Treatment of Haitian migrants is a clear human rights violation

Illustration by Cecilia Ford

Ishaan Nandwani, Contributing Writer

Ripped T-shirts caught in wire. Crosses with names faintly etched in them. A lone teddy bear, ragged and covered in dust. These were some of the sights I saw this past summer at the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Arizona.

Walking across the border’s fence, I felt a sense of deep melancholy as the stories of people who sought refuge in a place they had dreamed of flooded me. Yet it was this so-called asylum that failed them in the end, reducing their lives to nothing but symbols along a fence that has claimed the lives of too many.

Each month, thousands of migrants from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean attempt to cross the southern border of the U.S. for reasons including greater economic opportunities, an escape from political turmoil and the chance that their children will have a better life.

This journey of immigration is harrowing and dangerous with a low probability of success, yet millions do it anyway. The situations the migrants face in their home countries are so horrifying that they are willing to risk it all — even death — for the slight odds that things could be better.

Yet despite the distressing journey path these migrants have taken, we still view them as the other — illegal aliens attempting to overrun our country with drugs and trafficking, when this could not be farther from the truth. These migrants are hardworking individuals, with hopes of pursuing the same “American dream” that we follow. And we must see them as such. 

At the border, these migrants are met with disgust, discrimination and excessive force by the United States. On Sept. 26, images and videos of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback whipping Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, circulated throughout the country. 

This is absolutely unacceptable and deplorable. After the transition from the Trump to Biden administration in January, we were promised that things would be different — no more kids in cages, family separation or damaging rhetoric that we had felt the impact of for so long.

The media clearly spotlighted human rights abuses, defined by the United Nations in their Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “deliberate maltreatment of groups of humans beings including violations of generally-accepted fundamental rights.”

After bearing witness to the human rights violations by Border Patrol officers against the migrants from Haiti, it’s evident that there is still much work to be done in both our treatment of migrants and reforming our immigration policy.

Despite these shortcomings, it’s nevertheless important to recognize that progress has been made. Under Biden, 12,400 Haitian refugees were admitted into the U.S. and allowed to remain in the country — something that never would have happened under Trump.

It’s not directly the president’s fault that Haitian migrants were treated in such a dehumanizing way; rather, it’s more than likely that the Border Patrol agents who lashed out against the migrants were Trump loyalists.

But despite that fact, our immigration system remains broken. Our country was founded on the backs of Black people who were brought here in chains, and it’s no accident that they are still the ones who suffer.

Haitians are no ordinary group of migrants. They are predominantly Black, and they have faced a long history of prejudice from the U.S. In the 1970s, Haitians in detention centers were subject to poor and harsh environments, and immigration policy was even argued to target Haitian migrants, according to an article by Time magazine

Today, Haiti is a nation that still stuffers from instability and corruption. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated by mercenaries on July 7, and the country was hit by a devastating earthquake in August that killed thousands.

Haitians migrating to the border are being treated with a viciousness that has persisted through the decades, which is, in some ways, unsurprising. It’s a story that is deeply entrenched in America.

But it’s a story that needs to end.

Through my time at the border, I’ve realized that we can’t approach this crisis by looking at migrants as numbers and statistics, but as people — humans with stories and idiosyncrasies, whose lives are worth so much more than a memorial at the border fence. People in our government and immigration system may have dissociated themselves from this idea, but we can’t give up this fight.

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