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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Chaos on the border forces Americans to decide who we really are and what kind of country we want to be

Some readers think that, as a Mexican American, I have a soft spot for Latino immigrants. These readers also assume that my views would harden if we confronted a wave of immigrants who were non-Latino.

Well, here we are. Thousands of migrants and refugees are crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas. And they’re not coming from Mexico or Central America. They’re from Haiti.

And I’m facing a bit of a conundrum.

I don’t suppose the White House can help me sort this out. The Oval Office is overwhelmed. It’s hard to say which is more chaotic: the madness at the U.S.-Mexico border, or the Biden administration’s incoherent strategy for dealing with the madness at the U.S.-Mexico border.

At the height of the crisis, which occurred around mid-September, an estimated 15,000 refugees — most of them Haitians, including men, women, children and infants — braved the brisk currents of the Rio Grande and waded ashore near Del Rio, Texas.

These desperate souls camped under bridges until they figured out their next move. That move depended entirely on what U.S. authorities decided to do with these uninvited guests.

Until a few days ago, the plan of U.S. authorities was simple: deport scores of people back to Haiti, as quickly and quietly as possible. Authorities told reporters that they were going to remove as many as 1,000 people per day on what will eventually be seven daily flights.

There was even a rough timeline. According to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the entire initiative could be carried out over nine or 10 days, which would take us to the beginning of October.

Now we learn that the repatriating is already underway. More than 1,100 refugees have been deported back to Haiti — without immigration lawyers, asylum hearings or due process of any kind.

This must have been quite convenient for the Biden administration. It was also quite un-American. The system is already rigged to the point where only about 25 percent of asylum claims are victorious. Given that the chances are slim to none, it’s cruel and unfair to take away “slim.”

Meanwhile, just the rumor of impending deportations was enough to send thousands of Haitians retreating back to Mexico. But, in all likelihood, they’ll be back in Texas soon enough to try their luck again.

Why not? The Biden administration changes its immigration policy on a whim, sending mixed signals to the desperate.

First, Mayorkas announces that Haitians should not come to Texas, or they will be apprehended and sent home to Haiti.

Then, a few days later, the DHS Secretary told reporters: “Many of the individuals who we encounter claim asylum and have a right to have those asylum claims heard as our laws provide.”

Sure enough. Three U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have now disclosed to reporters that more than 1,000 Haitians were discreetly allowed to enter the United States as part of the legal asylum process and given notices to appear in immigration court within 60 days.

The one thing that, it seems, no one can explain is how these life-altering decisions are made. Does the border patrol flip a coin? Some migrants go back to Port-au-Prince, while others get to go on to Portland?

Many of those headed back to the Caribbean haven’t lived in Haiti for more than a decade. They left after the devastating 2010 earthquake. They’ve been living in South America, in countries such as Chile or Colombia. It makes no sense to send these poor people to a place they no longer recognize, where — after a series of catastrophic earthquakes, floods and mudslides — nothing awaits them but destruction and despair.

Now back to my conundrum. It turns out I don’t have one after all.

Just because the Biden administration is inconsistent and flip-flops between contradictory policies — confusing the Haitians and everyone else — doesn’t mean I have to do the same. If they can make it to one of our borders or ports of entry, any desperate person in the world has the absolute right to plead their case and roll the dice in a U.S. asylum hearing.

Of course, these people don’t have the right to stay permanently in the United States. They must earn that. But they have the right to try.

In America, that’s how we roll. And it explains why this land of second chances is often the first choice for many of those searching for new lives.

About that, we ought to be damn proud.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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