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Ustadi Kadiri, with the Haiti Action Committee, holds an Haitian flag while criticizing the expulsion of Haitian asylum seekers from the U.S. during a rally in front of San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.
Ustadi Kadiri, with the Haiti Action Committee, called on the Biden administration to welcome Haitians and other Black migrants seeking safety in the United States on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif.
Dozens gathered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Thursday to criticize the Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian and other Black migrants seeking asylum.
A slate of speakers admonished the Democratic administration for what they contend to be mistreatment of Black migrants at the border, zeroing in on recent video of immigration agents on horseback allegedly brandishing whips and using derogatory language against Haitians attempting to cross the Rio Grande.
“Seeing the images that we saw of Black migrants — images that look like what my ancestors went through a couple of hundred of years ago — are so painful,” Ethiopian asylum seeker Mohamed Mousssa told those gathered. “That is the reason why, though I don’t have asylum yet in this country, I felt the need of coming out (today.)”
Moussa has firsthand experience with the Trump-era policy that the Biden administration is currently employing, implemented as the pandemic surged to stop asylum seekers and other migrants from entering the country.
Called Title 42, the policy has resulted in 7,200 Haitians being summarily expelled, and forces other asylum seekers to remain outside the U.S., often in squalid camps south of the border, as they try to navigate a severely backlogged immigration process.
“Shame on you, President Biden,” San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen exclaimed from the podium. “We elected you because we expected an end to the racist policies, the xenophobic policies of the previous administration, and what we’ve seen so far is the same old.”
Ronen urged the Biden administration to reverse course, and “welcome with open arms the Haitian community that is fleeing violence (and) both natural disasters and human disasters.”
(From left to right): Triveni DeFries, a physician at San Francisco General and director of education and training at UCSF Health and Human Rights Initiative; Dr. Suzanne Barakat; and Dr. J. Raul Gutierrez spoke out against the so-called public health justifications for Title 42, which has allowed the Biden administration to summarily expel Haitian asylum seekers from the U.S.
Organized by the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a coalition of immigrant rights groups attended the nearly hour-long event as newlywed couples ducked around rally goers attempting to snap a City Hall wedding shot.
Aron Oqubamichael, a community educator with the Oakland-based Black Alliance for Just Immigration and an immigrant from Eritrea, said the rally was part of a week of similar actions nationwide urging the Biden administration to let Haitians and Black migrants make their cases for asylum instead of simply being sent back to their countries.
“Black immigrants also deserve the same rights, like all other immigrants, and their right to ask asylum must be respected,” Oqubamichael told The Chronicle.
Doctors from San Francisco General Hospital contradicted the public health justification for Title 42 that the Trump and now Biden administrations have put forth.
“Migrant children and families are not driving COVID infections,” Dr. Raul Gutierrez told the crowd. “What we are doing is putting children in harm’s way.”
Gutierrez said he treats migrant children who have arrived alone in the Bay Area. Recalling a 9-year-old patient whose mother was still in Mexico, Gutierrez choked up as he said that Title 42 forced the mother to make “the impossible decision to send her children along without her.”
Moussa told The Chronicle that his journey out of Ethiopia brought him to Ecuador, where he spent months trekking through seven countries before he finally arrived at the southern U.S. border last year. He made his asylum claim in February 2020. He said the Trump administration made all asylum seekers add their names to a list and wait for their number to be called.
“I was number 4,545 on the list, and they were taking 10 people per day,” Moussa said.
Then the pandemic hit and the border closed. Moussa said he waited in Tijuana for more than a year, where he said he and other Black migrants faced intense racism and “unnecessary detentions.”
“We always get prepared to go through the worst,” Moussa said.
Biden has condemned the Border Patrol’s actions in Del Rio, Texas, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently said the incident remains under investigation. But even before the situation became a political crisis, the administration was using Title 42 to expel Haitians from the country, a report by the Haitian Bridge Alliance and Quixote Center found.
Holding the Haitian flag in his right hand and wearing a Pan African face mask, Ustadi Kadiri of the Haiti Action Committee accused Biden of treating Haitians worse than former President Trump and then said something that drew one of the loudest responses from the audience.
“We’re looking for equal rights and justice that seems to be missing for we the people who are darker than blue,” he said to loud applause.
Deepa Fernandes is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @deepafern
Deepa Fernandes covers immigration and immigrant communities for The San Francisco Chronicle. She comes to The Chronicle from an award-winning career in broadcast journalism, reporting from around the world for NPR, the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Fernandes was named Radio Reporter of the Year for 2017, 2018 and 2019 by the LA Press Club, and among the many awards she has won is an LA area Emmy while reporting with KCET in Los Angeles. She has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University. Follow her on Twitter: @deepafern
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