Masses scramble to provide housing and medical care as Haitian refugees arrive from Mexican border

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

Marie St. Fleur, a former state representative from Haiti, said Massachusetts must act immediately to support these newcomers.

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

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

This assistance includes people opening their homes to new arrivals and donating food, clothing and diapers to families, she said.

“People opened their hearts and said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to help you because I know you’ve been through so much,’ Gabeau said.

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

Domingueson and Ghislaine, who speak Haitian Creole, were interviewed Sunday by Gabeau, who served as an interpreter outside the Roxbury house where they are staying. The Globe only uses their first names to protect the identity of the family. He left after being threatened with joining a gang, and she fled Haiti for safety reasons. Neither could find work in their home country, but hoped for a better future in America. In Roxbury on Sunday, they said they wanted to raise their son here.

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

“She said thank God that she is finally succeeding here in the United States,” Gabeau said, speaking on behalf of Ghislaine.

In a statement Sunday night, a spokeswoman for U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley said she remains in close contact with the Haitian community on how to support the islanders, as well as those in Massachusetts.

Pressley, who is co-chair of the Haiti House Caucus and a member of the House Oversight Committee, called for an immediate investigation into “the horrific abuses and mass deportation of Haitian migrants,” the statement said.

She called on the Biden administration to end use of a provision that allows people to be deported from the border without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum, stop deportations and grant release. humanitarian conditional on Haitian families arriving at the American border to seek asylum.

Thousands of people have fled Haiti in recent years, and more have emigrated following a series of disasters in recent months.

A deadly earthquake struck Haiti in August and claimed more than 2,200 lives. It came a few weeks after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July. The country’s government has been stranded amid political turmoil and the nation has been rocked by rival gang violence.

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 vaccinated less than 1% of the population, according to a letter from a group of Senate Democrats to Biden administration officials this week. last.

Haiti also struggled to recover from an earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people 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 spoke of security concerns, increasing human rights violations, poverty and a lack of basic resources, all of which were made worse by the pandemic.

The Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, president and executive director of the True Alliance Center, which provides support to members of the Haitian community, highlighted the dangers newcomers face if they return to Haiti.

“This is very serious, when you take into consideration the dangerous conditions in Haiti,” said Fleurissaint, including the turmoil, political instability and poverty, as well as the gang violence and kidnappings that have taken place. .

“Those who are already here could not return to Haiti,” he said. “It’s a death sentence, basically. “

Families arriving from Haiti are looking for a better future for themselves, he said.

“They just want to have a chance to live,” Fleurissaint said. “This is basically the argument we made to the US government.”

Local advocates have said the city of Boston and its Mayor’s Office for the Advancement of Immigrants have been heavily involved in meeting the needs of newcomers, but much more is needed.

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

“The recent Haitian arrivals are extremely vulnerable families, and we are working with non-profit organizations to support them,” Vali said in the statement. “But we really need the federal and state governments and philanthropic organizations to step up. We cannot do it alone. “

A spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said Sunday evening that there is an established process in which states are contacted by the federal government to seek relocation or housing assistance for refugees.

“The Baker-Polito administration is awaiting information from the federal government regarding any request for assistance and information on potential eligibility for support services,” the statement said.

Several Biden administration officials declined to comment on issues on Sunday, including the current number of people allowed to enter the United States from the Mexican border. A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said U.S. 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 fled, defenders said over the weekend. But many of those who arrived here recently are now facing removal proceedings in U.S. immigration courts.

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

The arrivals his group spoke to have already been the subject of referral proceedings to immigration court by federal officials, he said, and hearing dates are scheduled in the weeks and months to come. Many must regularly register with immigration officials in Massachusetts, he said.

“The federal government is testing its ability to stay in the United States,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. “It does not appear that any of these families have benefited from immigration protection or assistance, which is deeply problematic given that Haitian refugees are fleeing life-threatening conditions in their country of origin.


John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected]


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