The US owes a debt to Haiti. Why experts say of their shared history led to a migrant crisis on the border


Masked protestor holding up a 'US hands off Haiti!' sign.
Demonstrators protest outside the US Citizenship and Immigration Service office in Miami, on February 20, 2021, demanding that the administration of US President Joe Biden cease deporting Haitian immigrants back to Haiti.

Many were outraged as images of patrol border officers on horses were seen brutally whipping Haitian migrants as they neared the US-Mexico border.

  • The Biden administration faced outrage for dispersing thousands of Haitian migrants from the US-Mexico border.

  • Haiti's history of foreign interference has shaped global perspectives and stunted the country's progress.

  • Experts estimate Haiti is owed billions in reparations from France and the US for colonialism and occupation.


  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.


In the past week, nearly 14,00 migrants, mostly Haitians, were found seeking asylum in Del Rio, Texas, following a destructive earthquake and the assassination of Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse.


Instead of providing shelter and refuge for the migrants, the US continued to deport Haitians to Port-au-Prince after years of being targeted by imperialism and xenophobia, and what experts say as history repeating itself.


Related Article Module: The US deported dozens of children without Haitian passports to Haiti, report says

"Anything you have read about Haiti thus far will remind you of an all too common and limited narrative," artist Gina Athena Ulysse wrote in a 2019 essay for Tikkun. "The 'first Black Republic' is 'the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.'"


"What almost none of them will mention is that Haiti also has one of the highest numbers of millionaires per capita in the region," she added.


Haitian scholars spoke with Insider about how assumptions and stereotypes about the island perpetuate the limited narratives that can put Haitian migrants at risk.


"Cuba, Haiti, and all others are as complex as the US, Canada, and European countries, and allowing room for these latter to have complexity while expecting uniformity from these islands or island nations are quite uninformed and essentialist," Dr. Manoucheka Celeste, associate professor at the University of Florida, told Insider.


Political interference in Haitian politics shapes global perspectives


Haiti and the United States share an intertwined history as the second and oldest countries in the Western Hemisphere, respectively.


But the US refused to acknowledge Haiti's 1804 independence from France for nearly 60 years, kicking off centuries of military coups and political meddling that devastated the Caribbean nation - from a decades-long US invasion and occupation in 1915, to disastrous aid relief efforts today.


Between France and the US, experts estimate Haiti is owed billions in reparations for the impact of colonialism, slavery and even the US's theft of an uninhabited island the country owns.




Dr. Celeste, whose book "Race, Gender, and Citizenship in the African Diaspora: Travelling Blackness" details this shared history, added that despite that shared history, US imperialism influences how Haitians are received and treated abroad.


"Haitian immigrants have been particularly stigmatized, echoing images of Haiti, as poor, dangerous, sick, and this impacts how we are received in communities, schools, employment opportunities and all aspects of everyday life," she said.


The Caribbean island has also been misrepresented through the media, manipulating perceptions of it.


A misconception that Nadève Ménard, author and professor of literature at the École Normale Supérieure of Université d'État d'Haïti, has noticed is that the current political climate is somehow unique.


"What is happening here is very much part of larger global networks," she told Insider. "Aid industries need aid recipients, for example. The sophisticated weapons that gangs here are displaying are being sold by someone."


"Many people, Haitians and non-Haitians alike are benefiting from what is happening here in very concrete ways," Ménard argued.


Coverage of climate disasters, corruption worsens anti-Haitian bias


Haitian migrant holding hand of child wearing an American flag, stars-and-stripes, hat.
Haitian migrants are seen at the Terraza Fandango shelter. Almost all of the mostly Haitian migrants who had gathered on both sides of the US-Mexico border have left their makeshift camps, ending a standoff that had provoked a major border crisis for the Biden administration.

According to Dr. Celeste's research, even though the Caribbean is an incredibly diverse region - racially, ethnically, linguistically - it only makes international or US news when "bad" or "strange" things happen, like a hurricane or political crisis.


Haiti, for example, saw a spike in global news coverage following the 2010 catastrophic earthquake, with outlets gaining readers and revenue from disaster profiteering that already impacted the country.


For experts, it's like clockwork that the media feeds on disaster reporting when convenient.


Professor Guerra explained that Haiti is seen as a failure whose problems are its own creation, not those of the outside world. It is certainly not the fault of consistently accumulated historical injustices.


"We treat Haiti as a pariah that is undeserving of respect, let alone sovereignty," she concluded.



Following the president's assassination, there has been a rotation of Haitian politicians wanting to claim power. That insecurity was made worse when a sudden 7.2 earthquake struck Haiti's southwest, exacerbating the existing migration crisis at the southern border in Texas.


Amid the political reshuffles, publications have been quick to point out Haiti's extensive corruption. Scholars call on observers to ask themselves why that is.


"It is problematic to imply that corruption only happens in Haiti or happens here more than elsewhere.," she added. "Nations like to present themselves as paragons of virtue, but often their representatives are very much implicated in the corruption they point to in other places," she added.


On Tuesday afternoon, following the images of US Customs and Border Protection agents grabbing Haitian migrants near Del Rio, Texas, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden found the footage "horrific" and "horrible."


According to the administration, an investigation has been launched to "get to the bottom of what happened."


However, according to the Associated Press, the Biden administration kept deporting Haitian migrants since the images first surfaced, with more scheduled flights to come.


Advocates say centering Haiti and its diaspora is key to progress


Scholars say the treatment of Haitians is based on racial stereotypes that have long existed before the incidents of the past year, but challenged those moved by recent events in Haiti to learn about Haiti from Haitians.


"The way to counter stereotypes is to go to sources where Haitians are speaking for themselves," Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat told Insider in an email, encouraging people to listen to Haitian youth and elders.


"We are not a monolith. Haiti is not a monolith. We don't always agree. We have layers. We contain multitudes," she added.


With the dehumanizing visuals of Haitian migrants at the border this week, there are renewed calls to help Haiti - a common sentiment the internet shared just a few years ago.


In 2010, after the catastrophic earthquake of a 7.0 magnitude killed hundreds of thousands of people, many celebrities were found organizing concerts and benefits, singing songs, and centering themselves in the cause.




The way to counter stereotypes is to go to sources where Haitians are speaking for themselves. We are not a monolith. Haiti is not a monolith. Edwidge Danticat

Danticat encourages supporters to immerse themselves in Haitian-led cultural initiatives, including reading Haitian writers, listening to Haitian music, and taking in Haitian art and even social media.


Today, politicians and public figures are using their platforms to take an explicit stance and remind people of the role international communities have had in Haiti; past and present.


"I think the reason why we're not seeing more help, if I'm going to be frank about it, is because they are Haitian," The View co-host Sunny Hostin said during the show's broadcast Wednesday.


Following the traumatic year Haiti has seen, many Haitian scholars are calling out what is most familiar in pop culture: performative advocacy in the form of heartbreak emojis, prayers, and hashtags on social media.


Marlene Daut, a Professor of African diaspora studies at the University of Virginia, recognizes the public outcry as opportunistic and meaningless, highlighting the role of disaster capitalism on other Caribbean islands, like in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.


"I think a lot of people when they do charity, they want it to be easy," she said. "If you really want to do good things for Haitians, then it involves the difficult work of finding out what that would be," she said.


With the diaspora and allies holding North America and Europe accountable, Daut says it "could be a moment for a reckoning, if we allow it to be, and for it to not get swept under the rug again, and also to not repeat the past. We need to remember that these things happened, because there's a dangerous moment right now in Haiti."


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