Op-Ed: The Haitian Texas Border Crisis is Not New

Image: PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

In the past several days, the world saw Haitian migrants wrangled by border patrol agents in Texas using horse reigns to terrorize these Black foreigners. Since, U.S. politicians have expressed their feelings on the matter but argued they needed more information before drawing conclusions—contrasting their complicated relationship with saying “the right thing” while betraying their common sense and their humanity. Not only were there the horrific images of Texas border patrol weaponizing their horses and their power, social media and reputable news sites presented videos with audio of agents demeaning these human beings who were seeking the better life that the United States so oft propagandizes. Nonetheless, ambiguous responses on the part of our leaders continued.

To Haitians, however, not only are these images traumatizing and hurtful, they’re reminiscent of past trauma that they’ve had to endure. The United States has had and continues to foster a commitment to the destabilization of Haiti and its citizens. A large part of the destabilization of Haiti’s infrastructure is owed to the United States. Its almost twenty year occupation from 1915 to 1934 and subsequent pseudo-colonization of the West Indian nation seldom gets the attention and credit it deserves. Haitian migrants at the Texas border returning with food for their families and being abused in return is an accurate portrayal of the international relationship between the two entities: one trying its best to survive and the other doing everything in its power to refuse the other’s wish. 

What we see today in Texas is the direct result of slavery and slave-like relationships between Haiti and the rest of the world. 

During its occupation of Haiti, the United States disbanded Haitian army units, disallowed Haiti from signing treaties with other foreign powers, seized custom houses, took control of the island’s national bank and of elections by making major state positions subject to U.S. approval. The U.S. centralized power in the Haitian capital, making it difficult for Haitians to hold their politicians accountable. U.S. marines burned the homes, crops and chapels of anyone who rebelled. The U.S. Senate ratified the Haitian constitution. Post-occupation, the U.S. has dumped its surplus farming products on Haiti, undermining the island’s subsistence farmers and creating a larger dependence on the country for imported goods. These efforts maintain Haiti as a low-wage assembly platform, ensuring U.S. businesses have a place to increase their profit.  Ultimately, the U.S. remodeled Haiti for their own geopolitical benefit.

While the most recent earthquake, floods and the assassination of the former president of Haiti have been noted as the reason for the recent refugee surge at the Texas border, the U.S. has participated in undoing the fabric of the world’s first Black republic at a gingerly pace.

From Thomas Jefferson’s embargo of a free Haiti in 1804 to U.S. AID’s refusal to raise the island’s minimum wage from 25 cents to 37, there has been a constant approach to the maintenance of poverty in Haiti, ensuring livelihood of its denizens is nearly impossible. 

This maintenance of poverty and stolen resources has created a crisis of refugees; and, these refugees, demonized and dismissed, have created a tale to tell in the political chambers of the United States: How do we refuse them this time?

Similar to the stereotype of African Americans in the United States, the U.S. continues to perpetuate false narratives about the habits, beliefs and experiences of Haitians. While Black folks in the U.S. are deemed lazy and without a suitable work ethic, Black people abroad are deemed incapable of governing themselves. These stories of the ability of Blacks underscore social conversations and bolster international policy. We saw this with Trump’s reference to Haiti as a sh**hole country and we see this in the handling of refugees at the Texan border. These narratives emphasize the United States’ denial of Haitians and their international rights. It dehumanizes the individual and continues a tale of disability versus forced inability. 

This narrative is also what helped maintained a HIV prison camp on Guantanamo Bay, a detention camp for refugees with HIV. In 1991, after former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted via a military coup and his supporters were being massacred, Haitians fled. The U.S. funneled them to Guantanamo Bay and repatriated them despite knowledge of what they would face. The use of Guantanamo Bay was purposeful. Its designation as a military base presented a muddy argument as to whether Haitians technically touched U.S. soil.

Prior to that, between 1981 and 1991, Haitians fled the dictatorship of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. (Washington had taken an ambivalent stance toward his dictator father, allowing for his son’s reign.) Of the 24,600 Haitians during that time period that were blocked by the US Coast Guard from entering the U.S. via boat, only eleven were screened and brought to the United States for asylum hearings. There was an international obligation not to return these refugees to their country, but instead the U.S. led them back to persecution after deciding on board who had a credible fear of persecution. Absent fair and due process, Haitians were discarded. The tacit consent of the tale continued. 

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NEW YORK, NY - JULY 13: A mural painted by artist Kenny Altidor depicting George Floyd is unveiled on a sidewall of CTown Supermarket on July 13, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough New York City. George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis and his death has sparked a national reckoning about race and policing in the United States. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

More than 12,000 asylum seekers arrived in Del Rio, Texas, gathering in a temporary camp near the Del Rio International Bridge. Some of the asylum seekers have been removed and returned to Haiti, a country some haven’t seen in years—with their years-long journey through South America, a result of the United States repeated destabilization and interference of Haitian affairs. These asylum seekers pursuance of the Texan border occurred before the assassination of the Haitian president and the island’s recent earthquake. It is the result of centuries of insecurity encouraged by U.S. interests. Questions remain as to what happened to the remainder of the migrants who were using the Del International Bridge as refuge. Some reports state that they have been moved to other areas along the border to be processed. Life has been devalued under that bridge. Border patrol agents have used their power to do so while policy, history and social behaviors stood in tandem to maintain bigotry. 

The United States owes a lot to Haiti. Not only has Haiti and its citizens aided it in its major wars, founded the city of Chicago and allowed for the purchase of Louisiana, Haiti has endured a pseudo-colonization that has come to characterize its relationship with the U.S. This not only is an issue of international law, policy and equity, but it is also an issue of compassion and humanity.

Ruth Jean-Marie is a freelance writer and founder of The August Project, an organization aimed at consulting and encouraging others to do good, better. She was born and raised in Brooklyn to Haitian immigrant parents. Follow her @lesocialnomad.

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