Biden Pushes Deterrent Border Policy After Promising ‘Humane’ Approach

The deportation of Haitian migrants is a stark example of how President Biden has deployed some of the most aggressive approaches to immigration put in place by former President Donald J. Trump.

By Michael D. Shear, Natalie Kitroeff, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Eileen Sullivan

WASHINGTON — The images could have come straight from former President Donald J. Trump’s immigration playbook: mounted Border Patrol agents rounding up desperate Haitian families at the southwestern border for rapid deportation from the United States.

In fact, the aggressive effort to quickly clear a makeshift camp in Del Rio, Texas, of more than 15,000 Haitian migrants was part of a Biden administration response that included “surging” agents to the overrun area and using a Trump-era immigration policy to immediately send many people home.

President Biden’s spokeswoman said the scenes of agents on horseback were “horrific” and not “acceptable or appropriate.” Vice President Kamala Harris said “human beings should never be treated that way.” The Department of Homeland Security said it was investigating.

Still, the deportations are a stark example of how Mr. Biden — who declared on Feb. 2 that his goal was to “undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration” — is deploying some of the most aggressive approaches to immigration put in place by Mr. Trump over the past four years.

Having failed in his attempts to build a more “humane” set of immigration laws, Mr. Biden has reacted in a way that few of his supporters expected. In case after case, he has shown a willingness to use tough measures, even as he struggles to confront a challenge that has vexed presidents for decades: securing the borders while living up to U.S. humanitarian obligations to migrants fleeing economic hardship, political instability and violence.

The approach has prompted fierce debate in the administration, where some of his top aides favor stronger policies that would deter people from trying to cross the border, while others advocate a more welcoming stance.

The hard line has infuriated immigration advocates, who have lashed out at the president for expelling the Haitians.

But their frustration with Mr. Biden runs deeper than the current situation. Many said they had begun to doubt whether he had the will or the desire to make good on any of his immigration promises.

“The question that’s being asked now is: How are you actually different than Trump?” said Marisa Franco, the executive director of Mijente, a Latino civil rights organization, who consulted the Biden campaign as a representative for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. “You campaigned that immigration was one of the places where Trump was inhumane and failed. And last time I checked, Trump is not the president.”

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