A crowd of nearly 100 people gathered near the stone steps of a Mattapan church Sunday afternoon and called on the Biden administration to end the deportation of Haitian immigrants fleeing turmoil in the country that has been devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, and the assassination of its president over the summer.
The rally, organized by Haitian Americans United and its partner organizations, brought together faith leaders, advocates, local politicians, and community members who are working to support Haitian immigrants seeking a better life in the United States.
“Today is a call to action, not only to ask the Biden administration to stop the deportations, but for all of you here to be an ambassador and to tell the stories of people who are here with us,” Geralde Gabeau, executive director of the Immigrant Family Services Institute, told the crowd at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church on Blue Hill Avenue.
Gabeau called for people to open their doors, their churches, their businesses to help the new arrivals who are trying to make sense of the immigration process and eventually become legal citizens. Many, she said, speak no English.
“They need help, they need support, they need housing, they need food and clothes,” she said. “We need to show the Biden administration that we can do better.”
Some Haitians who crossed the southern border in recent weeks, she said, have begun to arrive in Boston.
Michelet, 32, who declined to share his last name out of concern for his family’s safety, said he crossed the Rio Grande into Texas last month with his pregnant wife and their 6-year-old daughter.
He said his wife became severely ill toward the end of their trek, which began last summer in Chile after they had fled Haiti in 2017, and is now in critical care at a Boston hospital.
“The hope was that as soon as we arrived here, things would get better,” Michelet said, speaking Haitian Creole as Gabeau translated. “Instead of things getting better, they got worse.”
Michelet’s family is one of many trying to find a stable life in the United States. Thousands been have turned been away by US officials at the Mexico border and many have been deported back to Haiti.
Gabeau said stories like Michelet’s must be told to encourage more people to reach out and help.
“We have to share their stories because people do not understand what’s going on and how people are being treated,” she said.
The Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, who works with Haitian Americans United, condemned the deportations as inhumane and said US officials are sending Haitians back to “a country infested by gang cells.”
“Forcing people to return under these circumstances puts their lives in danger, and that cannot be justified,” he said.
Demonstrators at the rally called for more humane treatment of people trying to cross the southern border, where photos of Border Patrol agents herding groups of migrants along the Rio Grande last month stirred calls condemning Biden’s handling of the crisis.
As the speeches and prayers came to an end, Gabeau led the crowd in chants shouting “Haitian Lives Matter” and they marched south down Blue Hill Avenue to the corner of River Street. Several drivers honked their horns as they passed the marchers, some waving small Haitian flags outside their car windows.
Michel Denis, who said he has relatives in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Bel Air, described hearing gunshots in the background while talking to his cousin on the phone. He echoed Fleurissaint’s words that anyone who crosses the border deserves due process and should not be immediately sent back.
“You cannot deport them without going before a judge,” he said.