The United States is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and ideologies. Seen as a mecca for many in underdeveloped countries, America is believed to be a place where individuals can live free of the political tyranny seen in many parts of the world. Pew Research estimates more than 40 million people currently residing in the states were born abroad. According to the U.S. Department of State, the government anticipates receiving more than 300,000 asylum requests by the end of 2021. Recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Haiti are threatening to possibly surpass that number.
Contextually, a refugee is anyone born outside of the United States and its territories who has experienced persecution or “has a well-founded fear of persecution” based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, including sexual orientation and the LGBT community, and personal political views. Asylum can be granted to refugees who are either already in America after fleeing for the aforementioned reasons or individuals who appear at U.S. ports of entry like the borders between neighboring countries and the United States.
“I came to America as a refugee in the same system back in 2002 after 9/11 happened. We [myself and siblings] were fortunate enough to come without parents through a program called Unaccompanied Minors. There’s two in the United States, one in Grand Rapids,” said Diba Mohammadullah, who is a native-born Afghani.
Afghanistan has always been a country wracked by war. Serving as America’s longest war, the recently-ended U.S. War in Afghanistan was fueled by the Taliban takeover of the middle eastern country and terrorist attacks in America, including the tragedy of September 11, 2001. As the country continued to go through a political tug-of-war, its citizens became casualties of the 20-year struggle.
In 2019, amid a controversial presidency and administration, Donald Trump made the executive decision to call off Peace Talks and in 2020, though some troops had already begun to be pulled out of the country, the official withdrawal announcement came from the U.S. Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller. Assuming office in January 2021, President Joe Biden declared a full military withdrawal by September 2021.
Causing an outcry from thousands of Afghan natives, the airport at the country’s capital was immediately flooded with individuals fleeing from the Taliban’s control. Official numbers from the Pentagon report roughly 65,000 Afghans have been evacuated by the United States. America has also put into place a plan to resettle Afghans with Congress approving $6.3 billion dollars in emergency assistance to help with the efforts. For some, America’s investment in the war makes the country and its assets worth the cause.
“Billions of dollars have been spent on Afghanistan, so I think Americans see it as more relevant. Afghanistan has been at war for decades. I personally think it has a lot to do with the region. The reason Afghanistan is so valuable is because the mountains carry gold or diamonds or ruby’s so someone always has their hand in that pot,” said Mohammadullah.
Across the world from Afghanistan, similarly, Haitians are facing a unique set of difficulties in politics as well as the environment. The country’s president was assassinated in July 2021 causing an immediate domino effect in the country’s already weak political system. Additionally, Haiti continues to suffer the economic hardship caused by a 2010 earthquake which killed more than 250,000 and causing the country’s financial structure to crumble. Labeled the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti and its people have long since suffered the ramifications of a broken system. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the country in August, leading to a mass exodus, landing many Haitians right at America’s doorstep.
Now, thousands of Haitians are lining Texas borders for a chance at the American Dream. Though many migrated to South American countries like Brazil and Chile, restrictive immigration policies and COVID protocols have caused these country’s borders to remain closed. Making the journey through South America to Mexico and ultimately, to the Texas border is likened to a modern-day Underground Railroad, similarly being met with whips and horse-drawn men. With no plan in place for Haitian refugees, those seeking asylum have already started the process of being returned to their native land.
“The U.S. government showed a total disregard for the right to seek asylum when it sent agents on horseback with reins flailing to control and deter this largely Black migrant population,” said Alison Parker, U.S. managing director at Human Rights Watch. “This violent treatment of Haitians at the border is just the latest example of racially discriminatory, abusive and illegal U.S. border policies that are returning people to harm and humanitarian disaster.”
Organizations like Freedom House in Detroit works to aid refugees through the asylum process and provides a safe haven until legalization and citizenship is finalized in Michigan.
Though the organization is in place, for refugees, Freedom House is a safe house that must be found along their way. The organization does work with other entities with like-minded principles and wants to help refugees seek safety.
“To find Freedom House is another journey. That’s one of the aspects… [they] may have found or gotten their way into the United States, they would have to take the steps to find Freedom House, whether through referral, word of mouth, partner organization, faith-based groups or any organization that works with immigrants and refugees,” said Deborah Drennan, CEO for Freedom House.
As the country gets set to allow thousands of Afghan refugees to migrate to the states while Haitians are whipped at the Texas border, many are wondering why America has a different approach for Haitians seeking the chance at a better life.
“The Haitians who have arrived at the southern border in Texas have faced economic deprivation, environmental disasters, a pandemic and so much more. So, fighting for their survival and future, the bravery they undertook, the dangerous journey to come to the United States. Why wouldn’t we see that enough to say these are the strength of character,” said Drennan.
Though both minority groups have suffered both politically and economically, America plans to provide resettlement to thousands of Afghan refugees while Haitians seeking asylum are met with adverse consequences to seeking protection. The treatment raises the question of America’s longstanding battle with Black bodies.
“Speaking for myself, I think that it has always been a challenge, in this country for sure, but I think the fear of newcomers in general; anybody that looks different, anyone that has cultural differences that may seem odd or strange, I think certain mediums have highlighted that in how we portray Haitians and Middle Eastern people in movies. It has been ingrained that they are evil people and that is obviously not the case nor how Freedom House would treat its clients,” said Drennan.
Financially, asylum seekers enter the United States with little to no money. It could be one individual or a full family. Unable to work while seeking asylum, financial support is critical to help them through the process.
“Legally, asylum-seekers cannot earn an income during the process,” said Drennan. “The application is 12 pages but can look like a ream of paper once you have all the evidentiary support. It could take four months and that’s being generous, then 365 days from the date the application is received by the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) then, the work clock starts ticking when they can apply for work authorization.
In America, life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness are all but guaranteed, making it a desirable place for starting a better life. However, for those of African ancestry, will these guarantees ever include them?