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As the U.S. says it will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, immigration officials say they’re preparing for a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as it ends the Trump-era pandemic restriction Title 42 in response to humanitarian outcry. We speak with Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance about how Haitian refugees are treated, and with award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa about the Haitians she met in a migrant caravan. Jozef says President Biden’s pledge to welcome Ukrainian refugees, while necessary, is a painful display of the double standard faced by Haitian immigrants and other people of color seeking humanitarian relief in the United States. “Why is it that when it comes to people of color, Black and Brown people, we must continue to push and beg to validate our humanity?” asks Jozef. Hinojosa has been reporting on migration for her podcast series “The Moving Border” and says the Biden administration is “appeasing” anti-immigrant forces in the U.S. by continuing rejections, deportations and detentions at the southern border. “What we are seeing is … white supremacy in the context of refugees and desperate people,” says Hinojosa.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Immigration officials say they’re preparing to detain a surge of people traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek humanitarian relief. In response to pressure from human rights advocates, today the CDC is expected to end the Trump-era pandemic border restriction called Title 42 that allowed authorities to deport asylum seekers without due process or reviewing their claims. Just six months ago, the world was shocked by images of mounted Border Patrol agents chasing, grabbing, whipping Haitian asylum seekers held back at the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas as they were blocked under the pretext of Title 42, under the pretext of the pandemic.
A new report by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Haitian Bridge Alliance documents the full scope of the abuses Haitians faced while they were held in a makeshift camp near the border under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. They describe being subjected to violence, racial slurs and intimidation and denied sufficient access to food, water and medical care.
This comes as the United States has just announced it will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. When President Biden visited with Ukrainian refugees in Poland this past weekend, he was shown embracing a Ukrainian child. Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, tweeted this in response: “The amount of pain that comes with seeing this beautiful picture is unbearable. The well-deserved love, kindness, dignity, compassion, protection that is given to this little girl is never afforded to little black Haitian girls at POTUS’s doorsteps. Trump said it, Biden proved it!” Guerline wrote.
Guerline Jozef now joins us, along with award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa. They’ve both worked closely with Haitian migrants at what Maria calls the “moving border.”
We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Guerline Jozef, let’s begin with you and that tweet, the comparison of how Ukrainian refugees are beautifully welcomed around the world, and now in the United States, and what’s happening with Haitians and others on the U.S.-Mexico border trying to come in.
GUERLINE JOZEF: Good morning. Thank you so much, Amy, for having us and for highlighting the realities and contrast between how people are being received along borders, whether at the U.S.-Mexico border or in Ukraine.
We all saw, when it just happened, how Black people who were trying to escape Ukraine, as well, were pushed back in, not afforded protection. So, really, I want to make it clear that we stand 100% with the people of Ukraine, and we are 100% with the president and the administration for welcoming the people of Ukraine. We want to make sure that they are protected. But what we are saying is: Why is it that when it comes for people of color, Black and Brown people, we must continue to push and beg to validate our humanity?
And as I mentioned, Amy, in that post, the picture really warmed my heart to see how the president was holding that little girl, smiling. At the same time, I couldn’t pass the fact that they are really chasing and whipping and turning away little Black girls and little Black boys at the U.S.-Mexico border. So, really calling for us to welcome all people with dignity, regardless of our skin color, where we are from, because the same care and compassion and love that is afforded to this beautiful little girl must be afforded to those beautiful little kids that are also of Haitian descent or Mexican descent who are fleeing extreme conditions in their home countries.
And I can tell you today there are deportations happening to Haiti, and we are seeing continued expulsion and deportations to Haiti, a country that we all know are dealing with extreme condition, political turmoil. Yesterday, you know, the vice president — the prime minister in Haiti calling for help, because they cannot even control what they are dealing with, still dealing with the assassination of the president, the aftermath of the earthquake, the following storm, climate change, really forcing people to leave home.
So, what we are asking and what we are saying is, for our little Black girls, little Black boys, who are in search of safety, literally fleeing the same conditions that the Ukrainian people are fleeing from home — may not be a war from Russia, but a war within their own country. So we are asking for the same welcoming to be given to those who are in search of protection.
And as you mentioned from the report, we have 43 people describing the extreme cruelty and abuse that they witnessed and also were victim of. People, most of them, have been deported or expelled, and some of them were also pushed back to Haiti, including the young men we saw being grabbed by the officer in uniform, really mistreating and abusing them. And today close to 21,000 people have been deported by President Biden to Haiti.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to bring Maria Hinojosa into the conversation. Maria, I wanted to ask you if you could talk about your experiences in reporting on the continuing — now several years of reporting on the problems at the U.S. border, but also this — not only the racial aspect of U.S. policy when it comes to asylum seekers, but there’s also a political aspect. As we know, for instance, during the 1980s, Nicaraguans were welcomed, granted asylum, while Salvadorans and Guatemalans were denied asylum by the United States, because the United States wanted to expose and condemn the Nicaraguan — the Sandinistas at the time. I’m wondering your sense of how this is playing out, both the racial aspects and the political aspects now.
MARIA HINOJOSA: So, Juan, it’s great to be with you, and Amy and Guerline, as well.
Look, Juan, it hasn’t been years that I’ve been covering this. As you, I’ve been covering this for decades. Decades. And, you know, when I think about everything that Guerline just talked about, the point is, is that this country, the United States, has a narrative, that it lives by, that says that we are an immigrant-loving country and that we love and accept refugees. And what we are saying — journalists, activists on the ground — is that that narrative is not true. And what we are seeing is, in fact — it’s ugly to say it, but — white supremacy in the context of refugees and desperate people.
So, what did I see, Juan, when I was down, in December, in Mexico and then in Colombia on the border with Panama? Juan, you know, I have reported about this, again, for decades, but I had never had the chance to be on a caravan. And when I got to the caravan — you know, the United States, the mainstream media, our colleagues, talk about the caravan as this scary, frightful thing. In fact, Donald Trump raised this whole specter of the caravan. But how many U.S. government officials, human rights officials have been with a caravan so that they can see what I saw? It is a caravan of love. It is a caravan of solidarity. It is the place, when you are traveling through Mexico, if you are Black, as increasingly the migrants and refugees are — the caravan is the only place that you will feel safe. These immigrants, migrants and refugees are the smartest people when they decide to join a caravan. The fact that the United States mainstream media and the government has chosen to portray the caravans as filled with scary, terrible people who are going to force their way onto the border, it’s not true. That’s not what they’re doing. They are exactly as the Ukrainian refugees are right now. They are desperate, and they are looking to a country that says that they will accept them.
Now, just very quickly, last night I was finally able to get in touch with Udi, who is from Nigeria. And he left me a message last night. I said, “Just bring the up to date.” He did finally make it into the United States, but he was held for four months in a detention camp. This is a young man who, when I saw him in the jungle, he was like, “I got this. We’re going to do this. I’m going to” — you know, the message he left me said, “I don’t even want to think about what I’ve been through. It has been so terrible, so horrific.” And the worst part of his travels has been being in the United States in an immigrant detention camp and the disrespect that he had to feel.
And finally, as Guerline was saying, what this government is doing — a government that says that it appreciates refugees, that has a president that will hug a little Ukrainian girl — what they did to the Familia Felix, in our story, was that they lied to them. And the U.S. government, Border Patrol and ICE, told them that they were going to be taken to Miami. And when the doors of the plane opened, they had been lied to. They were sent back to Haiti, a country they haven’t lived in for over a decade.
So, the pleas that we have — you know, people say, “Oh, Maria, you’re so obsessed with migrants and refugees. That’s because you’re an immigrant yourself. You’re so Mexican.” It’s like, no, I’m obsessed with the capacity that this country has for inhumanity, and specifically watching how that inhumanity is being thrust on people who are Black and simply seeking refuge.
AMY GOODMAN: Maria, I mean, the fact that you gave a voice to people is what the mainstream media is doing right now with Ukrainians. It is a model of how all refugees should be treated. So I wanted to go to your reports for the series you did where you met this Haitian family, the family Felix, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca as they made their way north with a migrant caravan. The Felix family, as you said, fled Haiti over a decade ago after the horrendous earthquake that killed some 300,000 people. They resettled in Brazil, ’til they were once again forced to flee, this time to the U.S.-Mexico border. So, this is a clip from Latino USA called “The Moving Border: Even Further South,” where the family tells you about their experience crossing through the Darién Gap, a notoriously dangerous, dense jungle that stretches across the Colombian and Panamanian border.
MARIA HINOJOSA: The Felixes’ children tell me they saw dead bodies in the jungle, people who looked like them. But they had to keep going. Eventually, they were detained by Panamanian police and sent back to Colombia. So they had to do the unthinkable: start all over again and cross back into the Darién jungle.
AMY GOODMAN: So, in January, over two months after you said goodbye to the Felix family in Oaxaca, you received a message from the mother asking you to call her.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Widelene and her entire family is now in Haiti. Ten years after she escaped the devastation of an earthquake that destroyed everything that she had worked for, after birthing her two youngest children in the Dominican Republic, after living in South America for years, after crossing the Darién jungle twice, she and her family made it to the U.S., but 15 days later, the Biden administration deported them back to Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Maria Hinojosa’s report called “The Moving Border.” It is so moving, Maria. And if you can talk about what the actions have meant? Because as you talk about this caravan of hope and of love, it’s the immigrant rights movement that has forced this action that’s expected to be announced today, ending Title 42, which has used the pandemic as a way to prevent so many immigrants — we certainly haven’t heard this in the case of Ukraine — but coming into the United States, or being detained once they do.
MARIA HINOJOSA: You know, Amy, what I’m hoping, but I have not so much of it — this was a perfect opportunity, in fact, for the Biden administration to completely switch everything up. This is a moment where the Biden administration could say, “We’re changing everything now, because we are going to be committed to what we say we are.” This is a moment where the Biden administration could not only get rid of Title 42, stop MPP, reorganize the Border Patrol, because we all saw with our own eyes Border Patrol officials on horses with whips on Black people. So we cannot be gaslit upon what we are living. Sadly, you know, it looks like the Biden administration is more interested in appeasing to people who are afraid of migrants and refugees and Black people. And our job as journalists is to say, “Look at the treatment of Ukrainian refugees. Look at the treatment of Honduran, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Haitian, African migrants and refugees. And there has to be one way to treat all humanity.”
So I’m feeling quite desperate. You know, Widelene and I are in touch. She’s desperate to get help. She says that now that she’s in Haiti, she’s terrified for her two young girls because it’s so unsafe. So, you know, Amy, for me, personally, as a human being, this is ripping into my heart. As a journalist, you know, I’m just like, “I’m going to keep at it. I’m not going to stop. And I’m going to demand accountability,” because what we are seeing is not just the suffering of Ukrainian refugees but people on our side of the continent. And they need love, and they need that hug from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, both of them, to say, “We welcome you. We see you, and we welcome you.” And thank you, Amy and Juan, for recognizing the journalism and for allowing me to get a little emotional, because, hey, if you lose all your emotion, then what good are we as journalists?
AMY GOODMAN: Juan, we aren’t able to hear you. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sorry about that. Guerline, I wanted to ask you — this mistreatment not only of Haitians, but you’ve been noticing also of Cameroon migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States, I’m wondering if you could talk about that, as well.
GUERLINE JOZEF: Thank you so much, Juan. And thank you so much, Maria, for really bringing the reality of what’s happening.
Looking into the continued contrast and parallel when it comes to the different treatment of Black migrants and European migrants, frankly, we have been fighting for over two years to get TPS for Cameroon, a country that has been into five armed conflicts, and really seeing how — the mistreatment of Cameroonians in immigration prison. We were literally forced to create the first Black Immigrants Bail Fund because we had a $50,000 bail to pay for a Cameroonian young man who fled Cameroon to come here. And we’ve been asking for TPS for two years. And we’ve been begging President Biden and Vice President Harris, Susan Rice to please allow TPS for Cameroon so that they can be free, at least be protected from deportation. And they have refused. And we see, within a week, TPS was provided for Ukraine. That is why we continue to push and ask for TPS for Cameroon. We cannot wait any longer to make sure that equity is a part of our immigration system, that people from Cameroon are receiving TPS as soon as possible. And we commend the administration for highlighting and validating the lives of Ukrainians and the lives of our Afghan community, but it is past due for TPS to be provided for Cameroon. What we say is protection delayed is protection denied. And we again see right now how we have allowed exemption for Ukrainians and Russians that are coming at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Juan and Amy, I was there last Monday really trying to highlight the damage of Title 42. And I clearly remember in 2020, April 2020, when the Haitian Bridge Alliance sent the first letters starting a campaign to ask then-President Trump to end Title 42 because it did not bear any, any water as to why they will really put Title 42 in place simply to block asylum seekers from getting protection. And today we are hoping and really pushing and demanding, as a community, as a movement, for President Biden and the CDC to put an end to Title 42 and make sure it’s never used against people at the U.S.-Mexico border, specifically Black and Brown people, because we clearly see that we are allowing Ukrainians and other Europeans to access the process at the U.S.-Mexico border, while at the same time making sure that Haitians are not afforded the same protection. So, we really are calling on President Biden to highlight the fact that, yes, President Trump then called — said that he did not want people from s—hole countries, such as Haiti and many African countries, but he will welcome people from Europe. And we see clearly that the things that President Trump said, President Biden is proving to us as a people that is the reality: We are willing and able and ready to welcome immigrants, as long as they are not Black and Brown.
AMY GOODMAN: Guerline —
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask Maria this — you mentioned earlier you’re a proud Mexican American. Oh, I’m sorry, Maria has dropped. Well, let me go back to Guerline. Guerline, in terms of what you believe the Biden administration needs to do immediately, beyond what’s happening now with Title 42, what are the next steps that you think the administration needs to take?
GUERLINE JOZEF: The next step is really to look into how do we provide access and safety to all people in search of freedom. We, as a movement, service providers, advocates on the ground at the U.S.-Mexico border, we are ready and willing to help and support and work with the President Biden and the entire administration to put in place ways for people to access safety. And we want to make sure that we really look into our immigration system in an equity lens. How do we make sure that what we are seeing right now is never repeated? And we want President Biden to understand that we, on the ground, we are serving the community. We are the people in need of protection, making sure that we create a system that will be afforded to all people to be able to get that protection.
And we are also asking them to stop pushing the border. Right now we are seeing border not only at the U.S.-Mexico border, but going all the way to Panama, as Maria mentioned earlier. We are seeing, because of policies that are being put in place to completely continue to dismantle any avenues for people seeking safety. We need to change the system. And what I say is that if the system doesn’t serve the people, what is the point of it?
AMY GOODMAN: Guerline —
GUERLINE JOZEF: Our goal is to make —
AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to thank you so much for being with us, because in our next segment, we’re going to go global with this. As you talk about Cameroonian refugees, as we hear about Nigerian refugees, the same thing, by the way, has happened to those students who were in Ukraine fleeing with all the other Ukrainians, the millions of Ukrainians, and some of them were detained in places like Poland and Estonia as their white compatriots in Ukraine were celebrated in each of these countries. Guerline Jozef, I want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Maria Hinojosa, award-winning journalist and host of Latino USA. We’re going to link to Maria’s series, “The Moving Border: Even Further South,” and of course continue to look at this issue.
Next up, we look at the conditions African migrants face trying to reach Europe, inside Libyan detention centers. Stay with us.
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