With more than 4.9 million Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country, the Biden administration announced in late March it will accept 100,000 people who are escaping that conflict into the U.S.
While pro-immigration activists usually welcome such an announcement, some are criticizing what they see as a double standard being applied at the southern border that favors Ukrainian refugees over Black and brown migrants who have already been waiting. In March, over 3,000 Ukrainian refugees were processed at the U.S.-Mexico border, while refugees from other countries have been waiting months — and in some cases years — for their asylum cases to be heard.
“That is very different than the treatment that has been received by largely Black and brown refugees over the last two years, while the border has been closed to all asylum seekers due to a law known as Title 42, which is billed as a public health measure needed to keep the U.S. public safe from rising levels of COVID in the world, but really functions to keep out asylum seekers that are Black and brown,” Nicole Ramos, director of the Border Rights Project at the legal services organization Al Otro Lado, told Yahoo News.
Title 42 is a Trump-era immigration policy that allows U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to prohibit the entry of asylum seekers who potentially pose a health risk. It was enacted in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused a major backlog of asylum cases at the border. It’s scheduled to be lifted by the end of May.
Ramos said the thousands of migrants fleeing Central America, Mexico, Africa and Haiti are also escaping drug wars, prosecution and corruption. “There are many types of war that other refugees are fleeing. But those wars are not deemed worthy of being responded to. We have thousands of families that are fleeing the southern state of Michoacán in Mexico, where the government is literally at war with the drug cartels,” said Ramos.
In an interview with CBS Evening News, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas claimed there is no double standard being applied to Ukrainian refugees, even though thousands of migrants from other countries are also waiting at the border.
“What we do on an individualized basis is evaluate whether a Ukrainian family, and, frankly, other families from other countries, qualify for our discretionary authority for granting humanitarian parole. Do they present to us an urgent humanitarian condition that requires special treatment? And that's not specific to Ukrainians. We apply that across the board,” Mayorkas told CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell last week.
According to border authorities, there are approximately 170,000 migrants waiting to seek asylum in the United States. Thousands of migrants have had to wait over two years in poor conditions in border towns across the southern border because of Title 42.
Ramos said refugees from Haiti and other countries fall squarely within the protections provided by U.S. asylum law but are being denied the opportunity to access the legal process. Those who have already waited months for their cases to be processed are often just as desperately in need of humanitarian assistance as refugees from Ukraine.
Francel Celestin is a Haitian immigrant who is waiting, along with his wife and three children, for their asylum case to be processed in Tijuana, Mexico. They are fleeing Haiti’s political crisis, economic instability, climate catastrophes and the July 7, 2021, assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse. Celestin said his family has still not been able to recover from the country’s 2010 catastrophic 7.0 earthquake, in which 220,000 people reportedly died.
Celestin told Yahoo News he was targeted by the Haitian government for his involvement in an opposition party, which left his family with no choice but to pack their bags and begin the trek to the United States' southern border. He said he fears reprisals if he is forced to return home.
“Right now, people have no faith. People don’t have stability. You can't even walk outside because there’s too many kidnappings. Criminals do what they want; cops can’t control them. There is no president because they killed him. So right now we don't even have a governor. It is a country where people do what they want. It is pure corruption,” Celestin said in Spanish.
Like many Haitian migrants, he isn't sure what to make of priority potentially being granted to Ukrainian refugees.
“For me, I feel small. I feel small because we come from the Caribbean, and they come from Europe. They left because of a war in their country, but it is their war. But we also left because of a war — because in our country, children cannot walk alone, and we cannot live a decent life for our children,” Celestin said.