Catholic leaders call for better treatment of Haitians, other migrants at border

Dorsonville-Markham Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington (left) and Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, USA (right) | Catholic News Agency (left) and CCUSA (right)

Catholic leaders on Wednesday called for better treatment of Haitians and other migrants crowded under a bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We call on the U.S. government to reassess its treatment of migrants in Del Rio and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border, especially Haitians, who face life-threatening conditions if returned to Haiti and possible discrimination if expelled to third countries,” stated Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, and Sister Donna Markham, OP, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA.

They said they were “saddened to see such a disregard for human dignity” on the border.

Thousands of migrants have crowded under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas in recent days, at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the migrants are from Haiti and reached the border through Mexico and Central American countries. Some told reporters they left Haiti years ago and moved north to the United States, citing diminished employment opportunities where they were.

The Biden administration, in response, has said it is bringing more federal personnel to the border, is continuing to expel asylum-seekers under Title 42 authority, and is placing other migrants in immigration removal proceedings. Under Title 42, the administration can expel certain individual asylum-seekers due to health concerns from the ongoing pandemic.

“We have reiterated that our borders are not open, and people should not make the dangerous journey,” stated Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, at a Sept. 20 press conference in Del Rio. 

“If you come to the United States illegally, you will be returned. Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family's lives,” he said. Mayorkas added that DHS is providing water, towels, portable toilets, and emergency medical technicians to deal with the surge in migrants.

According to some federal officials, many Haitian migrants are being released into the United States and are not being turned away or deported at the border – although they still have notices to appear at an immigration office in 60 days, the Associated Press reported.

In response, the USCCB on Wednesday said that the increase in federal personnel and closure of the border, as well as deportation flights for the migrants in Del Rio, were unacceptable. The conference said that Haiti has been rocked by a presidential assassination, an earthquake, and a tropical storm in recent months.

 “Policies such as Title 42 and expedited removal all too often deny the reality of forced migration, disregard the responsibilities enshrined in domestic and international law, and undermine the vulnerability of those against whom they are applied,” Dorsonville and Markham stated. “These are not hallmarks of a ‘fair, orderly, and humane’ immigration system.”

“After all, it is in the face of each migrant that we see the face of Christ,” they said.

Haiti has been granted Temporary Protected Status, a designation allowing migrants to stay in the United States for 18 months if conditions in their home countries are too dangerous to return. However, the status only applies for Haitian migrants who have resided in the United States since July 29.

Photos and videos circulated on social media this week of federal agents on horseback allegedly holding whips to keep migrants at bay, but Mayorkas clarified this week that agents use reins, not whips to control their horses. One video showed an agent apparently whipping his reins as he tried to deter a migrant child, although it is unclear if the agent was only whipping the side of his horse, and the reins did not land anywhere near the child.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday cited the “horrific video” showing Border Patrol agents using “brutal and inappropriate measures against innocent people.” The agents involved had been placed on administrative leave, she said.

Psaki referred reporters to the Department of Homeland Security for updated numbers on migrants who had been deported, processed, or allowed to stay in the United States.

Psaki on Wednesday explained that expulsions continue under Title 42, and that others who cannot be expelled under the policy but have no legal basis to remain are placed in removal proceedings.

This story incorrectly stated that viral footage showed Border Patrol agents "whipping" migrants. The story has been updated to more accurately reflect the footage.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.