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Bostonians protest expulsion of Haitians

Politicians, activists call on Biden to end forced repatriation policy

Avery Bleichfeld
Bostonians protest expulsion of Haitians
Demonstrators in front of the JFK federal building in Boston. PHOTO: AVERY BLEICHFELD

Activists and members of the Haitian diaspora gathered Friday in Boston to protest the Biden administration’s recent expulsion of Haitian migrants at the southern U.S. border.

The migrants, who were trying to cross the Rio Grande and reach an encampment in the border town of Del Rio, Texas, faced dire conditions if they reached the camp. Many were turned away and immediately sent back to Haiti.

Photos of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents on horseback chasing down migrants as they crossed the river drew outrage last week. Some of the photographs showed agents on horseback appearing to use their reins as whips, which some politicians and activists likened to images of slavery.

The Boston protest, which was held in front of the JFK Building in Government Center, was hosted by the nonprofit organization Haitian-Americans United, Inc. (HAU).

Dieufort Fleurissaint, chair of HAU, said Haiti — which in recent months has faced a hurricane, an earthquake and political unrest following the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse — is not equipped to receive expelled migrants.

“You’re talking about food insecurity, political instability, social unrest,” said Fleurissaint, who called the Biden administration’s actions “immoral.”

The campaign of Ruthzee Louijeune, who is running for a Boston at-large city council seat, helped organize the protest. At the event, Louijeune, who is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, criticized what she sees as discrimination against Black immigrants.

“We are supposed to be a land that welcomes immigrants, yet we’re turning them away every chance that we get,” Louijeune said. “And we are supposed to be a country that celebrates our diversity, yet we allow anti-Blackness to cloud our policy, in this instance our immigration policy.”

The sentiment was common at the protest, where chants of “Haitian lives matter” alternated with chants of “Black lives matter.” According to the Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C., 95% of Haitians are Black.

Friday’s protest comes among a broader, nationwide pushback against the Biden administration’s use of Section 265 of Title 42 in response to the incoming Haitian migrants.

Section 265 of Title 42, more generally referred to as just Title 42 in the immigration context, was added to the United States Code in 1944 and allows the surgeon general to suspend the entry of people or imports into the United States to prevent the spread of diseases. The Trump administration first used Title 42 to turn away migrants in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was first ramping up in the United States.

Migrants removed under Title 42 are expelled rather than going through a normal deportation process, so they are removed without access to asylum processing.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke at a press conference in front of the U.S. Capitol Building about the migrant situation in Texas.

“It is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, one that requires a humanitarian response,” said Pressley, who is a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus and member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “But instead of leading with compassion and grace, these families have been met with cruelty.”

In a letter dated Thursday, Pressley and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt a set of five actions. Those recommendations included immediately halting deportations to Haiti; providing humanitarian parole to Haitian migrants, allowing them to seek asylum; and helping increase access to the COVID-19 vaccine in Haiti.

The spread of COVID-19 is a major factor in the discussion; Title 42, which as a whole describes public health and welfare actions in the United States, was first invoked in 2020 in response to the pandemic.

Fleurissaint said he thinks that Haitian migrants approaching the border should be offered vaccination and be allowed to apply for asylum instead of being turned away.

“When the migrants enter the United States or come to the border, they should definitely just inoculate them and let them have access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” Fleurissaint said. “The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, they could do that, basically, and a lot of those people are fleeing oppression, fleeing prosecution. According to International law, those people fleeing oppression, persecution, they should be allowed to submit claims for asylum.”

Franciscka Lucien, executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Justice in Haiti, said it’s important to vaccinate Haitians, but referenced letters from public health experts in May 2020 and September 1, 2021 saying that public health shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid meeting responsibility toward migrants.

On a local level, beyond action from members of Congress, the protest Friday was attended by several state senators and representatives who voiced their opposition to the Biden administration’s mass expulsion of immigrants.

Brandy Fluker Oakley, state representative for the 12th Suffolk District, who represents parts of Mattapan, Dorchester, Hyde Park and Milton, called the Haitian struggle “everyone’s struggle.”

“I want to be very clear, whether it’s Haitians who most recently are trying to escape the turmoil after the assassination of the president, the hurricane and the earthquake, or Haitians who left in 2010 and were living in Latin America, the fact remains the same: to send them back to a country that is in political turmoil and disarray is disrespectful, and we will not stand for it,” Fluker Oakley said at the protest.

According to a 2020 report from the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the largest Haitian populations within Boston are located in Mattapan and Dorchester.

At the protest, Yusufi Vali, director of the city’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, expressed sympathy for the Haitian migrants and said as those who aren’t expelled at the border arrive in cities across the country, including Boston, the city will support them.

“We’re going to need to do a lot more for the families coming up here from the border; please know that the City of Boston will always be a partner for your community, and we look forward to making it through this difficult summer and hopefully into a beautiful winter and a spring,” Vali said.

Lucien said that, for those migrants coming to Boston, it’s important that local individuals and organizations work to support them, especially in providing access to legal services.

“I think a very actionable way for people in the Boston community to support migrants is to ensure that legal services are available to them, that migrants understand their legal rights, that they understand what this process will look like, that they have the representation, so they have a fair chance to make their claim for asylum,” Lucien said.

At a White House press briefing Friday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the camp in Del Rio, Texas had been cleared completely as of that morning. Both President Biden and Mayorkas have denounced the actions of the CBP horse patrols.

A ruling from a federal judge on Sept. 16 is set to block the Biden administration’s continued use of Title 42 to expel migrant families. The injunction on the use of Title 42 is set to go into effect at the end of September.

Carline Desire, executive director of the Association of Haitian Women in Boston said that as the situation moves forward, it’s important that migrants are treated with equity and humanity.

“It’s still a situation where we have to fight to be treated fairly, to be treated humanely,” Desire said. “And in regards to what’s happening, we find that it’s critical that our brothers and sisters really have that due process in applying and seeking asylum.”

Haiti, Haitian diaspora, immigration, Texas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
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