Opinion | How the Biden administration can help Haitian migrants without sending the wrong message – The Washington Post

Feverish Republican claims that the Biden administration had swung open the nation’s doors to the Haitians who gathered last month beneath a bridge at the border in Texas are fiction. In fact, most have been deported to Haiti or, to escape that fate, have crossed back into Mexico.
That outcome satisfies no one. Not the Republicans eager to frighten their base with the specter of a border overrun by migrants, nor the Democrats who denounced the administration’s policy as cruel, failing to acknowledge the political, logistical and humanitarian risks of lax border enforcement.
The numbers belie the Republican claim that Haitians have been admitted into the country wholesale. Since mid-September, when thousands of migrants began gathering under a bridge in Del Rio, in southern Texas, the administration has deported at least 7,500 of them, on some 70 flights to Haiti. Thousands more have crossed the Rio Grande back into Mexico. A few thousand asylum seekers who were admitted, generally families with children, were the minority.
The State Department’s special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, resigned last month in what he said was a protest over the deportations. Last week, a senior State Department official, Harold Koh, the top political appointee in the department’s legal office, also condemned the deportations in a 3,000-word memo.
Mr. Koh, a former dean of Yale Law School, argued that the administration has acted illegally in retaining a pandemic-related health policy known as Title 42, carried over from the Trump administration, to summarily expel Haitians — although a federal appeals court has upheld that policy. He urged officials to notify migrants aboard deportation flights of their destination; exert more effort to send them to third countries where migrants may have family ties or legal status; grant asylum to migrants judged to have a “reasonable possibility of fear”; and suspend Title 42 deportation, “especially” to Haiti.
It’s easy to sympathize with the impulse behind Mr. Koh’s prescriptions, particularly concerning Haiti, now seized by economic meltdown, paralyzing criminality and political chaos. There’s no question that Haitian deportees, some of whom have been sent to Haiti after an absence of a decade or more and have no prospect of a decent life there, should be treated humanely; that has not uniformly been the case.
As for the more lenient asylum standard that Mr. Koh proposes, the trouble is that it would swiftly incentivize huge numbers of new migrants to make the perilous trek toward the southern border. That’s not a theoretical problem; it was proved this year. The surge in Haitian migrants in September was driven in large part by the administration’s increasingly sparing use of Title 42, particularly for Haitians, over the first eight months of this year.
Americans broadly sympathize with the admission of refugees and asylum seekers, but a precondition of that support is a modicum of order in admissions. Surges like the one last month in Del Rio inevitably generate a backlash in popular support, not to mention political repercussions. That won’t help the administration’s pro-immigration agenda.
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