February 3, 2022
Melissa Harris-Perry: I’m Melissa Harris-Perry and you’re listening to The Takeaway. Right now, thousands of Haitians are currently trapped in Mexico. They’re not incarcerated by the government or being held hostage by gangs, these Haitian refugees are prisoners of Title 42.
Initiated by the Trump administration in March 2020, Title 42 has upended America’s long-standing commitment to allow asylum seekers to seek protection when they arrive at our southern border. Title 42 is not part of our immigration law, it’s a part of the public health code. Enforcing it implies that the refugees fleeing natural disaster, violence, and political turmoil are somehow a threat to America’s health.
Two years after the Trump administration used the COVID-19 pandemic as a justification to immediately turn away and expel some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, the Biden administration continues to enforce it.
During the presidential campaign of 2020, Biden was a vocal critic of the Trump policy towards Haitian migrants and it raised hopes that a Biden administration would act with more compassion. Instead, thousands of Haitians, many of whom have traveled for months or even years to make their way to America, have found the doors still firmly closed in their faces.
I spoke with Guerline Jozef, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and a recipient of the 2021 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Guerline joined us after returning from the US-Mexico border, and I asked her about the situation there.
Guerline Jozef: Yes, I just came back from the US-Mexico border in Arizona, and really seeing the need of asylum seekers, people who are looking for protection, and what we saw in Nogales is the same thing that we see in Tapachula, is the same thing that we see in Tijuana, is the same thing that we see in Juárez where people who fled their homeland because of many different issues, looking for protection, looking for asylum, but unfortunately, right now, there is no access to asylum so people are left in limbo on the Mexico side.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you say that, that there is no access to asylum, I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but isn’t that a violation of a basic understanding of what nations and particularly rich nations like the US are meant– the relationship we’re meant to have to our neighbors?
Guerline Jozef: Absolutely, and that’s where the problem is, is the fact that we must uphold those values that we as a nation, the United States, have signed up to provide protection, provide asylum for people who are in need. When we look at what’s happening, and when we see how the previous administration under Trump completely, completely gutted every avenue for people to get asylum, to get protection, and we are hoping that with the current administration, with President Biden, things would have been better. Would have been going back to the rule of laws, would be going back to humanity to welcome people with dignity, but unfortunately, what we have been seeing is a continuance of what President Trump did, and now have become President Biden’s legacy.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let’s go back and bring some of our listeners forward who may not know or may have forgotten some of the deep history that is connected here. Tell me a bit more about the Haitian Bridge Alliance and what led you to founding it.
Guerline Jozef: The Haitian Bridge Alliance is a coalition of people who were concerned about what was happening at the US-Mexico border at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, when we had a flow of Black migrants primarily from Haiti coming to the US-Mexico border.
Because there were no other way, there were no other organizations on the ground at the US-Mexico border to respond to the need of Black people, we were forced to create a home, to create a space where Black folks from Haiti, from Jamaica, from the Congo, from Cameroon will have a home when they arrive at the US-Mexico border.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Why would Haitians be entering in through the southern border from Mexico?
Guerline Jozef: The people who are entering through Mexico, the majority of them are survivors of the earthquake that happened in Haiti in 2010, killing over 250,000 people, leaving the country completely destroyed.
A lot of those people went to Brazil to work. Unfortunately, in 2015, the economy, the political turmoil in Brazil pushed those people out. Literally pushing them out through racism, and lack of dignity. Those people walked, Melissa, those people walked for five months from the end of South America, crossing 10 countries, crossing the Darien Gap to make their way to come to us for asylum, to come to Big Brother saying, “We need help. We need protection,” because of what happened in Haiti, what’s happening in Brazil, and people literally make their way here to ask for asylum.
A lot of them died on the way, but the hope that they will be protected, the hope that they will be able to survive kept them going, and they came to the US-Mexico border.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I just want to be sure we underline this, I want folks to really understand that we’re talking about a decade of crossing those nations.
Guerline Jozef: A decade of crossing, and in addition to political turmoil in Haiti, and really looking into the relationship between Haiti and the United States. If we were to go back all the way into 1804, when Haiti, the oldest Black republic, fought the French army and gained independence, the United States refused to accept Haiti and recognize Haiti as a free country for fear that if Black people in the United States who were still enslaved found out that a Black people were able to rise up and gain freedom, that Black people in the United States will have been able to do the same.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That history feels so absolutely critical for understanding this moment. Again, if we think about our media framing, it is so easy to behave as though immigration is not a question affecting Black people. I feel like both the long history and this more recent history that you’ve told us reflects just how important fair immigration policies are for Black people.
Guerline Jozef: Immigration is a Black issue, and Black America should look into immigration as such, specifically when it comes to people of African descent. What we saw in Del Rio in September, we have never seen before.
I can honestly tell you the reason why we saw it the way it happened, is because of the fear of Black people. When the governor of Texas came and said, “We are being invaded by Black people,” and President responded by erasing and deporting Black buddies at the US-Mexico border.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Indeed, your organization has brought suit against the Biden administration for what happened. This is when we’re talking about with the Border Patrol evoking the images that we saw, evoking what looked like fugitive slave patrols.
Guerline Jozef: Yes, we did file a lawsuit against President Biden and the administration with 11 of the people who were under the bridge, including the men we saw in the picture. I was there and I saw it. It’s not that it seems as if, it’s exactly what we saw in the picture, is exactly what it was. It was master chasing their slaves because they did not want them to be in their territories. They wanted to be stay-in-place, they wanted to be controlled, and they wanted to be able to do what they wanted to do with them.
President Biden has deported 20,000 Haitians to Haiti in the middle of all the turmoils, in the middle of the recent earthquake, in the middle of the recent assassination of the President, in the middle of continued political instability in the country. The United States, the same day that they put a statement, “Do not travel to Haiti,” and they asked every American citizen who were in Haiti to leave the country, that same day, they sent four deportation flights to Haiti.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As we wrap up, what is your message to the Biden administration at this moment?
Guerline Jozef: I have a couple of messages. I have one message to the Biden administration that we understand that he inherited a broken system, but we also understand that the choice he has right now is to make things right. Understanding we have 1.5 million people of Haitian descent whose votes that he will need, that they will need this year, next year as we move forward. They must stop deportations to Haiti in the middle of all those turmoils. They must recognize that immigration is a Black issue.
We will not allow him to disconnect our movement. We will not allow the President or anybody else to break us up as a family, the Black diaspora we must be reunited. Immigration is a Black issue. Immigration is a human rights issue. We will continue to push forward. We’ll continue to make sure that all people are protected. As MLK said, “Injustice anywhere, cannot stand.”
We are calling on the Biden administration to stop deportations to Haiti, to welcome people with dignity, to provide protection for those who are in need, and we are calling on America to stand on behalf of those who are in need, on behalf of those who need protection.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Guerline Jozef is Co-founder and Executive Director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. Director Jozef, thank you for joining us today.
Guerline Jozef: Thank you so much for having me.
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February 3, 2022