Democrats are denouncing President Trump's decision to end the Temporary Protected Status program for 50,000 Haitians in the U.S.
The chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, said: "Donald Trump's cruelty knows no bounds. ...As the proud son of two immigrants who fled a repressive regime, I'm disgusted at the president's heartlessness. With this decision, Trump is tearing families apart and turning his back on the values that have made America great."
Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, called the decision "bad for our American values."
I'd tend to be in favor of allowing Haitians and other immigrants to stay in America. But one of the services we try to provide around here is providing context and perspective that helps distinguish between merely bad decisions by President Trump and exceptionally, unusually bad decisions by President Trump. This one seems to be a case where Mr. Trump's Democratic predecessors were, alas, similarly cruel and heartless.
Here is a New York Times news article from January 1993 headlined "Clinton Says U.S. Will Continue U.S. Ban on Haitian Exodus." It says in part, "in a bluntly worded taped radio message broadcast this morning directly to Haiti and Haitian communities in the United States, Mr. Clinton said that Haitians who fled by boat would be intercepted and returned to the island....Mr. Clinton's announcement was met with dismay in Haiti and among American refugee groups."
Here is another Times news article from June 1993. It begins, "The Supreme Court today upheld the Bush and Clinton Administrations' policy of intercepting fleeing Haitians at sea and returning them to Haiti without asylum hearings...President Clinton denounced the interdictions as 'cruel' and illegal in the Presidential campaign last year. But he kept the policy in place..."
Then there are three Times articles from September of 2016. A September 22 report says, "The Obama administration, responding to an extraordinary wave of Haitian migrants seeking to enter the United States, said on Thursday that it would fully resume deportations of undocumented Haitian immigrants." A September 23 report on the Times front page was headlined "Haitians, After Perilous Journey, Find Door to U.S. Abruptly Shut." It reported, "The unexpected change sowed deep disappointment and confusion among the hundreds of Haitians at the border who thought they were only days away from entering the United States. Thousands more are still on their way, risking their lives on a perilous trip, probably in vain." On September 29, the Times reported:
A sudden shift in American immigration policy has divided scores of Haitian families trying to enter the United States from Mexico, immigrants and advocates say.
The policy change, announced last week, has separated wives from husbands and children from their fathers, stranding the men in Mexico after their families were allowed to cross into the United States.
"I'm hoping God makes miracles," said Sandra Alexandre, who was allowed into the United States last week ahead of her boyfriend and gave birth three days later. The new policy went into effect right before the child's father could cross.
The family separations appear to be an unintended consequence of the Obama administration's effort to tighten the border against the arrival of thousands of Haitians streaming north from Brazil, mostly to seek employment in the United States.
Until the change, the United States had been allowing Haitians without visas to enter under a temporary humanitarian parole, a special concession owing to the social, economic and political troubles facing Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. But on Sept. 22, amid a surge in Haitians from Brazil, the Obama administration said it was resuming the deportation of Haitians who presented themselves at border crossings without immigration documentation.
The policy change effectively shut the door on newly arriving undocumented Haitians, including men whose partners and children had already been admitted.
Cruelty, heartlessness, tearing families apart — these terms may well accurately describe the Trump Haiti immigration policy. But they also describe the Clinton and Obama Haiti immigration policies. Trump's approach fits the previously established pattern more than it breaks away from it. That's probably not much consolation if you are a Haitian about to be deported or turned away at the border or at sea. It may be that the Trump policy is the worst. It's possible I am missing something. But so far as I can tell, not a single one of these administrations has been exactly heroic on this issue.