TEXAS VIEW: Biden administration misled America on Haitian migrants

THE POINT: Muddled messages and failed diplomacy mark response.

The most important leadership skill for any administration is to be frank, direct and purposeful — to say what they mean and mean what they say.

In its response to the crisis of Haitian migrants at the border, the Biden administration has misled the American people. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has talked tough, suggesting the border with Mexico is closed and that the United States would deport Haitian migrants back to the island nation.

Instead, the administration also was quietly releasing thousands with a summons back to a court in 60 days, information that came to light through reporters on the ground in Del Rio.

There is no other way to put it. The administration is playing both sides against the middle and sending jumbled messages to the American people, to Mexico and Central American governments and mostly to desperate migrants seeking refuge in the United States.

What the Biden administration fails to admit is that the surge in Del Rio is the result of an embarrassing diplomatic failure. In April, the Biden administration struck an agreement with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to temporarily deploy troops to increase border security and prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

Then in June, the Biden administration formally ended the Trump-era policy of returning asylum-seekers to Mexico until their court dates in the United States, according to a memo from Mayorkas.

Earlier this month, however, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that he wanted Biden to address the root causes of migration, something we thought Vice President Kamala Harris had been tasked to do, and offer temporary work visas to Central Americans.

The surge of Haitians began a few days later, and last week, López Obrador said Mexico will continue to help the United States slow illegal immigration. “We have tried to keep migrants in shelters, above all to protect minors, women,” López Obrador said. “But this can’t go on forever; we have to get to the bottom of the issue and that means investing in the development of poor countries.”

The U.S. policy of sending Haitians to Haiti has caused some to turn around and others to stay in Mexico or return to Central or South America, where many had lived since an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010.

A policy of contain and detain is not a solution. Most asylum-seekers aren’t Mexican, and Mexico is under no legal obligation to accept non-Mexican asylum-seekers back across the border to wait for hearings on their claims. As López Obrador says, “You can’t open the border and let everyone freely cross.”

Yes, that is true, and it applies to Mexico’s northern and southern borders, too.

The Biden administration continues to send mixed messages to migrants, neighboring countries and the American people. There will be other surges of distressed migrants willing to attempt the hazardous journey from the Northern Triangle and beyond across México to the United States. Del Rio was the entry point this time. But the Rio Grande Valley remains a major crossing point, too.

Slowing the surge of migrants depends on several factors. Congress and the administration must be willing to secure the border and provide swifter processing of asylum claims. And this effort also requires regional cooperation to rebuild economies and suppress criminal cartels to reduce the incentive for families and individuals to migrate northward.

Vice President Harris has expressed concerns about the treatment of Haitian migrants by border patrol agents on horses, a tone echoed in the resignation letter of Daniel Foote, the Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti, who characterized the expulsion of Haitians from Del Rio to Haiti as “inhumane.”

Any valid allegations of mistreatment deserve investigation, but we also urge the president and vice president to engage more productively through diplomacy. The State Department had reached out to Chile and Brazil to take Haitians who were previously residing in those countries. Long-term solutions will be tougher to achieve unless existing agreements to slow surges northward hold up.

Dallas Morning News