The conservatives are just as sickened by the images from the Texas town of Del Rio — and feeling vindicated that the Biden approach is producing the calamity they had long predicted.
Even Biden’s special envoy to Haiti has just resigned in protest.
Immigration has been one of the most intractable problems of American politics. George W. Bush tried and failed to solve it. So did Barack Obama and various Senate gangs. It was one of the most emotional battles of Donald Trump’s presidency, whose practice of separating families, among other things, brought thundering denunciations from his opponents.
And now Joe Biden, having insisted his more humane approach could work, has watched the situation blow up twice — first with Central Americans coming to the Mexican border, and now with about 15,000 Haitians crossing the Rio Grande. No less an establishment figure than Chuck Schumer is denouncing the policy.
It’s a paradox: Once Biden signaled that unaccompanied minors would not be turned back, they ignored the ritual incantations of “don’t come” from Biden and Kamala Harris. Once the human surge of Haitians was allowed to camp out in squalid conditions under a Texas bridge — and face aggressive tactics from horse-riding federal agents — the system was, naturally, overwhelmed.
As the New York Times put it Thursday, “The images could have come straight from former President Donald J. Trump’s immigration playbook: mounted Border Patrol agents rounding up desperate Haitian families at the southwestern border for rapid deportation from the United States.” In the Times lexicon, the Trump playbook is a toxic taunt.
The Times quoted Marisa Franco, head of a Latino civil rights group, as asking Biden rhetorically: “How are you actually different than Trump?”
Daniel Foote, the special envoy, said in his resignation letter that “I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti.” The career foreign service officer disagrees with the “deeply flawed” deportation policy and therefore was right to resign.
Black lawmakers and activists are turning this into a racial controversy in ways they didn’t when primarily Latino migrants were crossing the border. Maxine Waters, the left-wing congresswoman, urged reporters to “write the story” about the cruel tactics, saying “they are trying to bring us back to slavery days and worse than that.” You can always count on her to be restrained.
Nana Gyamfi, head of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told the Washington Post that, as the paper put it, the treatment of the Haitians “is a product of anti-Black racism is clear in the comparison with how Afghan refugees have been received in recent weeks.”
The criticism wounds even though initial reports of rogue agents whipping migrants were false. They were still being herded by horses.
It’s not that the White House is putting a happy face on the situation. Jen Psaki called the images of mounted agents confronting migrants “horrific” and not “acceptable or appropriate,” pointing to a Homeland Security investigation. Biden’s vice president said “human beings should never be treated that way.”
But the president has not spoken out. When a reporter managed a question at the U.N. about the deteriorating border crisis, Biden said only, “We’ll get it under control.” He obviously doesn’t want to talk about it right now. But this is a situation where his routine avoidance of press questions and sit-down interviews is not serving him well.
This is not a situation where conservatives are the driving force behind the story, even if the GOP is exploiting it and refusing to budge on immigration. Liberal commentators are blaming Biden, along with leading Democrats and African-Americans who comprise his base. Biden badly wanted to abandon the Trump approach, but finds himself accused of emulating the man he ran against.