The document, dated September 22nd, includes signatures from 17 Black civil rights leaders around the country, representing organizations ranging from the NAACP to the National Action Network to the Movement for Black Lives.
The organizer of the effort is the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), an advocacy organization founded in 2006.
“We are hard-pressed in the year 2021 to find more horrific, traumatizing and blatantly racist images than those coming out of the Del Rio area,” the statement reads.
“White (and white-presenting) men on horseback with lariats are seen chasing, yelling and cursing at vulnerable Black asylum seekers who have for weeks and months been fleeing toward what they thought was safety.”
The images and videos being referenced have been making the rounds over the past week, sparking intense criticism not only of Border Patrol agents in Texas, but also the deportations being enacted by the Biden administration—which is now being compared to that of known anti-migrant Donald Trump.
“The decision last week to begin forcing Haitians onto planes to ‘return them home,’ the very place that they were fleeing from, is inhumane,” says the BAJI statement to the commander in chief concerning the predominantly Catholic island nation.
“We would have expected a dramatically different approach to this crisis.”
Morial, the only known Catholic involved with the BAJI letter to his co-religionist Biden, fired off a series of tweets on Monday as the problematic Border Patrol footage began to emerge, expressing discontent and calling out the federal government specifically.
The views of his bishops appear to coincide, with the USCCB issuing a press release yesterday demanding more humane treatment of Haitian asylum seekers, including the cessation of deportations as well as the “mistreatment and abuse” that has become front-page news.
While it does not directly reference the physical violence being reported at the border, the joint document does reference “disregard for human dignity” and appeal to Pope Francis’ recent call for increased sensitivity to Haitian concerns and needs amidst its recovery from political turmoil, an assassination, and a devastating earthquake—all since January.
“As a Church at the service of all God’s people, we embrace Christ’s call to welcome the newcomer and accompany them wherever they may be.”
Biden, who has faced criticism throughout his career on matters of racism, corporatism, and corruption, has yet to commit to an action plan for the blooming crisis—but his administration has further inflamed tensions in recent days by allegedly proposing Guantanamo Bay as a possible site for a new Haitian detention facility.
(The Department of Homeland Security has denied any connection between Gitmo and Haitian migrants at the border, despite an ad published by the agency seeking guards for the facility who speak Haitian Creole.)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed yesterday that several signatories from the BAJI letter are meeting with Biden officials today to discuss the overall crisis, though details on the summit remain scarce.
Morial is reportedly not part of the meeting, and it’s not clear whether President Biden is either.
It seems safe to say that the controversy will continue to unfold throughout the remainder of the Catholic Church’s National Migration Week, which began on September 20th and will culminate in the Vatican's World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sunday, September 26th.
The latest crease? Biden’s Special Envoy to Haiti Daniel Lewis Foote—appointed just 2 months ago—has resigned effective immediately, saying the US’ current strategy for Haiti “remains deeply flawed”, in a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
“I will not be associated with the United States' inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).