Content Warning: This article contains mentions of violence.
The warm photo of Biden holding a Ukrainian child comes in sharp contrast to the viral images that surfaced September of last year of the United States Customs Border Patrol on horses whipping Haitian migrants. The juxtaposition of these photos speak to the double standard in how the U.S. treats certain refugees based on where they are from.
Last month, President Biden announced plans to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the U.S. While this is no doubt a great extension of aid on the U.S.’s end, it’s a stark polarity to how Haitians were treated when seeking asylum.
It’s “two different extreme responses” we’re seeing from the U.S. government, says USC Gould School of Law Professor and Director of the USC Immigration Clinic Niels Frezen. When noting reasons for the very different way Haitians were treated, “certainly racism enters the picture in a significant way”.
Under Biden’s plan, Ukrainian refugees will be exempt from Title 42 – the same policy that the U.S. has used to deport more than 20,000 Haitians since September and still are.
Title 42 was a rarely used clause from the 1940s, until it was re-enacted by the Trump administration to immediately deport migrants coming to the border under the guise of a health code: COVID-19. Within this policy, CBP is able to deport refugees without considering asylum claims. According to Ronald Claude, director of policy and advocacy at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, or BAJI, Title 42 was found to be predominantly used on Black migrants and during the onset of the pandemic, the U.S. began disproportionately deporting Haitians. By February, 1 in every 575 people living in Haiti were deported since January 2020.
When considering Haiti’s history, the influx of Haitians seeking asylum stands on more than reasonable grounds. Haiti was already facing extreme hardships during the pandemic being cited as the most vulnerable nation in the Americas to the virus with barely 60 ventilators for 11 million people and scarce doctors. A few months later in July of 2021, their president was assassinated. With the country now also facing severe political instability, their urge for seeking refuge intensified. Not even a few weeks after that, Haiti gets hit with an earthquake, while still recouping from 2010′s drastic hit.
Claude describes it as a worsening, compounding situation and the U.S.’s response was to deport people who are “escaping exactly what you are sending them back into.”
After the president’s assassination, the State Department even indicated Haiti as an unsafe place to travel to, yet deportation flights were continuously being sent over.
This isn’t an exclusively international issue. One in 10 Black people in the U.S. are immigrants and the number is only expected to rise, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. This includes many of USC’s Black Trojans here on campus.
Lucky Milien, a pre-engineering sophomore at USC and immigrant from Haiti, recounts viewing the image of Haitians being whipped as a “heartbreaking experience” for him. When hearing about how the U.S. made a welcoming plan for Ukrainians to enter the nation for a similarly dire situation in Haiti, it came with “mixed emotions” and " anger.”
This is not to say that Ukrainians do not deserve refuge because they do, but Black refugees have “not received the same compassion and dignity that has been extended quickly to the Ukrainians,” said Claude.
In a response to Biden’s plan to welcome the refugees, Michigan Rep. Andy Levin tweeted that the U.S. can’t claim to be a “global safe haven for the oppressed and persecuted” if the U.S. is turning away refugees like Haitians and other Black immigrants because of where they are from.
“They’re still being deported!” Charles Bore said in a tweet, referring to Haitian migrants and their mistreatment in comparison to Ukrainians.
Milien describes the infamous American Dream as people simply seeking a better life. However, he pushes the question “who is allowed to have that American Dream?”
BAJI and other organizations like it are fighting against injustices toward Black immigrants. The top priority is to abolish Title 42, which the Biden administration announced to end on May 23rd. “Title 42 was illegal from the onset,” Ronald said.
When asking Claude what students and citizens can do, he presented ways for people to help in mitigating these injustices.
Claude states that the most important thing to do right now is make sure people are electing the right representatives–those who want a complete end to Title 42. Even though Biden has set plans to end Title 42, migrants are still being deported via the program. Many politicians use it as a chess piece in the political race, but “the consequences are real human lives,” Claude said.
Outside from calling out the hypocrisy of policy like Title 42 and its supporting politicians, people can help spread awareness by teaching communities about the consequences of bad policy making. People can also support missions like working toward legal universal representation. Claude said with an immigration attorney or lawyer, migrants’ experience through the court system and judge approval drastically improves.
Professor Frenzen says that even though the way U.S. immigration officials treated Haitians versus Ukrainians was unfair and discriminatory, the court won’t find it unconstitutional. The Congress has complete power over any sort of major immigration reform, “Congress just has to do it.”
With many of the steps to citizenship that Lucky himself had to endure, he would especially like to see a restructuring in the expensive costs for people who enter the country “just to seek a better life, because that’s all it is.”
When it comes to Black migrants, “because of anti Blackness we are the most impacted, but our narrative is not the one that’s most told,” Claude stated. Numerous voices, from tweets to students, have shared that the mistreatment of Haitians refugees should not be ignored and the same safeties extended to Ukrainian refugees should not be refused to Haitians or any other non-white refugees for that matter.
The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and the American Immigration Lawyers Association have extended various resources to support and assist Haitian Migrants and Asylum seekers. For more information, visit