Religious leaders decry US treatment of Haitian migrants

United Church of Christ officials have joined other religious leaders in condemning the U.S. treatment of Haitian migrants. They’re urging people to campaign on social media for a change in policy, add their signatures to a letter to President Biden and write other elected officials.

The situation began in mid-September, when thousands of Haitians arrived at Del Rio, Tex. The U.S. response — in the words of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — has been to “ensure that migrants are swiftly taken into custody, processed, and removed from the United States consistent with our laws and policies.” On Sept. 20, he said they would be placed on “return flights to Haiti and other destinations.” Since then, such flights have carried away hundreds of people at a time, according to news reports.

A Haitian Bridge Alliance tool kit suggests social media posts — with graphics like this one — calling for a U.S. policy change.

Katie Adams, domestic policy advocate with the UCC office in Washington, D.C., called the reports and images from Del Rio “horrifying and profoundly disturbing.”

She said the Haitians — “seeking a place of refuge from devastations of natural disasters, compounded by political upheaval” — deserve better from the U.S.

‘Brutal intimidation’

Mayorkas said the removal policy is based on a Trump-era presidential order, still in effect. Positioned as an attempt to limit COVID transmission, it allows the U.S. to expel migrants arriving at the border. The order cites a 75-year-old public health law, Title 42.

Widely shared images of Border Patrol agents on horseback near Del Rio on Sept. 19 exacerbated public criticism of the U.S. policy. Pictures and video showed the agents aggressively confronting Haitians, and, apparently, swinging their reins like whips.

Multiple religious organizations have spoken out against the U.S. policy. Among those with UCC affiliation are the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and Church World Service. Both issued statements Sept. 22.

“There’s not an ounce of recognition that the calamity many face in Haiti lies directly at the feet of U.S. foreign policy for centuries,” Adams said. “It’s been less than 100 years since the brutal occupation of Haiti by the U.S. and many years fewer since the U.S. withdrew their dictatorial hand over the affairs of the island nation.

“The administration is using the same tactics as the Trump administration – brutal intimidation and treatment as well as a reliance on violence and deprivation as deterrence. We call on the Biden administration to immediately halt deportation flights through a humanitarian moratorium and release Haitians in immigration detention. We must put an end to the misuse of public health code Title 42 and stop all expulsions so that we can restore access to asylum.”

‘Blatant racism’

Irene Hassan, minister for refugee and migration services with Wider Church Ministries, called the situation “shocking” and “multifaceted.” And she said it is linked to global patterns.

“Concerns about COVID-19 are being used to justify the unconstitutional elimination of due process for asylum claims,” Hassan said. “Failing economic and healthcare systems in the wake of COVID-19 are blending with intensifying natural disasters, causing new rhythms of migration that we will see increase in the coming months and years.

“Yet, despite these massive and intense changes in worldwide migration patterns, there remains no federal refugee policy for addressing these concerns. Although the situation at the U.S. southern border is stitched with these elements for all nationalities seeking asylum there, the blatant racism in the historical U.S. approach to Haitian migrants is particularly alarming.” She said UCC’s Global H.O.P.E. team is among those working with partners within and beyond the UCC “to combat the injustices targeting these Haitian migrants.”

Actions people can take

One in a series of suggested Instagram posts in a Haitian Bridge Alliance tool kit calls for a change in U.S. border policy.

The Rev. Noel Anderson, who directs grassroots organizing for the UCC and CWS, encouraged people to act by:

Adams encouraged people to click on this action alert from the UCC D.C. office for help in easily sending messages to their own elected representatives.

Hassan also urged congregations to:

  • Seek educational resources to learn more about the history of U.S. immigration policy with Haiti, and other resources for anti-racism work.
  • Encourage their governmental representatives “to change the restricted and racist narrative around who gets constitutional rights to seek asylum.”
  • “Support the Refugee Emergency Fund, through which Global H.O.P.E. will channel resources for relief and long-term change.”

‘Antithetical to the gospel’

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC associate general minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries, likened the crisis to one from the Bible.

“It is difficult to watch the heartbreaking images of thousands of Haitians wading across the Rio Grande without recalling the story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt through the Red Sea,” she said. “In like manner to the Israelites who fled Egypt, the Haitians displaced by economic, political and climate trauma are fleeing on foot through the jungles of Panama’s Darien Gap in Central America and around border patrol in Mexico in search of any opportunity to flourish as people of God. God was with the Israelites and God is with the Haitians.”

She decried “the Biden administration’s discriminatory use of Title 42 to single out asylum seekers specifically from Central America, Africa, and Haiti, who are disproportionately Black, Indigenous, and Latino, for expulsion while literally welcoming thousands of other travelers into the U.S.”

“To do anything less than speak out against such evil,” Blackmon said, “is antithetical to the gospel we claim.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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