Haitian leaders address Haiti migrant crisis at town hall in Irvington

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IRVINGTON, NJ — On Oct. 24, the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network held a community town-hall meeting to discuss the Haiti migrant crisis. The town hall was held at Eglise Baptiste De La Nouvelle Jerusalem church on Nye Avenue in Irvington. 

Irvington Council Second Vice President Charnette Frederic, who is also NHAEON vice chairperson, opened the town hall, addressing the crisis involving Haitian migrants being mistreated at the border and discussing the role the organization will take to support Haiti as a country. 

“Once again, I want to thank the leadership of our NHAEON who work tirelessly to figure out: How do we support through policy when it comes to Haiti?” Frederic said at the event, giving a shoutout to area NHAEON members Union Mayor Michele Delisfort, Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee, East Orange 3rd Ward Councilman Bergson Leneus and Elizabeth Board of Education member Charlene Bathelus. “I really wanted to take this time to mention specific names, because I thought this was very important regarding their leadership and to say thank you. Thank you to our New Jersey chapter. We’re all here for a reason. We’re also following up with the administration when it comes to Sen. Bob Menendez, who, with Sen. Chuck Schumer, sent letters. With that being said, there’s a lot getting done, and we wanted to make sure you all know.” 

Speaking at the event, Leneus, who is also a member of New Jersey for Haiti, praised NHAEON, which is the largest network of Haitian American elected officials in the country. 

“Our members represent millions of constituents all across the nation,” Leneus said “NHAEON members are dedicated to supporting domestic policies, legislation and issues affecting Haitians living in the United States. The issues and initiatives that NHAEON advocates for include but are not limited to community outreach–specific engagement, civil and voting rights, criminal justice reform, diversity and inclusion, economic empowerment, wealth creation, education, environment sustainability, foreign affairs and national security, health care, immigration reform, police reform, poverty reduction, technology and communications. 

“New Jersey has the third-largest contingency of Haitian Americans elected in the country. That is not by accident; that is by trailblazers who have led the way in the state of New Jersey,” Leneus said. “NHAEON is engaged with all officials, whether it be state, local and even federal. I’m proud to say we are working tirelessly on behalf of Haitian Americans, not only here in New Jersey but across this country and back home in Haiti.”

NHAEON Chairperson Alix Desulme, who traveled to Del Rio, Texas, and witnessed the inhumane treatment of Haitian migrants, was the guest of honor at the event.

“When this issue started, I can’t think of a time since … when Haiti hasn’t been in crisis,” he said at the town hall. “This has been ongoing. We started with the assassination of the president and it went from the assassination to the earthquake, the tropical storm. We, as the elected officials, have been working tirelessly.”

According to Desulme, NHAEON leaders knew they needed to mobilize the community and act when they saw that Haitian migrants were being sent back to the unstable situation in Haiti and treated inhumanely at the border. 

“When I traveled to Del Rio, the situation was worse than what you saw on TV,” Desulme said. “I kept the members informed, because we have a way of communicating and it was terrifying. I was supposed to be there for two days but the two days lasted for a whole week. It was pretty clear that some of the people went back to Mexico. At least 8,000 were expelled back to Haiti. The few hundreds that are in detention centers are scheduled to be deported. Those that they did release don’t have alien numbers, and if you don’t have an alien number, you don’t have anything. It’s a struggle. 

“We have been on the phone with the White House, with our congressional folks in each of the different states to make sure that we do whatever we can to advocate, but we cannot do this alone,” he continued. “We need folks to really motivate and get behind this, because these folks must get humanitarian parole. Something has to be done.”

Humanitarian parole is used to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to an emergency.

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