The Biden administration’s condemnation of its Border Patrol Agents’ spectacularly racist whipping, with horse reins, of Haitians walking up the riverbank, while tripling down on the less spectacular but equally racist and illegal expulsions of Haitian asylum seekers under the pretext of fighting COVID-19, shows a troubling disconnect between the administration’s professed ideals and its practices.
Even worse, the administration is abandoning its principles – and its friends – in a doomed effort to placate extremist voices.
The expulsions use Title 42 of the US Code, which authorises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to control entry to the United States in order to protect against communicable disease. Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller developed the policy as part of his efforts to limit immigration through any available tool. Public health was a pretext; Miller first tried – unsuccessfully – to invoke Title 42 for mumps and the flu. COVID-19 provided the hook he needed.
The Biden administration knows that the Title 42 expulsions are illegal and do not fight COVID-19. When the Trump administration implemented the policy, then-Senator Kamala Harris co-sponsored a bill that concluded the expulsions “violate longstanding, congressionally mandated protections for asylum seekers” and “fail to protect public health.”
Leading public health officials have consistently rejected Title 42 as a public health measure, from CDC scientists’ refusal to implement Miller’s plan last year, to the October 3 declaration by Dr Anthony Fauci – the president’s chief medical adviser – that Title 42 “is not the solution to an outbreak.”
Leading legal and diplomatic officials agree. On September 22, Ambassador Daniel Foote resigned as US special envoy to Haiti, citing, among other reasons, the “inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitians.” Department of State legal adviser Harold Koh – who has served in four administrations – left his post on October 2, calling Title 42 expulsions “illegal” and “inhumane”.
The continued use of Title 42 is costing the administration political support, especially among the Black voters whose turnout made the Biden administration possible, and Black members of Congress and advocacy organisations. But the Biden administration is willing to pay this price, and to make the 7,500 Haitians expelled since the whipping pay, too – in order to cater to a constituency that will never vote for him, but has successfully blocked immigration reform for decades.
Stephen Miller’s immigration policies came “almost verbatim” from organisations founded by John Tanton, a eugenicist and white supremacist, especially the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Tanton believed that “for European-American society and culture to persist, it requires a European-American majority and a clear one at that.” Tanton’s organisations do not use this overt white supremacist language, but their actions almost invariably support a white majority.
Stephen Miller is gone from the White House, but he and other Tanton legacy heirs still dominate our immigration discussions, as they have for more than two decades, preventing Republican congressional collaboration on immigration reform and waging what President Biden calls “our exhausting war over immigration.”
When the Biden administration reportedly planned to end Title 42 expulsions in June, the Tanton network groups attacked, leading the administration to announce an indefinite extension of the policy.
The Tanton heirs are currently generating hysteria about the southern border to derail popular, bipartisan bills on DREAMers and agricultural workers. The bills passed the House of Representatives, but Tanton group pressure prevented the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Senate Democrats tried to bypass the filibuster by including immigration reforms in the spending bill, but the Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough, a nonpartisan arbiter of the Senate’s rules, blocked it.
Democrats promise to find another way to include immigration provisions in the spending bill. But if they succeed they will produce only a narrow and temporary exception to the rule of the Tanton network’s grip on US immigration policy. The only way for political leaders of both parties to move forward with the immigration reforms that US voters want and its economy needs is to reject the influence of white supremacist organisations.
Appeasing them simply does not work: immigration reform initiatives under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama all included compromises to senators fearful of extremist attacks, but all were nevertheless torpedoed by Tanton groups.
If images of white border guards on horseback whipping Haitians as they stumble out of the Rio Grande do not compel us to identify and eradicate white supremacist influence in our immigration policy, nothing will. The Biden administration can lead in doing so by heeding the law more than it heeds the racists, and ending Title 42 expulsions. But the rest of us must step up, too. The media should properly identify white supremacists and white supremacist talking points, however well-disguised. Voters of both parties must have their representatives’ backs when they support common-sense immigration reform.
All of us need to be open to discussing a broad range of opinions on immigration, but with zero tolerance for advocacy based explicitly or implicitly on white supremacy.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.