Haitian immigrants rally against deportations

The groups called for the Biden administration to revoke Title 42

By: - October 25, 2021 6:55 am

Protestors gathered in front of the Newark ICE field office to bring attention to the thousands of Black migrants being deported. (Courtesy New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice)

More than 50 Haitian and Black immigrants gathered on the steps of a federal immigration office in downtown Newark Friday, singing Creole songs and chanting calls for the Biden administration to stop deporting Black migrants.

Sparked by the widely shared images of border agents on horseback dispersing migrants, demonstrators outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office demanded the revocation of Title 42, a provision invoked under the Trump administration and used to turn away migrants and asylum-seekers without granting them immigration hearings.

But the group of protesters also took jabs at President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, whose administration continues deporting Haitian migrants under the provision. From October 2020 to August 2021, 938,045 migrants were expelled under Title 42, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  Roughly 7,700 of those were Haitian migrants.

“Regardless of whether there’s a Democrat or Republican in office, we need to hold our political leaders to the same standards of decency as it relates to our migrants,” said Vanessa Jean Louis, a second generation Haitian-American who recently visited a Houston migrant processing center.

New Jersey is home to the fourth largest population of Haitians in the country, with more than 68,000 residents, largely living in Essex and Union counties.

In recent years, the Caribbean country has been rocked by earthquakes, gang violence, and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, leading to growing numbers of Haitians fleeing to the United States.

Organized by local immigrant advocacy groups including American Friends Service Committee, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, and Faith in New Jersey, protesters, some waving Haitian and American flags, said Biden and Harris broke their campaign promises to set a different tone in immigration affairs.

Speakers pointed to the Afghan refugees finding new homes in the United States, and being offered housing and jobs, while Black migrants aren’t offered similar protections and are being deported by the thousands.

“Is that a future we want to live with?” said Serges Demefack of American Friends Service Committee.

The crowd responded, “No! Enough is enough.”

The Rev. Jean Maurice, pastor of the Temple of Unified Christian Brick Church and president of the Haitian Pastors Association of New Jersey, led the group in prayer to begin the protest.

“We are united for a cause, for a purpose. We are seeking justice for migrants. We are their voices … we ask for a change of heart from the United States of America,” he said. “We ask for a change of policy when it comes to Haitian migrants, and we pray for back home, all that are dying from COVID, those that are dying from the earthquakes, those that are dying from insecurity and poverty.”

A plea from inside ICE

Halfway through the rally, a call came from the Bergen County detention center. Migrants held at the jail told their stories, a phone held up to the megaphone so protesters could hear the inmates’ voices.

Richard Smith, a detainee from Jamaica, told the story of coming to America at the age of 9 in 1987. He said while he’s “made some mistakes,” nothing was a deportable offense, and he wishes he could show he’s a changed man.

He’s been kept inside the jail for weeks. He said the treatment of people in the facility has been deplorable.

As Bergen County officials ready to empty their Hackensack jail of ICE detainees, Smith is at risk of being sent to another detention center 400 miles away in New York.

“I’m stressed out, I’m frustrated, I’m tired. I’m tired, I’ve been here all my life, 30, 35 years I’ve been here,” he said, stressing he works hard to be the breadwinner for his family.

“We hear you,” the crowd responded to him

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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