For many, the inauguration of the Biden Administration represented a change in direction from the many harmful policies of the previous administration, particularly in immigration. Unfortunately, this had not been the case for Black immigrants, both within the United States and those seeking safety at our border.

On the very first day of Black History month, an ICE flight returned migrants to Haiti, including children and infants. A February 8, 2021 flight returned 21 children to Haiti, including one as young as two months old. The administration is removing these children under the Title 42 order, which completely shut down the southern border under the pretext of public health, denies families the opportunity to seek protection from persecution and violence in violation of U.S. law; the Biden administration has announced that expulsions under the order will continue. Additionally, almost every day since the beginning of the month, the government has returned migrants to multiple Black majority countries, including Haiti, Cameroon, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Children generally pay the highest price during conflicts, and the conflicts that Black immigrants are being returned to are no different. In Cameroon, children are disproportionately targeted for violence and recruitment as child soldiers, make up 64%  of those internally displaced, and 70% remain out of school. Haiti is in the middle of a political uprising, adding to compounding economic, public health, and political crises. In Mauritania, one African country to which the Trump administration increased deportation flights, Black children experience high rates of enslavement and child marriage due to racism within the country. The impact of these conflicts on children, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, make it unsafe to return children and families to these countries.

Our broader immigration system has a legacy of anti-Black racism. Because of racist policies, law enforcement targets Black immigrants as it does other Black people in America. Additionally, despite the life-or-death consequences of the immigration system, immigrants are denied many of the constitutional protections that exist in the criminal legal system, including the right to legal representation that can help immigrants challenge detention and file claims for humanitarian protection. As a result, Black immigrants disproportionately face longer periods in detention, higher costs of bond, and greater risk of deportation. Though they make up 7% of non-citizens in the United States, Black people make up one-fifth of those facing deportation on criminal grounds though all racial groups, citizen or non-citizen, commit crimes at similar rates, displaying the intersection of racism impacting our immigration and criminal legal systems. During the COVID-19 pandemic, almost half of the families in family detention were Haitian, and U.S. citizen newborns of Haitian and other descent born at the border were returned to Mexico without birth certificates, likely leaving them stateless.

Racism in our immigration system impacts children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has clearly outlined the impact racism has on child and adolescent health and development. On top of other systematic barriers and inequalities they experience in the United States, Black children of immigrants also face higher risks of family separation and emotional trauma. In particular, children separated from family experience high levels of stress for long periods, which can wear and tear on their physical, mental, and emotional health. Families who lose a family member due to detention or deportation can also experience economic hardship, including housing instability and lack of healthy nutrition. Black children of immigrants should have what we know all children need—stable family settings and access to resources that support their healthy development, future success, and engagement with their family, peers, and community.

Black-led organizations have led calls to the administration and members of Congress to stop deportations. Their leadership resulted in a victory when flights to Haiti were briefly halted. However, Black immigrant communities should not need to seek out intel on every flight and engage in ongoing advocacy for the administration to stop inflicting pain on their communities. Swift executive action could put in place systemic changes that promote the health and well-being of Black children of immigrants by preserving their families and connecting them to resources in their communities here in the United States.

The Biden administration has failed to use a racial equity lens in executive orders to reform the immigration system. It has also failed to consider immigration status in the executive order on race equity. As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi argues, policies are either racist or anti-racist, and it is racist to continue to ignore the needs of Black immigrants and their families. Immigration is a children’s issue, a Black issue, a Black children’s issue. A fair and just immigration system is one that is in the best interests of children and where Black immigrant children and their families are seen, heard, and centered in defining the future of the American immigration system.

This Black History Month and moving forward, the Biden Administration should:

  • Immediately designate Cameroon and Mauritania for Deferred Enforced Departure and Temporary Protected Status, and redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status.
  • Immediately halt deportations and expulsions under the Title 42 order to Black-majority countries, and resume the processing of asylum seekers at the border as recommended by public health professionals.
  • Provide a right to return to the United States for those wrongfully returned under the Title 42 order and those who fall outside the administration’s interim enforcement priorities.
  • End family detention and ensure all recently arrived children and families have a fair opportunity to seek humanitarian protection while connected with services in the community.
  • Address anti-Black racism throughout the immigration system, including policies and decisions related to detention, deportation, adjudication of humanitarian protection, and the visa system, in partnership with Black-led immigrant organizations.

Ultimately, Congress has a role in putting forth permanent solutions to make our immigration system fair and just for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. Congress should pass laws that provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, reform family, and diversity visas, and strengthen our asylum and refugee systems in ways that are racially equitable.