Last week, a video revealed mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents whipping Haitian migrants. These desperate people fleeing “unspeakable” conditions were attempting to cross the Rio Grande to Del Rio, Texas. Already, over 10,000 Haitian migrants are camping under a bridge while attempting to file asylum claims. Now, federal agents attack migrants with bullwhips, forcing them into a river while yelling, “Go back to Mexico!” (USA Today).
White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the footage “horrific” (MSN), as if these barbarities came out of nowhere. The head of Customs and Border Patrol is appointed by the President. Its policies are dictated by the President, the head of the executive branch (Politico). The Biden administration decided to continue deporting migrants before they are able to file asylum claims (USA Today). The Border Patrol agents whipping Black migrants at the border are Biden’s subordinates carrying out his administration’s policies. Barbarity at the border wasn’t Donald Trump’s invention. In fact, Trump’s “Wait in Mexico” policy was first invented by the Obama administration in response to another wave of Haitian migrants in 2016. (ABC News).
Before Trump planned his border wall, the U.S. border strategy was the “funnel effect.” Heavily militarized barriers and checkpoints in the cities where migrants were most likely to cross forced undocumented immigrants to take perilous desert and mountain routes. This was “the primary structural cause of death of thousands of unauthorized men, women, and children” (American Immigration Council). These mass deaths weren’t accidental. They were intended to “deter” future migrants.
There is a bipartisan consensus in favor of brutality against undocumented migrants as soon as they enter this country: a “very long-term, bipartisan build-up of the border” (Teen Vogue). Though some only think of Mexican and Central American undocumented immigrants, U.S. border and immigration practices break apart and brutalize families from around the world. U.N. officials are “disturbed” and “seriously concerned” about the mass deportation of thousands of Haitian immigrants a day (Yahoo! News). Hundreds of people are deported to Ghana each year (CNN) as are dozens of Vietnamese people, including many living in the U.S. for almost their entire lives (University of Oregon). As Luis pointed out in a previous article, escaping death at the border is often only a prelude to continued exploitation and oppression once in the U.S. (The ARD).
We must urgently demand both immediate reform and structural changes to prevent such acts from ever being repeated. Simultaneously, many grassroots groups demand not only the reform but the abolition of border enforcement. In the words of Ayesha Siddiqi, “Every border implies the violence of its maintenance” (National Center for Institutional Diversity). Borders can be enforced more or less inhumanely, but all borders are policed by armed men and serve to strip the civil and legal rights of anyone who crosses them without governmental permission.
Some react violently at any suggestion of abolishing the brutality at the border: “If we let everyone in, there’d be nothing left for us!” First, U.S. resources were often plundered from the very countries migrants leave (The ARD) such as Haiti, the site of multiple U.S.-sponsored coups (The Nation). Second, the United States is the third-largest and wealthiest country in the world. If one out of every four residents of Haiti were somehow able to make it to the United States and decided to stay, they would still be less than the population of the Bronx. “No-border politics is an abolitionist vision,” according to activist and author Harsha Walla, “because it calls on us to dismantle borders as a site of violence that reproduces oppression and violence” (Illinois News Today).
There are grassroots organizations working today to undo the horrific harm inflicted under the guise of border security. No More Deaths leave life-saving supplies like water, food, and blankets in “the remote corridors into which migration has been pushed” (No More Deaths). For this, the government mounts military-style raids against their humanitarian aid camps (No More Deaths). Some members face up to 20 years in prison (No More Deaths, The Intercept) while Border Patrol destroys the water they leave for migrants (The Guardian).
Houston Haitians United is providing essential food, translation services, and COVID testing for migrants coming from Del Rio (Instagram, KHOU 11) while the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition is helping arrange transportation and phone calls to family members (. And from the streets of Detroit (CW) to a jail in Florida (TruthOut), people are demanding that migrants be released and allowed to seek asylum instead of being deported to a country that recently witnessed both a deadly earthquake and political coup.
Border Patrol agents were caught openly whipping Haitian migrants.
U.S. government policy fosters the death of undocumented people, going so far as to destroy humanitarian aid like water jugs.
Grassroots community groups, organizers, and scholars analyze borders as inherently violent and work to create networks of support and aid across them.