The United States has long been a beacon of freedom and opportunity to those throughout the world. A nation settled by immigrants nearly 250 years ago, the very foundation of America was built on the premise that all those in need of safe haven are welcome.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of visas are granted to foreign nationals from nearly every country on the globe, many of them seeking permanent residency and asylum status. But recent events have highlighted some key differences in how the United States views the status of certain immigrants, specifically those fleeing Haiti and Afghanistan.
This past summer saw many political changes in both countries, bringing about serious safety concerns for their citizens, forcing thousands to flee their home and seek refuge in the United States. However, reception for each nationality was greeted differently.
Evacuation of Afghan Refugees
Early into President Joe Biden’s first year in office, he announced his intention to withdraw American troops in Afghanistan, marking a definite end to the nearly 20-year war. Over the first half of 2021, American military bases were systematically closed and vacated, the last pulling out in August.
The removal of the American military triggered a rapid and hostile takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, putting tens of thousands of Afghan allies at risk of violent persecution for their cooperation with military personnel during the war.
In tandem with the withdrawal of troops, the Biden Administration initiated a plan to resettle over 70,000 Afghan evacuees in the United States, utilizing a process known as humanitarian parole. Outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, recognition of urgent humanitarian reasons by the American government allows citizens of that country to legally enter and reside in the United States without a visa.
The offering of humanitarian parole typically follows the withdrawal of American troops in war-torn regions to evacuate allies and those at risk of persecution. The last resettlement of this size followed the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s, providing refuge for more than 130,000 Vietnamese citizens.
Afghan evacuees were distributed to temporary housing facilities established on eight domestic military bases throughout the US.
In addition to parole, Special Immigrant Visas were offered for Afghans applying for permanent residency, which also provides residency for spouses and children of those who hold the visa.
In November, the Biden Administration announced residency and work permit fee waivers for Afghan evacuees along with a new initiative providing additional support and resources as they integrate into new communities.
In a significant change to immigrant sponsoring host requirements, Biden announced the establishment of the Sponsor Circle Program, allowing private individuals and groups to sponsor evacuees and families. Most notably, the program allows military veterans to sponsor Afghan allies with whom they directly worked during the war.
As of mid-November, over 25,000 Afghan evacuees and their families have resettled into communities across the United States.
Arrival of Haitian Asylum Seekers
Haitian migrants have sought asylum in the United States for more than 50 years. The devastating and dangerous decline in Haiti over the past decade has prompted tens of thousands to flee the country for their very survival.
A litany of natural disasters, disease epidemics, and government upheaval has produced unimaginable destruction and poverty. Over the past 10 years, two catastrophic earthquakes killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians and displaced millions of survivors while triggering the worst cholera outbreak in history.
Hurricane Matthew in 2016 destroyed thousands of homes and nearly 75 percent of the country’s food supply, sparking a rise in gang violence, even worse poverty, and unprecedented levels of food insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 further devastated Haitians, exacerbating the acute hunger and health-care crisis already gripping the country.
This past July, as the rest of the world slowly emerged from mandated COVID-19 lockdowns, Haiti was again rocked by tragedy and natural disasters. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, sparking violent civil unrest throughout the country, followed by yet another devastating earthquake and a deadly tropical storm.
These events proved to be the breaking point for tens of thousands of Haitians already on the brink of survival, prompting thousands to flee the country en masse out of sheer desperation. Within weeks, they began arriving at the United States’ southern border, piling into a makeshift encampment under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, in hopes of gaining asylum into the country.
Citing a multitude of rationales, including concern that refugees may initiate additional COVID-19 outbreaks, the United States denied access, and immigration authorities began more aggressive efforts, forcing the Haitians back into Mexico or their home country. Within days, they emptied the camp entirely.
The United States has an extensive history of welcoming and granting refugees from impoverished and war-torn nations the right of protection under asylum. That right has been rescinded since March 2020 when COVID-19 forced lockdowns and travel bans in nearly every country of the world.
Since then, all refugees, including thousands of Haitians, have been turned away, with Title 42 of U.S. public health law used as justification for denying asylum. Title 42 empowers the Department of Health and Human Services and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enact emergency orders denying entry if there is credible threat of spreading communicable diseases. Since 2020, over 25,000 refugees have been forced back into encampments in Mexico or returned to Haiti.
Why Is Each Group Being Treated Differently?
According to the Director for Homeland Security, it comes down to perspective. In other words, it stems from how the government views the refugees as the basis for distinction between allowing or denying Haitians and Afghans to resettle in the United States.
Afghan nationals are arriving on invitation from the United States government as a protection measure. Those being evacuated served alongside American military personnel during the Afghan War, assisting in the effort to protect their homeland from the Taliban, a violent Islamic fundamentalist military group. The withdrawal of American troops exposed these allies to imminent threat of retaliation from the Taliban, who quickly and violently took over the country in a matter of weeks.
Haitian asylum seekers, on the other hand, are not viewed as needing protection from the United States. The Refugee Act of 1980 permits refugee status based on non-refoulement, meaning asylum seekers cannot be returned to their country if the United States determines that doing so puts them in grave danger.
Despite the violent unrest, acute hunger crisis and insurmountable poverty that forced the Haitians to flee, the Biden Administration determined in September that Haiti was, in fact, safe and refugees would not be harmed if they returned.
Determining conditions in Haiti are not severe enough to be considered unsafe is significant, as it nullifies the refugee’s petition for asylum based on political oppression or violence. With no basis for asylum status, the Haitian refugees were denied entry, and both countries have been working together to return them to Haiti and Mexico.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Assist Migrants Seeking Permanent Residency in the United States
Thousands of migrants from across the globe turn to the United States in hopes for a better life and opportunities. The experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC are here to help you achieve your goal. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.