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Haitian community in Chicago mobilizes to provide relief for asylum-seekers at U.S. border

Patricia Nabal recently visited the southern border as part of a trip to assess how the Chicago community could help Haitians seeking asylum. She saw herself in many of the children. “Who I am today could be that child on the shoulders of parents,” she said.

Patricia Nabal, pictured wearing a face mask, holds a child she met during a recent trip to the U.S. southern border to assess how the Haitian community in Chicago could help Haitian refugees.
Patricia Nabal, pictured wearing a face mask, holds a child she met during a recent trip to the U.S. southern border to assess how the Haitian community in Chicago could help Haitian refugees.
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Patricia Nabal saw herself in the children of Haitians who have sought asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks.

“Who I am today could be that child on the shoulders of parents,” said Nabal, whose parents were from Haiti. “Haitians are dreamers, too.”

She was part of a group who traveled last week from Chicago to the southern border to assess how to help Haitians seeking asylum. During the 24-hour trip, Nabal spoke with Haitians who had been traveling since June through Latin America while other children she met needed medical care after spending extended periods of time traveling in water.

A man carries a child on his shoulders as Haitian migrants cross the Rio Grande river between Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 23, 2021.
A man carries a child on his shoulders as Haitian migrants cross the Rio Grande river between Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila state, Mexico, and Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 23, 2021.
Pedro Pardo/Getty

In recent weeks, about 15,000 Haitians had converged along the U.S.-Mexico border, west of San Antonio, Texas, to seek asylum. Images soon surfaced of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on horses using whips on migrants near a border crossing area. An estimated 12,400 people were allowed to temporarily enter the country pending the outcome of their asylum claims while others were deported to Haiti.

The images of a large group of Haitians seeking asylum at the U.S. border comes after months of turbulence on the Caribbean island. In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home, leaving the country in political uncertainty. Then in August, a powerful earthquake struck Haiti, leading to more than 1,400 deaths.

Nabal, the president of the Haitian American Nurses Association of Illinois, is among those in the Haitian community in Chicago who have been mobilizing to help those at the southern border trying to make their way into the United States. On Sunday, a group of people gathered in the Loop to call for protections for Haitians seeking asylum.

Patricia Nabal, the president of the Haitian American Nurses Association of Illinois, is among a group of Haitian community members from Chicago who recently traveled to the U.S. southern border to assess how they could assist Haitian migrants seeking asylum. Nabal is pictured speaking to a man she met on the trip.
Patricia Nabal, the president of the Haitian American Nurses Association of Illinois, is among a group of Haitian community members from Chicago who recently traveled to the U.S. southern border to assess how they could assist Haitian migrants seeking asylum. Nabal is pictured speaking to a man she met on the trip.
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Fasika Alem, the programs director for the Chicago-based United African Organization, has spoken out about deportations targeting Haitians before images surfaced from the southern border.

“Haiti is a stark example, a stark reminder of just some of the political, humanitarian and environmental conditions that leave people with no other choice than to leave their home country for their own survival,” Alem said during an August news conference in downtown Chicago days after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the country.

This week, Alem said the government’s use of the so-called Title 42, an enforcement technique that started as a health measure during the coronavirus pandemic, has continued under President Joe Biden and has led to the deportation of Haitians seeking asylum. As part of the enforcement, officials can prohibit certain immigrants from entering the country.

Nationally, other have spoken out about the treatment of Haitian migrants. On Twitter, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called the treatment of Haitians at the border “unacceptable.” In Chicago, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson recently hosted a meeting with the Haitian community to discuss how to help the migrants.

Some Haitians seeking asylum at the border could eventually end up in Chicago, Alem said. A legal team, part of the United African Organization, has been on standby and in communication with groups on the ground to see how they can provide legal assistance.

“The fact that they are not even given the opportunity to apply (for asylum) rather they are deported to the dangers that they came from, I think goes against both the moral duty of all of us here but also is against U.S. law that says people should have the right to seek asylum,” Alem said this week.

Fasika Alem, program director at United African Organization, spoke during a news conference on Aug. 18, 2021, where immigration advocates called on U.S. representatives to back the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship in the upcoming budget reconciliation package at Federal Plaza in the Loop.
Fasika Alem, program director at United African Organization
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Haitian American Museum in Chicago has started raising funds to provide financial assistance to Haitian refugees who could end up in the Chicago area, said Elsie Hector Hernandez, the museum’s founder. Hector Hernandez said some of the people seeking asylum haven’t lived in Haiti for years.

“They have sold their lands to make it to the South American countries,” she said. “Once they got there, life has been horrible and difficult as well. They have decided to come to the border to provide a better life for their family.”

The images depicting the treatment of those seeking asylum at the border has given Hector Hernandez flashbacks to slavery. The images have created a sense of anxiety and mental trauma in particular for younger Haitians, she said.

“It didn’t settle right,” she said about the images from the border. “It just feels like a touch of there’s no humanity.”

The fundraiser for Haitian refugees is the second campaign the museum has put together in recent months. The museum raised more than $7,000 to provide funds to help Haitians rebuild their properties after the August earthquake, said Carlos Bossard, the museum’s executive director.

Nabal said many of the migrants they spoke to near the border were in need of financial assistance getting to another part of the U.S. to reunite with family. One person was headed to Indiana while others were hoping to reunite with relatives in states like Florida and California, she said.

She and others are planning to make a second trip to the border soon, and they are collecting basic necessities along with sleeping bags.

Nabal said they also want to ensure that the Haitians are being protected and treated humanely.

“They know that this is where dreams happen,” Nabal said about the United States. “Why can’t they have those same opportunities?”

The Associated Press contributed.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.