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Hundreds of Haitians arrive in Massachusetts from southern border lacking housing, health care

Advocates scramble to find homes and help for the new arrivals

After a long journey, a Haitian family is settled in Roxbury. The father, Domingueson, 32, mother Ghislaine, 26, and 1-year-old son Ian awaited services and their status.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

More than 100 families who arrived in Massachusetts in recent weeks after surviving turmoil in Haiti have been left with no resources or legal assistance, according to advocates and officials, setting off a scramble to provide essentials such as housing and medical care.

The crisis facing the Haitian arrivals — many of whom were trapped in squalid conditions near a bridge along the US border with Mexico — is compounded by federal efforts to send them back to Haiti despite that country’s social unrest and poverty, advocates said.

If not for grass-roots efforts to provide for these people, the advocates said, many would have found themselves living on the street. The aid has included access to medical care, as well as housing, food, clothing, and pro-bono legal assistance.


“The federal government has abdicated its responsibility of providing much-needed humanitarian protection and other support for the Haitian refugees,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director for Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Marie St. Fleur, a former state representative who is from Haiti, said Massachusetts must act immediately to support these new arrivals.

“We are facing a humanitarian crisis that does not need to happen,” she said in a phone interview Sunday. “We are better than this in Massachusetts.’'

Geralde Gabeau, executive director of Immigrant Family Services Institute on Blue Hill Avenue, said her organization has relied on staff and community members to provide assistance to more than 100 Haitian families, including pregnant women, children, and babies, who have arrived in recent weeks from the Mexico border.

That aid has included people opening up their homes to the new arrivals and donating food, clothes, and diapers to families, she said.

“People opened up their hearts and said, ‘Yes, I am willing to help you because I know that you have been going through so much,’ " Gabeau said.


Among the families who have arrived in Boston in recent days are Domingueson and his partner, Ghislaine, who arrived late last month with their 1-year-old son, Ian. The couple, who are originally from Haiti, lived for several years in Chile, where they met.

Domingueson and Ghislaine, who speak Haitian Creole, were interviewed Sunday through Gabeau, who served as interpreter outside the Roxbury home where they are staying. The Globe is only using their first names to protect the family’s identity. He left after being threatened about joining a gang, and she fled Haiti due to safety concerns. Neither could find work in their home country, but hoped for a brighter future in America. In Roxbury Sunday, they said they want to raise their son here.

As Ghislaine spoke, her son laughed and cooed in her arms.

“She said thanks to God that she finally is making it here in the US,” Gabeau said, speaking for Ghislaine.

In a statement late Sunday night, a spokesman for US Representative Ayanna Pressley said she remains in close touch with the Haitian community about how to support people on the island, as well those in Massachusetts.

Pressley, who is a co-chair of the House’s Haiti Caucus and a member of the House Oversight Committee, called for an immediate investigation into “the horrendous abuse and mass deportation of Haitian migrants,’' according to the statement.

She called on the Biden administration to end the use of a provision that permits the expulsion of people from the border without giving them a chance to apply for asylum, halt deportations, and grant humanitarian parole for Haitian families arriving at the US border in order to apply for asylum.


Thousands have fled Haiti in recent years, with more emigrating following a series of cataclysms over the past few months.

A deadly earthquake struck Haiti in August and killed more than 2,200 people. It came weeks after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July. The country’s government has been stymied amid political turmoil and the nation has been rocked by violence among rival gangs.

The country, among the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, had been hammered by the pandemic. It was the last country in the Americas to receive COVID-19 vaccines and the government has vaccinated less than 1 percent of the population, according to a letter from a group of Senate Democrats to Biden administration officials last week.

Haiti has also struggled to recover from a quake that killed more than 220,000 in 2010, and damage from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Last spring, the Biden administration announced an extension of protected status for immigrants from Haiti. At the time, federal officials cited security concerns, increases in human rights abuses, poverty, and a lack of basic resources — all of which were worsened by the pandemic.

The Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, president and executive director of True Alliance Center, which provides support to members of the Haitian community, pointed to those dangers facing the new arrivals if they returned to Haiti.


“This is very serious, when you take into consideration the unsafe conditions of Haiti,” Fleurissaint said, including the turmoil, political instability, and poverty, along with the gang violence and kidnappings that have occurred.

“Those who are already here couldn’t go back to Haiti,” he said. “It’s a death sentence, basically.”

The families arriving from Haiti seek a better future for themselves, he said.

“They just want a chance at life,” Fleurissaint said. “That’s basically the argument we have made to the US government.”

Local advocates have said that the City of Boston and its Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement have been strongly involved in responding to the needs of the new arrivals, but much more is needed.

Yusufi Vali, director of the city’s immigrant advancement office, called for greater action from the federal and state governments, as well as local groups, to support relief efforts.

“The recent Haitian arrivals are extremely vulnerable families, and we’re working with nonprofit organizations to support them,” Vali said in the statement. “But we really need the federal and state governments as well as philanthropic organizations to step up. We cannot do this alone.”

A spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services said Sunday night that there is an established process in which states are contacted by the federal government to request to assist with resettling or housing refugees.

“The Baker-Polito Administration is awaiting information from the federal government regarding any requests for assistance and information about potential eligibility for support services,” according to the statement.


Multiple officials with the Biden administration declined Sunday to comment on questions, including current numbers of people allowed into the United States from the Mexico border. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said US Customs and Border Protection would release September figures later this month.

Boston, with one of the largest Haitian communities in the United States, is a logical destination for those who have fled, advocates said over the weekend. But many who arrived here recently now face removal proceedings in US immigration courts.

Espinoza-Madrigal, with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said his organization has worked with Haitian Americans United to discuss the legal needs for 24 recently arrived families.

The arrivals his group spoke with already have been placed into removal proceedings in immigration court by federal officials, he said, and have court dates scheduled in the coming weeks and months. Many must check in on a regular basis with immigration officials in Massachusetts, he said.

“The federal government is testing their ability to remain in the United States,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. “It doesn’t appear that any of these families have been granted immigration protection or relief, which is deeply problematic considering that Haitian refugees are fleeing life-threatening conditions in their home country.”

Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

John Hilliard can be reached at