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Legislature provides help for Haitian immigrants

Local activists will press the U.S. to ease restrictions for refugees

Avery Bleichfeld

Massachusetts officials moved to provide aid to Haitian migrants in a $4 billion federal COVID-19 relief funding spending bill signed by Governor Charlie Baker Monday.

The bill, which uses money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to tackle issues such as housing, health care and infrastructure across the state, also includes $8 million for the Immigrant Family Services Institute, Inc. (IFSI) to support Haitian migrants in Massachusetts who arrived in the United States after the qualifying date for Temporary Protected Status.

The bill also sets aside $100,000 for staffing at Haitian Community Partners in Brockton and $50,000 for the Everett Haitian Community Center.

Despite the support within Massachusetts, local leaders and organizations in the Haitian community want to see further action nationally.

Dieufort Fleurissaint, chair of Haitian Americans United, said he hopes the United States Congress and the White House will look to Massachusetts for reference on how to treat Haitian migrants.

“Progress has been made at the local level in Massachusetts, but Massachusetts is different; Massachusetts should serve as a model in terms of compassion and care, working with the different legal organizations and grassroots organizations advocating for Haitian migrants similarly to how they’re advocating for the Afghan migrants,” Fleurissaint said. “At the federal level for Haitians in the United States, they do not have any relief, whatsoever.”

Fleurissaint points to ongoing struggles since July, when Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. Those struggles include hurricanes and ongoing gang activity, as well as the expulsion of Haitian migrants in Del Rio, Texas under Title 42, which allows the United States to turn away migrants to prevent the spread of diseases. The first use of Title 42 during the COVID-19 pandemic was in March 2020, by the Trump administration. The Biden administration has continued to use the policy.

Despite protests in September, when photos spread showing migrants huddled under bridges and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on horseback using reins as whips, Fleurissaint said there does not seem to be much change nationally.

Local organizations were scheduled to attend a rally in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 15 to bring their concerns to Congress and the president.

“The goal of this initiative is to really let congresspeople, people in D.C., hear our voice,” said Carline Desire, executive director of the Association of Haitian Women in Boston. “And it’s about due process. It’s about ending Title 42. It’s about justice for immigrants in general — Haitian immigrants and other immigrants. It’s about stopping the deportations to Haiti, stopping the deportations of Haitian migrants.”

Desire said that for the rally, local groups are partnering with groups nationally to bring attention to the plight of Haitian migrants.

“What we are hoping to do is to see what we can do in ensuring that they hear our voice, in ensuring that they hear the supporters of human rights, they hear the good faith of the American people,” Desire said.

Fleurissaint said he would like to see the U.S. government not only take action to help migrants, but also take action to help Haiti improve the situation within its own borders.

He said ongoing struggles with violent gangs in Haiti have posed a threat to those who were sent back there from the U.S. According to an Associated Press report, Haiti’s National Police have reported over 460 kidnappings this year.

Fleurissaint said sending migrants back means sending them to their graves.

“We here are afraid to travel to Haiti,” Fleurissaint said. “When we lost our loved ones, we couldn’t go to bury our loved ones in Haiti for fear of being kidnapped.”

Beyond the COVID-19 relief bill that Baker signed Monday, Fleurissaint commended other local actions in support of Haitian migrants.

In Boston in October, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement set aside nearly $600,000 to support Haitian migrants coming from the southern border. The majority of the funds were designated to help fund temporary housing.

In November, Baker sent a letter to Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requesting guidance to give statewide support to Haitian migrants coming from the Texan border.

But Fleurissaint said that nationally, it is time for more action.

“This is the time,” he said. “The time is at hand. We cannot wait any longer right now for Congress to act on immigration reform.”

Desire said that the D.C. rally and more action like it is required to get Haitian migrants the support they need.

“What we know is that when you go out there, when you speak your mind, they’re listening, so we hope to keep on doing that to the level that we can until we address the wrongdoing when it comes to Haitians,” Desire said.

Boston Haitian community, COVID-19 relief bill, Haiti