Lawmakers, activists in Detroit condemn expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — State and city lawmakers joined community activists Sunday afternoon to condemn the expulsion of Haitian migrants from Texas as Haiti contends with political unrest and natural disaster. 

Some 50 people attended the rally, organized by the Haitian Network Group of Detroit and held outside the Spirit of Detroit Plaza. Protesters held signs demanding President Joe Biden's administration "protect Haitian asylum seekers" and "stop the brutality and deportations." 

Jimmy Thomas of Sterling Heights holds signs in support of Haitian-Americans during a rally in downtown Detroit on Sunday, September  25, 2021.

"Every single person needs to be treated as a human being, with respect," said state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who talked about being the daughter of immigrants in the United States. 

This came after the administration announced on Sept. 17 the wide-scale expulsion of thousands of Haitian migrants who had gathered in the border city of Del Rio, Texas.

The decision to remove the migrants and its execution, which included U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents chasing migrants on horseback, sparked bipartisan condemnation, and led the administration's special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, to resign on Thursday after calling the situation at the border "inhumane."

A crowd gathers at Spirit Plaza for a rally in support of Haitian-Americans in Michigan on Sunday in downtown Detroit against President Joe Biden's policies on Haitian immigrants on Sunday, September 26, 2021.

"Human dignity is what we need to be talking about what we need to be fighting for," said Chang, saying that migrants at the border were treated "like animals." 

Saydi Sarr, an organizer with the Haitian Network, said resources are available to help settle Haitian asylum seekers should they arrive in Michigan and need housing or other forms of assistance.

"I plead with you. Show them the welcoming face that we as Detroiters have. Open your hearts to listen to their stories."

Michigan has about 2,112 people originally from Haiti, according to the 2019 census.

Yvonne Jones of Detroit (center) holds a sign with fellow supporters during a Haitian-American rally on Sunday in downtown Detroit.

One target of the rally was a repeal of a provision of U.S. law that critics say has led to an unfair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers during the pandemic.

"We must speak out ... against Title 42, which permits this inhumane treatment of the Haitian immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers," said state Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor. 

Section 265 of U.S. Code Title 42, which was invoked in March 2020 and remains in effect, allows the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prohibit people from entering the county if they believe “there is serious danger of the introduction of (a communicable) disease," according to the American Immigration Council. 

Since its invocation, migrants and asylum seekers have routinely been turned away at the border or expelled from the country. 

"The long-held treatment, or mistreatment, I should say, of our Haitian brothers and sisters is wretched and abominable," said Geiss.

"We must make sure that Michigan is also a welcoming state for our Haitian brothers and sisters," said Geiss, who advocated for granting asylum to Haitian migrants who requested it.