Politics

Boston elected officials of color call Biden administration’s handling of Haiti immigrants ‘reprehensible’

"Massachusetts and the majority of this country firmly rejected an administration that treated immigrants with disdain, and that practice cannot continue."

Haitian migrants are seen Thursday at a shelter in Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico. PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

Over a dozen state, county, and city elected officials of color in Boston are speaking out against President Joe Biden’s administration’s handling of Haitian migrants attempting to come to the United States.

They’re also pressuring certain members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to do the same.

In a statement Wednesday, the group — which includes Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Sheriff Steve Tompkins, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Rep. Jon Santiago, and nearly half of the Boston City Council — said the Department of Homeland Security’s actions were “reprehensible.”

“Massachusetts and the majority of this country firmly rejected an administration that treated immigrants with disdain, and that practice cannot continue,” the statement said. “These barbaric actions and calloused policies are an affront on American values and must not be tolerated.”

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Officials reported a two-decade high in attempted southern border crossings this summer, driven by a surge in Haitian migrants leaving their island nation after both a presidential assassination threw the country into political instability and a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed 2,200 people — the two events compounding long-standing struggles with poverty and gang violence.

While officials say that thousands of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers have been released into the United States, the Biden administration has also embarked on an effort to deport thousands more on planes back to Haiti.

“The knee-jerk reaction to deport Haitian immigrants who are leaving a country in the midst of political turmoil, a devastating earthquake and hurricane, and a global pandemic is rooted in systemic racism and anti-Blackness,” the statement by local officials Wednesday said, adding that the Biden administration should grant asylum to the “thousands of Haitian families fleeing for their lives,” as well as extend Temporary Protected Status to Haitians currently in the country.

The statement also called for swift action in response to the jarring photos released earlier this week showing Border Patrol agents on horseback swinging lariats, a rope used by horse riders, while chasing Haitian border-crossers.

“The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents who whipped and intimidated these immigrants should be fired, and our policies should be changed to prevent any such situation from arising in the future,” the statement said.

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The group thanked Rep. Ayanna Pressley, who has led calls for halting all Haitian deportations and pressed for investigations into Border Patrol agents’ conduct, as well as Reps. Katherine Clark, Stephen Lynch, Jim McGovern, and Bill Keating for “joining in this advocacy.”

However, the statement suggested that the rest of the state’s representatives in Congress should be doing more. Left unnamed in the statement were Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Reps. Richard Neal, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, and Seth Moulton.

According to recent census numbers, Massachusetts has the third-largest Haitian Americans population of all U.S. states.

“The rest of the Massachusetts Federal Delegation should do their part in calling for the Biden Administration to halt these deportations, recognize Haitian immigrants’ legal status, and hold those responsible for inhumane treatment accountable for their actions,” the group said Wednesday.

Markey has repeatedly called for a halting of Haitian deportations over the past year, saying the administration should be “focused on a humanitarian effort, not deporting people back to an unstable environment.”

Warren also echoed that sentiment this week.

“Many are fleeing a country struggling to rebuild from devastating natural disasters and political crises,” Warren tweeted. “Our focus should be on this humanitarian effort, not deporting migrants back to Haiti.”

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Read the full statement and list of signatories below:

September 22, 2021 – “The Department of Homeland Security’s actions against Haitian immigrants seeking shelter in our country are reprehensible. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agents who whipped and intimidated these immigrants should be fired, and our policies should be changed to prevent any such situation from arising in the future. The knee-jerk reaction to deport Haitian immigrants who are leaving a country in the midst of political turmoil, a devastating earthquake and hurricane, and a global pandemic is rooted in systemic racism and anti-Blackness.

To be clear, the Biden Administration can and should acknowledge the critical protection provided to Haitian immigrants by asylum, which is a fundamental human right. The humanitarian crisis taking place in Haiti necessitates immediately providing asylum to the thousands of Haitian families fleeing for their lives and extending Temporary Protected Status to Haitians currently in the United States. We thank Rep. Ayanna Pressley for her leadership advocating for an end to these deportations, and to Assistant Speaker Clark, Rep. Lynch, Rep. McGovern, and Rep. Keating for joining in this advocacy.

The rest of the Massachusetts Federal Delegation should do their part in calling for the Biden Administration to halt these deportations, recognize Haitian immigrants’ legal status, and hold those responsible for inhumane treatment accountable for their actions. Massachusetts and the majority of this country firmly rejected an administration that treated immigrants with disdain, and that practice cannot continue. These barbaric actions and calloused policies are an affront on American values and must not be tolerated.”

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Urgently,

Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo, Sr., Suffolk County

District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Suffolk County

Sheriff Steve Tompkins, Suffolk County

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, 2nd Suffolk District

State Representative Nika Elugardo, 15th Suffolk District

State Representative Brandy Fluker Oakley, 12th Suffolk District

State Representative Russell Holmes, 6th Suffolk District

State Representative Liz Miranda, 5th Suffolk District

State Representative Jon Santiago, 9th Suffolk District

State Representative Chynah Tyler, 7th Suffolk

Boston City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, At-Large

Boston City Councilor Julia Mejia, At-Large

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, At-Large

Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards, District 1

Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, District 4

Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo, District 5

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