Why is the United States accepting Ukrainian refugees but not Haitians?

Why is the United States accepting Ukrainian refugees but not Haitians?
Ukrainian refugees crossing the border into Poland on March 7, 2022, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Biden has pledged the United States will receive 100,000 Ukrainian refugees alongside promises from other European nations to accommodate thousands more fleeing the Russian invasion.

The move has been announced just weeks after an agreement was made at the European Commission and among EU states to implement an emergency directive, providing Ukrainians legal residential status, access to education facilities and the labor market.

The swift and collective stance of solidarity by the US and European countries has been praised. Europe, once unsure about what to do with the 1.5 million refugees from the Middle East and Africa since 2015, resulting in Brexit and the ascension of far-right politics, seems to have found a united voice over the fate of Ukrainian refugees.

Reasons why can be found in extraordinary coverage of the crisis.

War happening in Europe (despite Europe’s long history of war) is apparently something “unthinkable,” as conflict is usually something taking place in Third World countries, not civilized countries like Ukraine. These are Europeans with blond hair and blue eyes, after all, making it much easier for certain news reporters to relate to them.

Glaring for anybody not living under a rock for the last seven years is the contrast between media coverage of 2022 versus 2015.

Back then, news coverage often centered on the perceived differences of the refugees, rather than on their humanity.

They weren’t white with blonde hair, so they were viewed as a threat to European values by majority Christian countries. Such countries forgot, or chose to ignore, that Jesus himself was a brown refugee fleeing persecution (and then lynched by the Roman Empire).

Europe and now the US falling over themselves to accommodate thousands of Ukrainians must feel like a slap in the face to those also seeking safety from war or born without the privilege of white skin.

Biden’s offer of allowing 100,000 Ukrainians refuge is a powerful reversal from the administration's swift deportation of thousands of Haitians just months ago.

Who can forget the scenes at Del Rio late last year, of the migrant camp in Texas which saw 15,000 Haitians enter in just over 24 hours, with the total number doubling within days.

It was a humanitarian crisis, in the midst of a global health crisis, but as is the case with Europe, rather than the Haitians being viewed as human, they were treated as a political crisis.

They were quickly removed in Biden’s quest to appease those on the right accusing him of being too soft on migration, exploiting the use of Title 42 – something that’s supposed to end at the beginning of April. (Biden is said to be planning to rescind the order soon.)

What’s worse is the US played a leading role in creating the instability in Haiti, causing Haitians to leave by the thousands. By sending Haitians back, though many had not lived in the country for years and had entered the US via Mexico, the US government potentially compromised the safety of those who’d otherwise claim asylum.

Sending people back to where they face danger is a breach of human rights.

Biden could have found a way to accept those Haitians, just as he has found a way to accept these Ukrainians.

But whether he or anyone else cares to admit it, there is simply less value placed on the lives of white refugees than non-white refugees.

For a president who campaigned as being the opposite of the openly racist Trump, his policies toward Black migrants compared with European refugees is shameful.

Enough time has passed for the Biden administration to distinguish itself from Trump’s dogma over migration. Biden is therefore now continuing to follow these policies, because he chooses too.

Decent-minded people need to force him to do better.

Playing into the “good refugee” and “bad refugee” narrative on the basis of whiteness, which Biden has done, is a dangerous path with deadly consequences, and he damn well knows it.

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