Jean Appolon, 46, of Malden, immigrated from Haiti in 1991 after gangs killed his father and burned his family’s home to the ground.
His relatives, who are still facing extreme insecurity in Haiti, called him in August to tell him they were going to try and get to Texas. He warned them not to.
This week, when Appolon saw images of border patrolmen on horses herding Haitians fleeing a country in crisis, he realized, to his horror, that he had given his relatives the right advice.
“Of course we are not in chains anymore, but this way of treating somebody is going back to slavery,” Appolon said. “You cannot treat people like this.”
In recent days, more than 15,000 migrants, mostly from Haiti, have settled in a makeshift camp under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas. Haitians, fleeing a country plunged into deep turmoil by a devastating earthquake and the assassination of its president, are being detained and deported by the Biden administration, which is enforcing a Trump-era order to expel these migrants without allowing them to apply for asylum.
Boston’s Haitian residents say the federal government’s treatment of the migrants shows how US immigration policy is racist and reminds them of slavery’s enduring imprint on the nation. And they said the crisis is one of the tragic consequences of failed US policy in Haiti.
Julio Midy, a host of the local Haitian show Radio Concorde, contrasted the rejection of Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border to the country’s acceptance of Afghan refugees in recent weeks. While the federal government has taken the blame for Afghanistan’s plight, it hasn’t recognized its own role in creating the migrant crisis in Texas.
“Why do the Haitian people have to be deported when the US is begging Afghans to come to the country?” he asked. “The US government admits that [their involvement in Afghanistan] was a failure, so now they want to repair it.”
Jean-Yves Joseph, a 65-year-old Haitian immigrant and Shrewsbury-based accountant, said the United States has controlled Haiti “behind the curtains” since occupying it in 1915. Hoping President Biden would shift US policy, Joseph helped raise money for his campaign and drove Haitian-Americans to polling stations.
The disturbing footage of US border patrol rounding up Haitian migrants has left him and other Boston-area Haitians feeling betrayed.
“[Haitian Biden supporters] made a lot of noise,” Joseph said. “In three years, Biden and Harris won’t have my vote.”
Midy said the quality of life in Haiti won’t improve until the United States allows the country to handle its own affairs. To combat the lasting effects of imperialism, Haitian immigrants are supporting their native country with donations of food and money, he said.
The United States should let Haiti choose its own future, Midy said, a sentiment Appolon echoed.
“We are not screaming for help. We are screaming for people to stop abusing Haiti,” he said. “If you cannot help, stay away from Haiti. Other countries impose their social norms onto Haiti, but they are not helping in any way.”
But Midy said he doubted the United States would ever treat Haitians as equals.
“Of course, Black lives matter, but of course, some Black lives do not matter,” he said. “If you are Black and you are Haitian, you do not matter.”
As an artistic director at Jean Appolon Expressions, a Haitian dance company in Cambridge, Appolon is able to connect with his culture and release the generational trauma he carries with him. But with each devastation that Haiti endures, he feels like he loses a piece of himself, he said.
“It’s like I’m losing my identity day by day,” Appolon said. “I will always be Haitian — in everything I do. I will still carry my country, my culture, and my traditions in my heart. . . . But we are completely traumatized. We are done.”
This humanitarian crisis can end if the Biden administration corrects course. The messages I’m getting are gut-wrenching. Grateful for brilliant attorneys like @GApollon1 calling out anti-Blackness in our immigration policy & working tirelessly for justice. https://t.co/uuM1hL68Hq— Ruthzee Louijeune (@ruthzee4boston) September 20, 2021
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon. Julia Carlin can be reached at email@example.com.