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Haitians deserve a chance to determine their future

Ayanna Pressley and Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint

Every year during the month of May, we honor Haitian Heritage Month and recognize the vast contributions of the Haitian diaspora across the Commonwealth and our nation.

The Massachusetts 7th Congressional District is home to one of the largest Haitian diaspora communities across the country, and the impact made by our Haitian neighbors is undeniable. From the historic election of Ruthzee Louijeune, the first Haitian-American to serve on the Boston City Council, to Marie St. Fleur, the first Haitian immigrant to hold public office in Massachusetts, our Haitian neighbors remind us daily of their rich culture, history, achievements and contributions.

While Haitian Heritage Month is an opportunity to recognize and honor our Haitian neighbors in community with the accolades they deserve, it is also an opportunity to finally commit to the necessary and long-overdue policy change.

For too long, U.S. policies and relations with the Haitian people have perpetuated anti-Blackness and exacerbated injustice.

Last September, the brutalization of Haitians and other migrants at the border in Del Rio, Texas shocked the world and shed new light on the role that U.S. policy has played in destabilizing Haiti for decades. We saw harrowing images of thousands of Haitian migrants packed under the Del Rio bridge and chased with whips on horseback by Customs and Border Patrol officials, drawing stark parallels to our country’s treatment of enslaved Black people and ongoing instances of state violence. These devastating images have only shown the world what Haitians have long known and experienced.

Last summer, back-to-back calamities — including the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked the southern peninsula, and Tropical Storm Grace — exacerbated the destruction and violence on the island. Last year, the Biden administration extended Temporary Protected Status for Haitians on the basis of “security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” We advocated strongly for this and applauded the administration’s announcement at the time; however, despite these conditions on the island demonstrably worsening, the United States continued expelling thousands of Haitian migrants under the racist and xenophobic Title 42 policy.

A lasting solution will require the United States to withdraw support for de facto ruler Ariel Henry, who lacks legitimacy with the Haitian people, and instead, partner with members of Haitian civil society working to end the corruption and impunity that drives people to flee the island.

Despite the threat of kidnappings and killings of activists and journalists, Haitian civic and political leaders from all walks of life have come together to create the Montana Accord, a roadmap for a transitional government that would organize credible elections and restore constitutional government to Haiti. In an unprecedented show of unity, this effort has garnered the support of over 900 signatories, representing millions of Haitians, including most of the major political parties, religious and faith groups, labor unions, civil society organizations and the business community. This massive political and popular mobilization underscores the deep, overlapping crises plaguing Haiti as well as the need for an inclusive, civil-society-led process to restore stability and democracy.

Now is the time to reaffirm that all Black lives matter, including Haitian lives, and pursue policies, both foreign and domestic, that reflect that truth. The Biden administration should use its authority to grant humanitarian parole to Haitian migrants in the U.S., release those who are stuck in ICE detention and end illegal expulsions under Title 42 once and for all. As former Special Envoy Daniel Foote noted in his September resignation letter, “I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their own leaders fairly and acceptably.” Haitians need to hear that the U.S. supports the brave civil-society and political leaders who are crafting an inclusive transition to democracy, not the same circle of corrupt politicians and wealthy oligarchs responsible for the violence and suffering facing Haiti.

This Haitian Heritage Month we stand together in celebrating the community and working together for true and meaningful progress.

Ayanna Pressley represents Massachusetts’ Seventh Congressional District and is co-chair of

the House Haiti Caucus. Reverend Dieufort Fleurissaint is a leader of Haitian Americans United.