Haitian Americans in Michigan protest U.S. policy on migrants at border – Detroit Free Press

Haitian Americans and supporters rallied in downtown Detroit on Sunday afternoon to express outrage over the treatment of Haitian migrants seeking asylum at the border and call upon the Biden administration to adopt a more fair policy toward them. 
Gathering at the Spirit of Detroit statue, speakers told the several dozens of people present that Black immigrants with roots in the Caribbean and Africa are often treated worse than others. Some waved the flag of Haiti and chanted in Creole and English calling for justice and support.
We “are outraged about the appalling treatment of the Haitians at the border,” said Hervé Leonard, a Haitian American advocate wearing a T-shirt that read “Haitian Lives Matter.” 
Advocates noted that it’s legal for people to seek asylum at the border and that Haitians should be given due process to make such claims.
There are 4,100 residents in Michigan with roots in Haiti, according to 2019 Census data. And thousands more have roots in the Caribbean. Speakers at the rally included Michiganders of Haitian descent, people from other Caribbean nations, and immigrants from Africa who have faced similar challenges.
Speakers said they had expected the Biden administration policies to be better than Trump-era policies, noting that Vice President Kamala Harris herself was born to an immigrant from the Caribbean.
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“We are appalled by how they have been brutally … turned back,” Leonard said of Haitians at the border. “We think that this is blatant racism by the administration, where they are still extending the Trump-era polices. We feel that with this new administration, those policies would be something that would be undone. However, with the Haitians at the border, we feel they are being treated unjustly.”
Leonard said that Haitians and other “dark-skinned immigrants coming into this country” are often being deported, while those “that are fair-skinned are let in.”
The Associated Press reported Friday that asylum seekers from Haiti are granted asylum at the lowest rate among the 83 nations for which asylum data is available. Less than five percent of asylum seekers from Haiti had their asylum requests granted from October 2018 through June 2021.
Last week, almost 15,000 people, most of them Haitians, were at a border camp seeking asylum. After some dramatic clashes involving U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback that drew the attention of activists and politicians, there are no migrants remaining as of Friday in the border areas, The Associated Press reported.
In Michigan, U.S. House Reps. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, have criticized the treatment of the migrants and the deportations. 
The elected officials who attended the Haitian American protest in Detroit were state Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, of western Wayne County, state Sen. Stephanie Chang of Detroit, Detroit City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez and a staffer in Tlaib’s office of Haitian descent, LaMar Thompson-Hightower.
Thompson-Hightower read a statement from Tlaib criticizing how Border Patrol has treated the Haitian asylum seekers.
Alex Vernon, director of the Immigration Law Clinic and an assistant professor of law at the University of Detroit-Mercy, spoke at the rally, too, saying he was concerned with how Haitians are being treated. 
Vernon quoted from the Bible to say Haitians should be more welcomed: “For whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me.”
“There is no way that 14,000 people were given a proper screening” and a chance to file an asylum claim, Vernon said. “These people need to be given an opportunity to present their claims for asylum. They need to be brought back.”
Vernon said his law clinic has worked with Haitian and African immigrants over the years. 
Maggy Corkery, president of the Haitian Network Group of Detroit, said that if the migrants at the border were of French background instead of being Black, they would have not been repressed and driven back.
“It’s a human tragedy,” Corkery said. “We need to speak up.”
Fatou-Seydi Sarr, a Detroit immigrant from Senegal who is founder of the African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs, said there is a “double standard” in how Black asylum seekers and immigrants are treated. 
Speakers at the rally said that the U.S. should also be open to Haitian refugees, noting that many refugees from Afghanistan are being admitted.
Eight refugees from Afghanistan have already arrived in Michigan, with about 1,300 expected, Erica Quealy of the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, said Friday.
Sophia Chue, executive director of the Caribbean Community Service Center, called for all groups in Michigan to show support for refugees in general.
“Show them the welcoming face that we as Detroiters have,” Chue said. “Open your heart to them. Listen to their stories. If they’re hungry, feed them. … We have the resources to do the work that needs to be done. Do not stay in your silos. We have to be a welcoming city, a welcoming state.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Niraj Warikoo:nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter @nwarikoo


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