We Need a Humanitarian Solution to Del Rio | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Maria Pabon during a Newsweek podcast debate on the Del Rio, Texas immigration crisis. You can listen to the podcast here:

What we have here is a very dire humanitarian crisis. We have a country that has suffered the assassination of its president and an earthquake within weeks from each other. These are refugees fleeing political instability in their country, and it's not 1.4 million (refugees fleeing) or the number that Mr. Arthur has cited. I think the numbers we saw were about maybe 12,000 to 15,000 who were camped there in Del Rio under the bridge. And now there's been, I think, 17 flights to repatriate them—which, of course, is very sad because if they're fleeing persecution and you send them right back to where they're going to be persecuted, you're violating international human rights norms. And that has even caused the special envoy from the Biden administration to quit, with a very specific letter detailing the human rights violations.

So it's a very complicated and difficult situation, but unfortunately it's not anything unusual. We had the Haitian repatriation program from President Reagan and then there was a lawsuit that enjoined that in the 80s. We have a history of treating immigrants of color in a very different way than we treat Norwegian immigrants, for example, who are very fortunate. They don't have to flee their country for persecution.

A United States Border Patrol agent on
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021. PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images

We start by recognizing, again, that it's a humanitarian crisis and that even if some of the Haitians that are coming are coming through Chile, they were not firmly resettled in Chile. Under humanitarian refugee law, you can claim firm resettlement in a third country—the U.S. could say these Haitians firmly resettled there, but they didn't. There's a whole process of resettlement in Chile, which has not included the majority of the Haitians that were there. So they are driven from Chile. So what's the plan to return them back to a country that doesn't firmly resettle them, or back to a country where they will be persecuted? Instead, I encourage us to think about what Germany did with the Syrian refugees, where Germany has become a pretty strong country because they opened the doors to people fleeing war. Their economy is doing well.

Instead of thinking of the Haitians as our enemy, we should think about it as people who can contribute to our economy. If they're fleeing persecution and they are able to prove their asylum claims, then they could get employment authorization and stay here in the United States and work and grow. I mean, I'm here in New Orleans—there are so many openings for jobs, and there are not enough people to work these low jobs. So I think that there's a lot that we can do quite differently while following the law.

And in terms of the documents that the Chilean government may have provided, at least my reading of the press that I was able to read in Spanish, shows that the conditions in Chile have deteriorated very rapidly for the Haitians there. Haitians are our neighbors. The Caribbean is close to us—much closer than Chile. And considering that the United States supported the Duvalier regime, which has caused and unleashed all the after-effects that we are experiencing, the Haitians deserve a fair chance like the Cubans have had. I think it's not just the right thing to do, and the humanitarian thing to do, but the American way.

Maria Pabon is a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.