Skip to main content

Federal Agents LARP Plantation Overseers at the Border as Biden Admin Appallingly Mistreats Refugees and Migrants

With the option to do better or go backwards in time, why do so many choose to go backwards?

Slightly blurred image of federal agents on horses near the Rio Grande corralling Haitian refugees. (Image: John

Content Warning: violent images.

When Joe Biden won the presidency and Democrats gained slight control of the Senate and House of Representatives, many hoped that even if there would be a big fight to pull together decent immigration reform, there would be an end to the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at our borders. If not progressive and optimistic legislation (that would abolish ICE), at least something humane and sensible could be passed or enacted from a conservative Democrat president and a divided country.

Now, we are exactly eight months into the Biden administration and seeing images of federal agents riding horses and whipping desperate refugees to corral them together.

Even taking the last five-plus years to parse the whitewashed American history taught in the Texas public education system could not have prepared me to see these images. Federal employees are now essentially LARPing (live-action role-playing) slave patrols and plantation overseers more blatantly now. I say more blatantly because they are already doing this in prison and convict leasing programs. Yes, you read that right.

While Governor Abbot and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have plenty of blame to share for these images as they regurgitate white supremacist talking points (of “invasions” and “white replacement”) and use state funds to finish “tHe WaLl,” these agents are controlled at the federal level. All the White House has said so far is that they are looking into it. At a press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “I can’t imagine what context would make that appropriate, but I don’t have additional details.”

There is also ZERO context in which whipping people in any manner is okay. I’ve already seen some conservatives debate the semantics of whether it is a whip or something else used in horse-riding, when the point is that the action was taken.

How did we get here, and what we owe to the refugees?

This is multiple issues colliding at once, with this incident being emblematic of larger issues, so let us be very specific in our focus here (even though inhumane treatment extends to non-Haitian refugees).

In the last few months, on top of a whole pandemic, Haiti had had to deal with the assassination of a president (with multiple leaders claiming to be in charge), a hurricane, and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed thousands. This is on top of the “eternal debt” owed still from having to pay back the lost “property” (human beings) to France from the Haitian Revolution over 200 years ago.

There are conflicting reports as to whether these migrants came because of the last few months or things that happened earlier (which, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute, is a moot point), but regardless, they are here. An estimated 15,000 migrants were crowded under the Del Rio Bridge last weekend, and this is on top of the many there before.

One would think the United States would be sending vaccination resources, judges, and caseworkers to help process these fleeing people. However, instead, the Biden administration is flying hundreds of them, each day, back to Haiti and is trying to use Title 42 to justify this cruelty. Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act gives federal health officials temporarily extended powers to limit the spread of diseases. While good in theory, it is being used like The Patriot Act for pandemics, enacting unnecessarily callous treatment in the name of public health.

After exhausting all other legal means to prevent refugees from legally using the asylum system, the Trump administration invoked this policy when the pandemic began. Instead of using it evenly, they chose to target this to use at the Mexico-U.S. border. The Biden administration has been fighting the court system to use this policy against refugees from Latin American and the Caribbean, too. In addition to Title 42, the Biden Administration also aims to use the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Biden and his administration are failing at most campaign promises regarding action in helping immigrants and refugees. The only thing different at this point is that they are telling themselves they are different from Trump when their actions/inactions prove otherwise.

The President of Doctors of the World told The Rolling Stone, “It makes no sense from a public health perspective, and it makes no sense at all. The prohibition for crossing the border has been applied selectively to asylum seekers, but students are allowed to cross the border, business people are allowed to cross the border, there’s a lot of people crossing the border.”

A Physicians for Human Rights director added, “I think many of us were hopeful that with the advent of the Biden administration, some of the most specious and spurious policies like Title 42 [would be revoked]. There has never, ever been any public health basis for singling out asylum-seekers for deportation.”

What we owe to the refugees

While I am not convinced (yet) that the United States is directly involved in the Haitian president’s assassination, we have a fraught contemporary history with the small island nation and hold much responsibility for the political, economic, and environmental issues influencing the people fleeing.

For the first 60 years, we failed to recognize Haiti as a sovereign nation because its existence as the first Black nation started by a slave revolt was seen as a threat. We backed France’s demand that Haiti continue to pay debt towards its freedom (which, at this point, is just making interest.) After another 60 years, in which we economically overtook the country (including changing their constitution), we literally took over the country with a military presence for 15 years to protect our economic interests. (Does this sound familiar?)

Abbreviated history of US and Haiti relations. (Image: Alyssa Shotwell.)

From 1935 til the late 1950s, it was mostly free of the U.S. because of its pro-capitalism stance and proximity to Cuba. That didn’t last long because, by the end of the ’50s, we were overtly (embargoes) and covertly entangled in the rotating cast of dictators and their families until 2005 (maybe). There was also a massive decade-long effort of the U.S. to undermine Haitian farmer workers. So, that’s 15 years of little U.S. pressures to another half century’s worth, at the least.

Highlights of the 2000s include the Bush administration and the Obama administration include using Haiti as a pawn in oil wars with Venezuela, keeping minimum wage under 31 cents an hour to sustain cheap clothes in the U.S., and ramped-up deportations of Haitians living in the U.S. for all but a few moments after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 people.

These are just the highlights, y’all. Many articles, books, and sites are dedicated to chronicling each year of this relationship between bullies (the U.S.) and Haiti. The only people that owe Haitians more are the french, but they are at our border, and the closest Paris is Paris, Texas.

Refugees will continue to come

As someone who was a teenager for most of the Obama administration, it took me well into the Trump administration to even get an inkling of destruction and atrocities (drone strikes and immigration practices) committed between 2008 and 2016. Despite this, I had no time to really rationalize it all because Donald Trump was a present and immediate danger to my community, as a Black woman living in a town where most of my friends growing up were Dreamers. Now well into the Biden administration, we are being reminded that a return to “common decency” just meant at the surface level if we are lucky, and nothing substantive.

Regardless of who is president, refugees will continue to come. Our media presence and imperialistic attitudes since its founding mean people see this country as a beacon of light as they escape natural disasters (made worse by climate change we fuel), corruption, poverty, and violence that have often been caused by our country’s actions. We need to take responsibility.

(image: John Moore/Getty Images)

Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)