Haitian migrants, advocates at Philly City Hall, condemn the Biden admin for recent border actions
Recently, images of Border Patrol detaining Haitian migrants under a bridge at the southern border have brought widespread condemnation.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, around 60 people protested outside of Philadelphia City Hall, denouncing the horrific treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S. southern border under the Biden administration.
— Shut Down Berks Coalition (@ShutDownBerks) September 28, 2021
The rally comes after ICE detained thousands of Haitians under the Del Rio bridge at the border, then deported or turned back a majority of them without allowing them to seek asylum, which is a legal right.
Shocking photos emerged showing Border Patrol agents on horseback charging at Haitian refugees and forcing them into the Rio Grande River, using whips, sparking major controversy.
From 3:30 to 4 p.m., Haitian music was blasting from the speakers and a man dressed in cultural garb passionately played a bongo to accompany it, as the organizers prepared for the rally.
Signs were placed on the podium, on the walls and on a life sized cardboard cutout of President Joe Biden. The signs read “No More Racism,” “White Supremacy Kills,” “Prejudice Creates Pain,” “Where is your humanity?”, and “Justice is Truth in Action.”
— Shut Down Berks Coalition (@ShutDownBerks) September 28, 2021
At 4 p.m., Steve Paul, an immigrant from Port-au-Prince and the Pennsylvania director of State Innovation Exchange (SiX), kicked off the rally by thanking the attendees for showing up, despite the chance of rain, and giving a historical background of why this event was organized.
“I am proud to say — and you will always hear me say this —my ancestors led and won one of the largest slave rebellions in this world,” Paul said as the crowd cheered.
“And that rebellion did not only end slavery in the Western Hemisphere, but it ended the French rule in this part of the world and actually led the way and a path for a little known country like the United States to become a military and economic superpower,” Paul continued.
He also added that the Haitian revolution was a catalyst for a movement in Latin America, where people in those regions also became what he referred to as “freedom fighters.”
Following the Haitian revolution, white slave owners in the U.S. did not react positively. They were fearful that enslaved people would be inspired to organize similarly. In response, the U.S. put a global embargo on Haiti, which debilitated its economy for generations.
“We are here because white people who wanted to keep Black people as slaves, refused to recognize our humanity. But it gets worse. The Haitian people were forced to pay reparations to our former slave masters. Basically, the victims paid reparations to the criminals,” Paul said.
The rally continued with the M.C Marlene, who began her short introductory speech by acknowledging that Philadelphia is Lenape land, making the powerful statement that “no one is illegal on stolen land.” She had the crowd repeat this phrase multiple times.
Marlene then introduced two volunteers that read the stories of Haitian migrants that experienced the trauma of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, and who are facing the threat of deportation.
Many of these migrants have been in the U.S. for decades, and having Temporary Protected Status (TPS) has allowed them to work and provide for their families. Going back to Haiti would mean giving up their whole life and entering a country where they have nothing left.
“Reparations, not deportations,” said one of the volunteers.
This was one of the key chants at the rally, among others, such as “Haitian Lives Matter,” “Stop Deportation, Asylum Now,” and “No one is illegal on stolen land.”
“What we saw was against humanity,” Numa St. Louis, another Haitian immigrant, of the scene in Del Rio, Texas.
“As I look out here I see a group of people who believe in dignity, who believe in the human spirit. And when we see what happened to our Haitian brothers and sisters, it breaks our hearts,” he continued.
Biden has condemned the action of Border Patrol agents in the photos, calling it “outrageous,” and promising that the agents will face repercussions. The administration suspended the use of agents on horseback and the agents involved are on administrative leave, pending an investigation.
But his administration has not shifted from its stance following criticism that these deportations violate both U.S. and international asylum law, which activists take issue with.
Yesterday I was proud to stand in solidarity with Haiti, and to call on President Biden to repeal the prior administration’s racist and cruel border policies.
Read more about the demonstration in @whyy: https://t.co/2eolSdEnDS pic.twitter.com/hCcdH0AXXU
— Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (@CouncilmemberJG) September 29, 2021
Advocates on Tuesday called for the administration to change current policy, which expels Haitians at the border without offering a legal process to enter the U.S.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who highlighted her own Caribbean immigrant heritage on her mother’s side, said that it feels like a betrayal for Biden to stand up for these policies.
“We did not fight like hell under the last administration just to see another Democratic administration continue these same cruel and inhumane practices,” said Councilmember Helen Gym.
Gym said that on Thursday, a resolution will be introduced in council condemning the President’s actions.
“I want to take a moment to come from a place of strength, because Philadelphia is the loudest and proudest sanctuary city in America, and that has a lot to do with our Haitian immigrant family: 8,000 strong,” Gym said.
Seeking asylum is a legal right and a human right.
I stand in solidarity with our Haitian immigrant communities in calling for President Biden to stop these immoral deportations and expedite the release of Haitians held in immigration centers. pic.twitter.com/1AUcZp9PmU
— Helen Gym (@HelenGymAtLarge) September 28, 2021
St. Louis also made several points highlighting the contributions of Haitian immigrants. The size of the U.S. is a direct result of the Haitian revolution, and Jean-Baptist-Point Du Sable, a Haitian man, was the first permanent settler of Chicago in 1750.
“So don’t tell us we don’t belong here,” he said.