The crisis at the Texas border where thousands of Haitian refugees gathered to try to enter the country evolved 1,800 miles away, but for Haitians living in Pennsylvania, it has been a matter of deep concern.
Almost 15,000 people had gathered at the border, seeking asylum, though by Friday all of them had been moved out of a migrant camp where they’d converged, driven by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies and online misinformation, U.S. officials said.
Many of the refugees face expulsion because they are not covered by protections recently extended by the Biden administration to the more than 100,000 Haitian migrants already in the United States. Homeland Security officials said about 2,000 Haitians have been rapidly expelled on 17 flights since Sunday and more could be expelled in the coming days.
Brothers Alexander and James Civil, both of Reading, planned to leave Monday to head to the Texas border to take hygiene products, including diapers and feminine products, to the refugees.
Alexander Civil said that he feels compelled to try to help the refugees as a Haitian American.
“For me, it’s personal,” he said. “The best we can do is to try to lend a hand and realize, basically, that regardless of the situation, everybody needs to be treated as a human being,” Alexander Civil said. Alexander Civil is executive director of Bring the Change, a non-profit organization.
Both Alexander and James Civil were born in Haiti and have lived in the United States since 2002.
James Civil, is the founder of Companions in Christ, a Christian ministry, and he points to his faith as inspiring his need to try to help his fellow Haitians.
“We believe in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves and serving those who cannot serve themselves,” James Civil said. “When people are in need, our job is to support them,” he said.
In Pittsburgh, Leon Pamphile is executive director of the Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti. Thursday, he said it’s clear that the situation at the border has been mishandled, pointing to the Wednesday resignation of the U.S. Envoy to the United Nations Daniel Foote, who quit in protest over the Biden Administration’s “inhumane” treatment of the Haitian refugees.
Pamphile said that the horrifying images of Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing refugees should be upsetting to all Americans, “knowing that America is a country of immigrants.”
He added that he hopes those who object to the way the Haitian immigrants are being treated voice their displeasure.
“I want people to raise their voices,” he said.
Alexander Civil agreed, noting that the controversial immigration enforcement isn’t a matter of partisan politics.
“I’m not angry at Biden. I’m not angry at one individual, I’m just angry at the treatment of the other Haitian immigrants. Whether it is done by Democrats or Republicans, I don’t care.
What I care the most is that people are being treated fairly and with respect,” he said.
“We’re talking about people who have kids. Women were included. I mean, what happened to American values? When did it become OK to treat people as such?”
Alexander Civil added that he can’t overlook the fact that while the Haitian refugees were being detained at the border and face the prospect of being moved back to Haiti — a nation where most of them have not lived in more than a decade — the U.S. has been moving to accept refugees from Afghanistan.
“It begs the question: Why them and why not the Haitians?”
Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS-Pennsylvania, an organization that helps refugees re-settle, said that opposition to accepting refugees makes little sense.
Much of Pennsylvania struggling with population loss, she noted. and even in areas that are growing the economy is struggling to regain momentum due to rampant staffing shortages, she said.
Most of the refugees fled after the 2010 earthquake and have been living since then in Central and South America. Since then, things have only gotten worse in Haiti leading up to violence and instability including the July 7 assassination of Haiti’s president Jovenel Moise.
On top of that, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti’s southern region in mid-August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying or damaging tens of thousands of homes.
“It’s extremely important to give those guys hope, you know, with everything that’s gone on in Haiti,” James Civil said.
“It’s a tough area, especially after the hurricane and the earthquake and the death of the president,” he said.