The federal response to the release of horrific images from Del Rio, Texas, showing Haitians being terrorized by horse-mounted patrols with methods evoking the slave patrols of our country’s past has been frustrating and wholeheartedly disappointing. The emphasis on deportations rather than aid reveals a mentality prejudiced by a clear misunderstanding of the historical and legal context underscoring what is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis.

It’s critical to understand that this crisis has been building for years. The tens of thousands of people who came to Del Rio are not solely asylum-seekers who recently fled Haiti following a devastating natural disaster, a presidential assassination, and the ensuing political turmoil and violence. The vast majority are refugees searching for a way to build new lives in other countries after the devastation of the 2010 earthquake—many have spent nearly a decade in Latin America before reaching the U.S. border.

Refugees have a right to international protection and must be allowed to seek safety from another government when their own cannot or will not protect them. By accelerating deportation flights back to Haiti, the Biden administration is unquestionably ignoring international human rights law and deliberately denying people seeking refuge the protections afforded to them. Trump-era policies, which we hoped would be long gone, are being used to justify what could be one of the largest mass expulsions in our nation’s history. 

Migration is not a crime, but these inhumane actions against Black refugees are. Following public outcry around the images from Del Rio, the Biden administration cleared out the border camp, framing it as a “heroic” effort. However, this has left the fate of thousands of refugees in question. While some asylum-seekers have been allowed to enter the U.S. to apply for asylum, thousands of refugees have been forced to return to Mexico or been expelled to Haiti on “repatriation flights”. Since Sept. 19, around 4,600 Haitians have been expelled from the U.S., with more expulsions expected in the coming weeks. This is largely in line with the immigration doctrine that the Biden administration has set, having used Title 42 to expel nearly 700,000 refugees since taking office in January. These actions fail to acknowledge the humanity of our refugees and the full extent of the humanitarian crisis we face. 

We have the power to deliver justice and stop the harm that is underway right now. At the federal level, all deportations and expulsions should be stopped immediately, the use of Title 42 (which prevents asylum-seekers from making asylum claims) must be ended, and Haitian refugees should be granted immediate humanitarian parole and due process. These are necessary steps in a coherent domestic and foreign policy agenda that stands in solidarity with the Haitian community. 

At the local level, we must continue to support organizations on the ground who are providing direct aid and services, as well as dedicate funding and infrastructure to support refugee resettlement. As local elected officials who represent large immigrant communities in Texas and Florida, we’ve seen how our families, our children, our communities, and our future are impacted by our failed immigration system. The events of the past few months—from Afghanistan to Haiti—have renewed our continued commitment to build truly inclusive communities and welcome immigrant communities who are seeking safety, freedom, and a better life. It is why more than 700 state and local elected officials have called on Congress to ensure a pathway to citizenship in all federal relief efforts. 

Regardless of who is in the White House, we must continue to pressure our state and federal governments to realign our immigration system to our nation’s values of inclusivity and shared humanity. We have a moral obligation to care for all those who come to our communities seeking refuge—whether they’re fleeing war, religious persecution, natural and man-made climate disasters, the absence of true opportunity, or all of the above. 

Migration and immigration aren’t going away anytime soon, and increasing “repatriation flights” to clear out migrant camps like Del Rio is only kicking the can down the road. It will take decades to fundamentally address the crises and underlying global inequities that drive refugees and asylum-seekers to our borders and we don’t have time to waste in the fight for immigrant justice. To act as if we do is one of the biggest failures of this crisis. 

Vanessa Joseph is the city clerk of North Miami, Florida, an immigration attorney at Catholic Charities Legal Services, and a proud Haitian American. Joseph is also a member of Local Progress.

Teri Castillo is a San Antonio City councilmember and a proud daughter and granddaughter of migrant farm workers in Texas. Castillo is also a member of Local Progress.