Cubans and Haitians are experiencing violent political crises in their countries. Cuba has been roiled by its largest street protests in decades in the face of desperate economic conditions. Haiti, with its already long-standing economic struggles as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has now been rocked by the recent assassination of its president, Jovenel Moise.

These simultaneous events have raised the specter of a double refugee migration crisis for the US, which has a long and complicated history dealing with migrants and refugees from both of these island neighbors.

While the suffering and danger – including fear of persecution and torture – faced by citizens of both countries is very real, the US has not hesitated to state its uncompromising position. Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, warned in no uncertain terms recently, “The time is never right to attempt migration by sea… Allow me to be clear: if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States.”

Secretary Mayorkas professes that the US is committed to supporting the Haitian government and affirms its support for the people of Haiti and stands “in solidarity with the Cuban people and their call for freedom from repression and economic suffering.” Yet in the same statement, he unequivocally states that those fleeing their countries by boat, will not be allowed to enter the US, even if they establish a credible claim for asylum, but will instead be relocated to unspecified third countries for resettlement.

This hardline response from the Biden administration has been met with swift criticism by immigrant advocacy groups. Amnesty International USA called it “a shameful message from the US government to offshore its responsibilities for refugee protection [and] a horrible turning away from [their] promised commitment to human rights and racial justice.” The Southern Poverty Law Center lamented that “it is disappointing to see Secretary Mayorkas, himself the son of Cuban refugees, attempting to foreclose that right for Cuban and Haitian nationals when they most need it”.

Biden came into office with highly admirable promises to undo the anti-immigrant and refugee measures of his predecessor. These crises provide an ideal opportunity for him to put into action his professed desire to return to our better American values of protecting and welcoming immigrants and refugees in most need of our protection. His administration should not bow to local and short-term political pressures but should make the tough choices required to provide real and lasting protection to those in their hour of need.

By The Immigration Post – Guest Editor

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