Opinion | The US Must Acknowledge the Role Racism Plays in Migration Policies – Common Dreams

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Haitians and Latin Americans have been locked at the border under Title 42 for over two years. (Photo: Getty)
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Jamila Hammami
As Ukrainian refugees fled for safety from the recent Russian invasion, the world rallied to support and show solidarity with the people in Ukraine. Everyone’s profile images on social media reflected the color of the Ukrainian flag as the United States and the globe stood in strong solidarity with the people of Ukraine. We should welcome any immigrants in need. However, this show of solidarity starkly contrasts the overwhelming silence when Haitians, Central/Latin Americans, and Afghans were forced to flee their homelands because of similar conditions. Rather than being greeted by compassion,  countless people are still blocked at the U.S. borders and forced to wait in deplorable conditions.
Ukrainians are living in a fundamentally different global and U.S. migration system, a system that we should replicate and see reflected more for Black and brown communities.
Seeing how the world rallied to support people fleeing the invasion of Kyiv quickly took me back to my memories of the U.S. siege of Afghanistan in 2001. I was 14 years old in Texas, and there weren’t many people taking a stand in defense of the people of Afghanistan; rather, quite the opposite. I will never forget watching my peers watching videos of the violence occurring in Afghanistan that year, and rather than expressing sympathy for people struggling to survive a violent occupation, my peers were yelling racial and Islamophobic slurs. At 14 years old, I had to sit in the back of the room in shock, not knowing what to say or to do.
Everyone deserves safety and equity to move, and this recent pivot in U.S. policy to support the movement of the Ukrainian people has shown how this is possible. Unfortunately, this “pivot” has its limitations. While thousands of Europeans enter the U.S., Black and brown folks are left behind to suffer the consequences of global white supremacy.
Since Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, the United States has significantly shifted longtime migration policies to welcome Ukrainians, especially since March when President Biden announced that the United States would not only receive 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine but also donate $1 billion to support European countries. Between February 1 and April 6th alone, nearly 10,000 undocumented Ukrainians have been processed by U.S. border officials. This is a move in the right direction. The problem is immigrants of color migrating to the US for similar reasons do not get to receive the same treatment.
The imagery of the man handing an infant, in a place of deep desperation, to a U.S. soldier across a Kabul airport wall amid 2021’s abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan will never leave my brain. The frustration and anxiety I felt when watching the despair of the Afghan people while the U.S. withdrew and the Taliban took over Afghanistan stays with me. The U.S. withdrawal has resulted in a cash shortage, mass starvation, and a lack of medical supplies. The U.S. completely destabilized Afghanistan for 20 years, subjecting Afghans to international state-sanctioned imperialist violence and leaving Afghans to experience the horrors of the Taliban.
As the name says, Temporary Protective Status (TPS) is temporary and is not the answer to what the U.S. has done to Afghanistan and its people. Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, announced a designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months for Afghans already residing in the U.S. Roughly 75,000 Afghans had been brought into the United States through the humanitarian parole program. Further, the U.S. has gone out of its way to punish the people of Afghanistan beyond the 20-year siege and destabilization. The people of Afghanistan should not pay reparations to the U.S. for acts they had nothing to do with; as with sanctions, these reparations are a form of economic warfare that hit ordinary people first and hardest. If anything, it just appears that the U.S. allowed a finite number of Afghans into the U.S. a week before the Ukrainian announcement for the sake of racialized optics.
In the same month, images broke of CBP brutalizing Haitians at the Del Rio, Texas, U.S.-Mexico borderlands with whips on horseback. The images were beyond horrific and dehumanizing and pushed my mind directly back to the U.S. slavery era. After releasing the cruel and violent imagery, Biden proclaimed, “I promise you, those people will pay. There will be an investigation underway now, and there will be consequences.” Despite these words, the Biden administration has continued to deport Haitians from the U.S brutally. The pressure from the Ukrainian crisis mounted and resulted in a public outcry that has not existed for Black and brown displaced communities. Title 42, the border expulsion policy using health issues as an excuse, has discriminatorily targeted Haitian and other Black asylum seekers from entering the United States while allowing Ukrainians nearly an open borders policy. Simultaneously, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has continued to use the illegal policy to prevent entry from many asylum seekers of other nationalities and races that have been waiting in incredibly dangerous conditions for months or even years since the Trump Administration implemented the policy in March 2020, for their chance to enter the U.S. from Mexico.
Since Title 42 was enacted, it has been utilized 1.7 million times to expel migratory communities, with several people experiencing multiple expulsions on the grounds of Title 42. The Title 42 order was due to expire on May 23rd, 2022, but what about the 1.7 million times it was utilized to expel Black and brown communities? And what will be put in its place? And when will Biden actually push it through?
The unequal treatment of refugees of color is not something new. There was a time when the United States welcomed people forced to move because of persecution or hardship. In the mid-1800s, for example, the Irish potato famine resulted in a mass migration from Ireland, with many Irish landing in the U.S. and welcomed with open arms. Over 1.5 million people left Ireland between 1845 and 1855 that were impoverished, starving, and experiencing disease from the famine. Over one-third of all migrants in the United States between 1820 and 1860 were Irish.
Twenty years after the mass migration of the potato famine, we saw the U.S. actively recruit Chinese workers. The U.S. often “allows” migration when low-cost labor needs exist. Over 2 million Chinese workers left China to work on the American railroads amid a labor shortage. From 1863 to 1869, about 15,0000 Chinese workers arrived in the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad. While American workers were paid a living wage and able to live in train cars, Chinese workers were paid significantly less and lived in tents and catacombs undergrounds that you can still see in Arizona. However, unlike Irish migrants, post railroad development, the Chinese faced the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first exclusionary migration policy amidst a long line of racially motivated policies. This is also when the U.S. first saw problematic narratives of who is “deserving” of freedom to move and who is undeserving. Suddenly, the Chinese were deemed “diseased” and were one of the first racialized distinctions of who qualifies as deserving and who is to be “kept out”.
Haitians and Latin Americans have been locked at the border under Title 42 for over two years. Biden promised to overturn the illegal Trump-era policy when entering office. Still, there has been a massive rate of deportations of Latin Americans, specifically Haitian and Black asylum seekers. A March 2022 report by Human Rights First notes the racial disparity in the illegal Title 42 policy between Ukrainian and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) asylum seekers turned away in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands without access to the U.S. asylum system.
The U.S. pillaged & destabilized Afghanistan for 20 years, essentially forced Afghans to pay the U.S. reparations, and then only provided TPS for 18 months for those already in the U.S. Only 75,000 Afghans were granted access to the U.S. It is also notable that DHS announced TPS for Afghans already in the U.S. in the days leading up to the announcement that 100,000 Ukrainians could apply to enter the U.S. under TPS.
Ukrainians are living in a fundamentally different global and U.S. migration system, a system that we should replicate and see reflected more for Black and brown communities. The U.S. doesn’t value the equity and safety of all migratory communities; that is clear through the migration policies outlined throughout history and current. It is past due time that the U.S. acknowledges the role racism plays in enacting migratory policies by making sure that not just those of European descent with white skin can be welcomed. The history of racism in the U.S. created racialized policies and racialized borders that created the “deserving” and “undeserving” migrants. We must recognize this racialized history if we hope to make an equitable and welcoming policy for all migratory communities.
Jamila Hammami
Jamila Hammami is a proud Texan grassroots cross-movement organizer. For nearly 20 years, Jamila has fought for racial and migrant justice, working at the intersections of the anti-imperialist, immigrant detention, and the prison industrial complex movements. Jamila is an educator of Africana as well as Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies, borders, and community organizing. Jamila’s publications range from books to a forthcoming collaborative article in Radical History Review and more. Jamila is a Steering Committee of the annual Open Borders Conference and on the board of Free Migration Project.
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