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The Inside Story - Biden and the Borders


The Inside Story: Biden and the Borders (Episode 07, September 30, 2021)

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Voice of PATSY WIDAKUSWARA, VOA White House Bureau Chief:

Another immigration confrontation at the U.S. southern border.

Thousands of Haitian migrants amass concern for the Biden Administration.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

Of course, I take responsibility. I'm President. But it was horrible what -- to see, as you saw -- to see people treated like they did.


While challenges remain at the southern border, thousands of Afghan refugees are entering the United States.

The President campaigned on changing immigration policies.

Who gets in?

Who is not getting in?

And why …

On “The Inside Story: Biden and the Borders.”


I’m Patsy Widakuswara at the White House. President Joe Biden is facing rising criticism over his handling of Haitian migrants at the U.S. southern border.

More than 14,000 migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexican border in recent weeks, setting up camps underneath a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Images of Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing Haitian migrants has sparked outrage and questions about the Biden administration’s immigration policies. We begin our coverage in Del Rio, Texas.


Thousands of migrants, many of them Haitians living in South America, have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Del Rio, Texas, seeking asylum.

Hundreds have been expelled by the administration back to Haiti, a country mired in poverty and violence. It’s an “inhumane, counterproductive” response, said U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote, who quit his job in protest Wednesday.

Voice of PATSY WIDAKUSWARA quoting former U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote:

“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed,” Foote said in his resignation letter.

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State:

The fact is, there have been multiple senior level conversations on Haiti, where all proposals, including those put forward by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent process.


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected Foote’s accusation, as did White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary:

Special Envoy Foote had ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure. He never once did so.


Still, the Biden administration continues to be haunted by images from the border, including of agents on horseback chasing migrants.

U.S. President Joe Biden:

Of course, I take responsibility. I’m President. But it was horrible what – to see, as you saw – to see people treated like they did: horses nearly running them over and people being strapped. It’s outrageous. I promise you those people will pay. They will be, there’s an investigation underway now, there will be consequences.


Immigration analysts say this change in policy does not address the bigger question of what to do with the influx of people at the border — a real challenge for the administration.

Julia Gelatt, Migration Policy Institute:

The Biden administration really wanted to send the message that it was breaking completely with the immigration policies of the Trump administration that were seen as cruel and inhumane. But at the same time, the Biden administration, I think, fears that if they treat the Haitian migrants all as asylum-seekers and allow them in, that will send a message to people around the world that the U.S. border is open.


Daniel Foote declined VOA’s request for an interview. In his resignation letter, he pointed out Haiti cannot possibly absorb the deported migrants.

The country is facing numerous crises, including last month’s earthquake, the assassination of its president in July and rampant gang violence, causing many to flee.

Cristobal Ramon, Immigration Analyst:

COVID has made it difficult for them to be able to work to sustain themselves. These are individuals who came from Haiti in the wake of a lot of earthquakes and went to South America.


Democrats in Congress have urged the administration to stop expulsions. The United Nations, which rarely criticizes U.S. policy, has also denounced the expulsions of Haitians as "inconsistent with international norms.


President Biden sets U.S. immigration policies and priorities. His Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, is responsible for seeing they are carried out.

Secretary Mayorkas recently took questions from the White House Press Corps, explaining how the administration can expel people because of COVID-19, under Title 42 --- a law code used in the same way by the Trump administration.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary Department of Homeland Security

Migrants continue to be expelled and under the CDC is title 42 authority title 42 is a public health authority and not an immigration policy, and it is important to note that title 42 is applicable and has been applicable to all irregular migration. During this pandemic, it is not specific to Haitian nationals, or the current situation.

To date, DHS has conducted 17 expulsion flights to Haiti with approximately 2000 individuals, those who are not expelled under Title 42 are placed in immigration removal proceedings.

Individuals, as I mentioned, with acute vulnerability, can be accepted from the title 42 application. Approximately 12,400 individuals will have their cases heard by an immigration judge to make a determination on whether they will be removed or permitted to remain in the United States.

The title 42 authority has been applied to irregular migration since the very beginning of this administration and before. And it has applied to individuals from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries. It has been applied equally, and the exceptions that I cited have been the exceptions that have applied to all.

There are three exceptions. The Convention Against Torture, acute vulnerabilities such as extreme medical needs, and operational capacity. Those are the three exceptions. Title 42 authority has been applied, irrespective of the country of origin, irrespective of the race of the individual, irrespective of other criteria that don't belong in our adjudicative process, And we do not permit in our adjudicative process.


Migrants from Haiti trying to get into the United States is not a new phenomenon. U.S. policy regarding Haitians is complex and goes back decades shaped against a backdrop of natural disasters, political instability and violence. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi explains.


It recently began in July, with the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and an investigation that seems stuck in park. A little more than a month later in August, a magnitude seven-point-two earthquake shook much of the southern part of Haiti to the ground. The ongoing crises persuaded thousands of Haitians to seek asylum somewhere else.

Robert Fatton, University of Virginia Professor:

It’s not that Haitians necessarily want to exit. It’s simply that the situation is so bad and so desperate that they do not have another choice.


Haitians fleeing the country is a phenomenon that began in the 1960s but gained momentum because of an uprising against the country’s first democratically elected president.

Robert Fatton, University of Virginia Professor:

It started again… major wave after the coup that overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and because of political problems, the waves continued. And then the earthquake of 2010 was one of the major, if you wish, triggers that led the Haitians to the United States and elsewhere.


Fatton says a weak global economy in the 1970s triggered, in part, the mass migration of Haitians to the US.

In the 1980s, the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan sent back Haitian migrants who were intercepted at sea trying to come to the U.S. Those who made it to the U.S. faced prison.

More than 25-thousand Haitian migrants were sent back.

In 1991, a coup ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power, creating years of instability, only for the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton to bring him back to power to oversee what Fatton calls a neo-liberal economy that collapsed and never recovered.

In their search for a better life, some Haitians spend their life savings just to leapfrog from countries like Brazil and Chile to get to the United States.

Robert Fatton, University of Virginia Professor:

It was a very long trek, and they’d assumed that they could in fact get into the United States. Most of them found that that was simply wrong.


More than 12 thousand of the 30 thousand Haitian migrants who amassed at the border in September were eligible to seek asylum in the U.S. Another eight thousand went back to Mexico voluntarily. About two thousand were flown back to Haiti.

Robert Fatton, University of Virginia Professor:

The situation in Haiti is getting really desperate, especially for very poor people. The economic situation has deteriorated significantly. Poverty has increased. The rural areas have suffered significantly because of bad agricultural policies and also because life in rural areas is a life of deprivation. So people move to the urban areas. They create those huge slums, and there are no jobs to satisfy their economic needs. In addition to that, they’re confronted with gangs, and you have a government that’s completely dysfunctional.


Fatton says Haiti's problems are problems Haitians should solve on their own. He says he’s hopeful for the future as the country has hit rock bottom but adds he has been saying the same thing for the past 20 years. Arash Arabasadi, VOA News.


Protecting the border and managing immigration are challenges faced by every American president. As the Biden administration manages criticism over its handling of the Haitian migrant surge, concerns remain over the future of U.S. immigration policies.

VOA reporter Aline Barros has covered immigration policy under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

She explained the evolution of America’s immigration policy in a conversation with ‘The Inside Story’ producer Elizabeth Cherneff.


Aline, what US immigration policies were executed in order to deal with this most recent influx of Haitian migrants?

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

So there are a few things happening right now, we have title 42 in place, which is basically a federal health code that was put in place under the Trump administration that the Biden administration decided to keep it, and the title 42 basically allows immigration officials at the border to expel migrants. What does that mean? It means that they do not go in front of an immigration judge, it means that they are immediately sent back to the home country and it's it's the same guideline is the same policy that it's happening to all migrants,

It's not just Haitian migrants so migrants from Central American and other nationalities, they are met with the same policy. But the Biden administration, they made a few exemptions right, so when a company minors and family units with tender age children might be paroled and they are usually paroled.

Immigration officers at the border, they have the discretion to parole them in to allow them to be paroled under humanitarian conditions, and they might be one fighting a removal proceeding, a potential order of deportation, while asking for asylum, while asking for the possibility of staying, you know, permanently in the US.

A number of Haitian migrants, they were paroled in. But, however, they are, they will be able to, to ask for asylum, they will be able to go in front of an immigration judge, or an asylum, officer. But at the same time, they're fighting already the possibility of being sent back. So, while some people were sent back, the folks who were allowed in, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're going to stay here.


Right. You touched on a really interesting point that I think is confusing to a lot of our audience. Why are we seeing some people sent back to the country of Haiti on planes, and yet others are allowed to stay in the USA?

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

That's exactly because of title 42. Because we have exemptions, right? Because CBP officer a custom border protection officer might they have the discretion, they have the authority according to immigration wall. To look at you and say, you are a woman with a tender a child, you are very in a very vulnerable situation, I'm going to parole you in, you know, but here's the thing, and this is based on the interviews that I've done with people at the border in the past with now immigration lawyers, a lot of these people, they understand that they need help.

When you are asking for help at the border, you don't have access to lawyers easily as someone who is already inside of the United States, right, their advocate groups, their immigrant advocate groups at the border. But the amount of people that need help is much higher than the amount of lawyers available so you're going to be fighting your removal proceedings, you're going to be fighting a potential deportation order, while trying to get your asylum at the same time.


How is this latest wave being handled in comparison to prior waves of migrants arriving at the border?

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

So Haitians have come to the US to seek asylum at borders for decades but in every presidential administration since 1970s has treated migrants differently so some rejected asylum seekers, while others held them longer in detention. Some administration's they had the US Coast Guard basically intercepting boats and sending them back right away. We also had an administration sending Haitian migrants to Guantanamo. So, it depends on the administration they are dealing with the migrant Haitian migrants in waves, um differently, right now. The position of the US government is, don't come, you're going to be sent back.


Those terms, I think there's a lot of confusion about what those terms mean. The terms, seeking asylum, refugee expulsion, deportation.

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

If you are an asylum seeker, if you are a migrant, and you need help, the key is for you to be an asylum seeker for you to go through asylum. You have to be in an us territory to do that as a refugee, you go through a process, outside the country you go through the UN. You apply, you actually receive refugee status so when you come to the United States, you already have the path for permanent residency, which in five years will allow you to file for your citizenship if you wish

If you were expelled. It doesn't carry legal consequences to you as an a potential asylum seeker again. But if you went through an immigration proceeding, if you went through removal proceedings and you lost your case and you actually received an order of deportation from an immigration judge according to US law. If you come back, you might be barred from entering the U.S. So, so that's basically the difference.


Are we seeing consistency and how the Biden administration is implementing immigration policies?

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

So that the immigration, while at the Biden administration is, is, abiding is, is using it is the what is the same one that the Trump administration had and the difference is that Trump wanted to, you know, continue construction of the border wall he wanted to work on policies to restrict not only unauthorized immigration, illegal immigration as well, you know, cutting visa caps and things like that.

Biden administration he's in a way, pushing for a more positive tone on immigration, however, he has been heavily, heavily criticized but immigrant advocates for keeping title 42 in place, and for the continuation of expelling migrants at the border.


It seems like the images and the videos this past week of border patrol agents on horseback, those images have just resounded with viewers and audiences really around the world. What can you tell us about the administration's reaction to this how they're handling it the fallout?

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

There will be investigation there is an ongoing investigation according to immigration officials, Biden said that he took full responsibility, and the horseback unit has been suspended for now. So that was, that was something that Mayorkas came out and said he has been suspended. We're using horses. As of now, because we're having an investigation.

The administration has been saying don't come to the US don't come to the US illegally, but when you have border patrol officers, you know, at ports of entry, and some advocates are saying that migrants are not allowed in. So migrants will in turn to try to get into the country in between ports of entry because again, in order for them to ask for help, they need to be in the US. So that's a point that immigrant advocates have been pushing a lot saying, this idea of not allowing immigrants, through ports of entry to ask for asylum the right way pushes them to come in between ports of entry and pushes them to cross illegally.


Okay. Aline Barros, VOA immigration reporter Thank you very much for speaking with us.

ALINE BARROS, VOA immigration reporter:

Thank you for having me.


As the U.S. completed its military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, thousands of evacuated refugees are waiting to be resettled.

Here, in the city of Washington, DC, local business owners, some refugees themselves, are stepping up to collect donations and supplies for their new neighbors. VOA’s Karina Bafradzhian tells us more.


The owners of this Washington, D.C., restaurant, called Lapis, have spent the last few weeks collecting donations for Afghan refugees that were evacuated to the United States. Wine shelves hold hundreds of boxes full of everything from clothing and personal hygiene items to dinnerware and cleaning supplies.

The person behind this makeshift donation center is Fatima Popal, the owner of a number of D.C. restaurants. She says her desire to help the refugees stems – among other reasons – from personal history.

Fatima Popal, Popal Group:

We are also refugees, from a different time period of war in Afghanistan. So, we do understand how most of these refugees feel. Of course, our time period was a little bit different – it wasn’t the Taliban regime.


Popal’s family left Afghanistan in the 1980s when Fatima was just six months old. They have been living in the U.S. since 1987 – and today own three restaurants in the U.S. capital. She decided to spread the word about the donation center on social networks – and was flooded with gratitude and responses.

Fatima Popal, Popal Group:

And both my brother and I woke up with just a social media blast of people wanting to help, not only to donate but also to help and volunteer their time for us. And it was just beautiful to see how the community has come together, how everyone wants to help and donate.


Receiving the donations, sorting through them, filling up trucks with the necessary items – and then doing it all over again – this is what Popal and dozens of volunteers have been doing since.

A lot of business owners in the Washington, D.C., area are collecting donations for the Afghan refugees, both small local businesses and giants like Airbnb that promised to provide 20,000 Afghan refugees with free accommodations around the world.

A myriad of charity organizations in the U.S. have also volunteered to do what they can to help. Catholic Charities located in Virginia is one of them.

Emily Wood, Catholic Charities of Arlington:

What we have here is just one day’s worth of donations. Amazon drivers have been dropping them off a truckload after truckload all donated.


Stephen Carattini, CEO of Catholic Charities in Arlington, Virginia, says the numbers of Afghan refugees are quickly rising.

Stephen Carattini, Arlington Catholic Charities:

I think it’ll continue to be an increasing number over the next few months and even years. When they come to this country, we’re usually the first faces that they see – we meet them at the airport. Then things happen very quickly after that. The priority is to help these people into housing, find permanent housing as quickly as possible and then also begin the search for employment.


Volunteers – on top of physical help – don’t forget about psychological help as well. They keep in touch with the refugees, help with advice, help them calm down. No one wants to leave their home country like that, says Fatima Popal. But if they must, she adds, the least others can do is to help the refugees find a second home in the U.S.

Karina Bafradzhian for VOA News, Washington.


Stay tuned at and our social media for the latest on U.S. immigration policy. Stay connected with me on twitter @pwidakuswara. From the White House, I’m Patsy Widakuswara. See you next week for The Inside Story.