Haitian leaders gather in East Orange to speak out against treatment of migrants at U.S.–Mexico border

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — The New Jersey chapter of National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, East Orange representative Mayor Ted Green and East Orange Council representative 3rd Ward Councilman Bergson Leneus hosted a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 23, at 44 City Hall Plaza to speak out against the inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas, at the United States–Mexico border. 

The press conference was attended by elected officials and community leaders, including Irvington Councilwoman Charnette Frederic; Union Mayor Michele Delisfort; the Rev. Jean Maurice, president of the Haitian Pastors Association; and Commissioner Stan Neron of the Elizabeth Board of Education. 

“We’re here to discuss the ongoing crisis taking place at the U.S.–Mexican border in Del Rio, Texas. The inhumane treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters is deplorable, unconscionable and, once again, inhumane,” Leneus said on Thursday, Sept. 23, during his speech. 

Frederic said that when Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the issue of mass migration, she stated that everyone must look at the root cause of migration.

“Haiti has seen their share of turmoil,” Frederic said on Thursday, Sept. 23. “From national disaster, earthquakes, hurricanes, insecurity and economic issues, I thank all of my colleagues and friends in government who call, not only to support but also trying to figure out what can be done and how they support us.”

According to a release addressing the incident, since Sept. 17, 2021, more than 14,000 Haitian migrants — who had been living in Brazil, Chile and other countries in South and Central America — arrived in Del Rio, Texas, to seek asylum in the United States. Recent footage of border patrol agents chasing and beating Haitian migrants has now received national attention, and many have expressed horror and outrage at the management of this humanitarian crisis at the national level.

“What happened at the border was not an accident,” Maurice said on Thursday, Sept. 23. “There has to be an investigation, because, when you’re playing politics with people’s lives, there will be a price to pay. The price to pay is systemic and it has to be dealt with from back home. It’s been ignored for years, and I think the time has come. We stand ready to work closely with Biden’s administration to help these people. Due process must be given to them, as well. It is sad for us today to see what’s happening in America. The images were appalling and offensive to all people, not just Haitians, because there were other nationalities under the bridge. My question is: How did all these people get there? We must ask ourselves that. 

“I call on everyone — whether you’re Haitian, Caucasian — this is a moral issue,” he continued. “This is a policy issue. We must stand up. The community stands ready. The Biden administration must partner with the community.”

Delisfort shared the outrage, saying this shouldn’t happen in a nation built on the backs of immigrants, with its greatest resource its diverse community.

“We’ve seen patrol agents on horseback using whips — an inhumane treatment of human beings simply seeking a better life,” she said on Thursday, Sept. 23. “To add insult to injury, besides the horrific conditions of thousands of migrants’ lives, they’re trying to avoid being treated like cattle. 

“The U.S. government initiated deportation of asylum seekers back to a country that they fled 11 years ago,” Delisfort continued. “Many of the people in Del Rio have been traveling for 11 years, since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti. Haiti is also struggling to recover from the July 7 assassination of its president and also recovering from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti’s southwest region in August. It is unconscionable and inhumane to disregard people’s health, safety and welfare. Sending migrants back to Haiti is sentencing them to a life of despair and grief. 

“That is why, today, we ask for a moratorium on all flights returning refugees to Haiti,” she added. “It allows migrants to be immediately removed from the country without an opportunity to seek asylum. President Joe Biden exempted unaccompanied minors from this order. Today, we ask that the United States provide humanitarian assistance while immigrants await due process, (that) the process is streamlined and expedited to prevent unnecessary suffering and death of more innocent people, and they are provided appropriate shelter, food, care and basic necessities. Anything less than that would be contrary to the principles that this country was built on.”

Photos Courtesy of East Orange