Washington, DC – Many people were shocked and horrified by recent photos of U.S. border agents on horses with whips, storming through a group of Haitian people seeking safety in the United States—trying to move them like cattle. But those who have been advocating against inhumane asylum, detention, and deportation policies for years saw the scene a little differently.
“We were not shocked, but remain horrified and deeply grieved. Those photos simply put a face on U.S. policy toward Black migrants. Atrocities are committed on a daily basis by the U.S. government—the Trump and Biden administrations, and all of their predecessors. These are things that any reasonable person would find outrageous and unacceptable, from any government, much less the United States’. As people of faith committed to the flourishing of all, we lament how firmly anti-Black racism is entrenched in U.S. immigration law and policy,” said Elissa Diaz, Co-Chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and Policy and Advocacy Manager at Church World Service.
The world’s diverse religious and spiritual traditions share a common call to care for the vulnerable and seek the common good. Yet, rather than welcoming asylum seekers with compassion, our nation further traumatizes them.
Take “The WRAP,” a torture device used on immigrants as they are loaded into charter planes for mass deportations, particularly to the African continent. Given the killings and violence some people fled when they first sought safety in the United States, deportation can feel like a death sentence.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement freely uses the WRAP restraint—on top of five-point shackles, at an angle that amplifies pain, for hours and hours at a time—to torture frightened refugees while delivering them back to their original persecutors.
This inhumane activity is detailed in a new civil rights complaint filed by African Communities Together, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Cameroon Advocacy Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, The UndocuBlack Network, Texas A&M University School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, and Witness at the Border, on behalf of three Black asylum seekers who had the WRAP used on them last year.
Peniel Ibe, Co-Chair of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and policy engagement coordinator at American Friends Service Committee said: “To this, add the forced sterilization of Black, indigenous, and other women in ICE detention; the unexplained death of Nebane Abienwi in ICE jail; the thousands of men, women, and children sent back to Haiti without a chance to apply for asylum (while also recognizing that the country’s conditions warranted an extension of Temporary Protected Status); the Biden administration’s failure to designate any new Black-majority countries for TPS, despite conflicts and human rights abuses that clearly warrant both refugee projection and TPS; and countless other violations of human life and dignity by ICE, Customs and Border Protection, and county jails and corporations with ICE contracts. Then you will start to see what we mean when we say anti-Black racism is embedded in U.S. immigration policy.”
In fact, racism was the reason behind many immigration laws and structures in use today.
The Reagan administration created the modern-day immigration jail network as a response to the exodus of Black men from Haiti and Cuba, fleeing oppression. The Reagan government was aware that the policy “could create an appearance of ‘concentration camps’ filled largely by Blacks,” and did it anyway. They invited private prison companies to carry out this mass incarceration, launching the bloated, unaccountable, heinous “civil” detention system that Congress continues to fund.
Other areas of immigration law, such as the criminalization of entry without inspection and re-entry after deportation, were designed to “control the Mexicans” and bring them into the country to work, but not build lives here and “dilute the racial purity” of the United States.
The Executive Branch has broad authority to decide how to implement these laws, and many of the anti-Black actions we see today are a result of deliberate choices made by the Biden administration to continue Trump-era policies. The ongoing misuse of the Title 42 public health authority to deny immigrants’ legal right to seek asylum is a stunning example. With this, the Biden administration has sent thousands of Haitian men, women, and children back to a country enduring compounding political and environmental crises.
As the U.S. starts allowing people from Mexico and Canada into the United States to conduct “non-essential” business, the rejection of asylum seekers and the planned reinstatement of the Remain in Mexico (MPP) policy disaster show just how much Trump policy is still in place.
The pervasive anti-Black racism in the U.S. immigration system is an affront to the God-given dignity of Black people across the world. It is our failure, as a nation, to recognize the gifts, potential, and spark of the divine which is in each person. It is also our responsibility, as a nation and as people of faith, to change.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition is made up of over 55 national, faith-based organizations brought together across many theological traditions with a common call to seek just policies that lift up the God-given dignity of every individual. In partnership, we work to protect the rights, dignity, and safety of all refugees and migrants. Follow us on Twitter @interfaithimm