or that would consider giving reparations to descendants. Of enslaved blacks in the U.S.! Blessed love.#1804 #Ayiti #BLM

  3. thank you for this article. rings so very true. where can we find the Daniel Foote interview with Pierre-Pierre?

  4. I agree with you on this article. We saw the same thing happened with the Afghanistan people. They don’t even have to pay to apply for their green cards. Like they say in America, “if you are white you are right. If you are black stay back.”
    Haiti’s geographical position is extremely important to America. It is at it’s southern border. The Chinese has set up so many strategic bases in the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands that Haiti’s location is beneficial to America, but of course, those who run America show NO RESPECT TO Haiti and the huge contributions Haiti has made and continue to make in America. What can we do??? Se lavi.

    I say that one day, they will NEED HAITI AGAIN!!! That day may be sooner than we think. May God continue to bless Haiti and America and all of their descendants!!!

  5. We Haitian have never been welcomed by the United States. But we still swear by god they are our savior. And you failed to mention the Afghan migration to the US as well and they were welcomed and still not Haitians. As far as my stance on The Ukraine, I stand with Russia ,the reason behind it, research on how many times Russia has helped Haiti and has never asked for anything. But as diaspora we always back the wrong horse and always get disappointed. When will we ever learn but I guess the missionaries have done a good job brainwashing us to the benevolence of good old U.S of A . Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Unless you’re a Jew and it is drilled in your mind.

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