Mass opposition to Donald Trump began with immigration. His racist rhetoric and barbaric policies around immigrants and asylum-seekers are what first fueled outrage among liberals, as well as among people who were otherwise apolitical. Politicians, pundits, and rank-and-file Democratic voters alike rightfully decried Trump’s migrant policies, with some going as far as to compare the administration to the Nazi regime.
Now, as the Biden administration prepares to carry out the biggest mass expulsion of asylum-seekers in recent history, the liberals who demonstrated in airports to protest Trump’s Muslim ban and circulated Facebook posts about “kids in cages” are nowhere to be found. There was more outrage over Trump’s description of Haiti and other developing nations as “shithole” countries than there is over President Biden’s around-the-clock efforts to deport desperate families, using tactics directly out of the playbook of Stephen Miller, the white nationalist behind Trump’s immigration policies.
Around 14,000 Haitians will soon be expelled from the United States and flown to Haiti, a country the US itself deems unsafe. Haiti recently suffered a deadly earthquake, a tropical storm, and political instability exacerbated by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Despite Biden’s promises to “undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration,” his approach to immigration has been equally aggressive.
Our Democratic-controlled Congress, too, has been unwilling to prioritize the lives of migrants. After years of failed attempts to advance even meager reforms, Democrats thought they could get protections for some immigrants through the upcoming budget reconciliation bill. But the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, rejected their plan, and the party can’t stomach the idea of ignoring her ruling, so the bill may not happen at all.
Asked about images appearing to show horse-mounted Border Patrol agents whipping Haitians in the Texas border town of Del Rio, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was concerned only with the optics. If whips were used, “of course they should never be able to do it again,” she said. Instead of offering condemnation, she reiterated the administration’s callous message, telling asylum-seekers, “This is not the time to come.” The next day, Psaki announced an end to the “horrible and horrific” use of horses—as though it were the horses rounding people up for deportation.
The Biden administration is using the same order, known as Title 42, that the Trump administration used to expel migrants at the border without a hearing, denying their right to seek asylum in the US, in violation of domestic and international law.
Miller repeatedly tried to invoke the obscure ordinance to close the border to asylum-seekers and carry out expulsions. He looked for evidence that migrants were carrying disease to make the case that they posed a threat to public health. It wasn’t until the pandemic that the administration successfully implemented Title 42, despite objections from public health authorities.
Psaki similarly defended Biden’s mass expulsion campaign with the same racist trope that migrants bring disease into a new country, but she faced a fraction of the outrage. “We have been implementing Title 42,” she said in a press conference. “That’s not just about people in the United States; that’s also about protecting migrants who would come in—come in mass groups and be in mass groups.”
Psaki denies that the forced expulsions of Haitian migrants are “deportations,” because they “are not coming into the country through legal methods.” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was more aggressive: “If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned,” he said. “Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives.” But no matter how forcefully they say otherwise, seeking asylum is legal.
While Biden has reversed certain changes Trump made to the immigration system, his approach is largely a continuation of his Republican predecessor’s brutality. If he doesn’t change course, Biden could soon take his former boss’s title as “deporter in chief.”