More than 100 Haitian community leaders, immigration advocates, and allies gathered Friday morning at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building to denounce the Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants at the Texas-Mexico border.
Géralde Gabeau, executive director of Immigrant Family Services Institute Inc., decried the mass deportations of thousands of Haitians back to a country in crisis, and the violent tactics US Border Patrol officials used against them.
“They are fleeing for their lives,” Gabeau said. “They are all wonderful people who are only seeking a better life here. They treat us like slaves. Shame on you, America!”
The crowd responded with chants of “Shame on you, America!” and “Justice for Haiti!”
Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, in recent days have faced hostility or expulsion from the United States upon arrival at the country’s borders. In footage widely circulated on the Internet, US Border Patrol agents on horseback can be seen using reins as whips to threaten the Haitian migrants.
This week, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has sent many migrants back to Haiti, a country many of them haven’t seen in years because they fled to Central and South America in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
The deported Haitians now find themselves in a country that is suffering both political and humanitarian crises, following the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a severe earthquake last month.
Clara Raymond, 55, who attended Friday’s rally, immigrated to Boston from Léogâne, Haiti, 32 years ago.
She held a large poster displaying photos of two migrants trekking across the Rio Grande river. They both hold small children. The words “resilience,” “courage,” “determination,” and “fear” surrounded the images in blue and red letters, the colors of the Haitian flag.
“Do you see the fear on the little face?” Raymond asks rhetorically, pointing to the toddler’s eyes on the poster.
“I hope they stop treating Haitians the way that they are, and that they help them,” she said. “There’s no government in Haiti right now.”
Friday’s rally drew a wide array of politicians and candidates in this year’s Boston municipal elections, including both mayoral candidates, City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George. Many, in brief speeches, denounced the Biden administration’s actions and demanded better treatment of the migrants.
“We are supposed to be the land of the free, but we force people to live under a bridge when we’re not putting them in cages,” said Ruthzee Louijeune, a candidate for an at-large seat on the City Council and a first-generation Haitian American, referring to the holding cells the United States has used for detainees at the border. “We allow anti-Blackness to cloud our policy.
“Enough is enough,” she said, repeating it in English and in Haitian Creole, to cheers.
Representative Brandy Fluker Oakley of Mattapan, whose district includes the largest Haitian population in the city, called for granting temporary protective status to Haitian immigrants immediately and expressed horror at the scenes from the border.
“I am descended from enslaved Africans. . . . The Haitian struggle is my struggle,” she said. “Whether it was a whip or a rein, it was inhumane.”
The responses from the crowd registered the pain and outrage many Haitian Americans in Boston have felt in recent days.
“We are essential!” the crowd chanted, in English and Haitian Creole. “We are not deportable!”
Former state representative Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian American to hold public office in Massachusetts, said she was in her office when she saw the photos flash across her screen of migrants fleeing men, on horseback, wielding reins as whips.
“It is a repeated story about the intricate and deep embeddedness of racism in this country,” she said.
Expressing anger at the president, who had promised a more humane border policy than his predecessor, she called on everyone in the crowd to call 10 people and tell them to call their representatives.
“When you make excuses, you are complicit with what Trump has put in place,” she said, referring to the former president.