MIAMI — Two senior Haitian American priests from the Archdiocese of Miami planned to travel to Texas Sept. 24 to meet and pray with some of the thousands of migrants stuck in limbo at the U.S.-Mexico border.
About 3,000 Haitian migrants remained encamped awaiting processing beneath the Del Rio International Bridge at the Del Rio Sector of the border, some 145 miles west of San Antonio in southern Texas.
Father Reginal Jean-Mary, pastor of Miami’s Notre Dame D’Haiti Mission Parish and a member of the National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals, said he procured a special U.S. Homeland Security pass to visit the migrant camp, along with another Haitian American priest, Father Fritzner Bellonce, pastor of Holy Family Parish in North Miami.
The two priests were to fly to San Antonio and possibly join other community leaders already visiting the area in an effort to show compassion and a Christian presence to the migrants over the course of several days.
At one point, some 15,000 Haitians and others were encamped under the Del Rio bridge. The Associated Press reported that in recent days the Biden administration deported several hundred on daily flights back to Haiti, even though most of these Haitians have not been in their homeland for years and came north to the U.S. from South America.
AP also reported that one U.S. official told the news agency Sept. 21 that the majority of the Haitians have not faced expulsion and were being allowed into the U.S. on a “very, very large scale.” The official “put the figure in the thousands,” AP said.
Father Jean-Mary, whose parish is an important hub of Haitian American Catholic life in the U.S., has made similar pastoral visits in years past as a member of the Haitian American clergy, including a 2017 visit to a detention center in Denver where he met and celebrated Mass for a large contingent of Haitian American detainees.
He described that event as one of the most productive gestures in his priestly life.
“And our trip to El Paso tomorrow may be even more productive in that respect,” Father Jean-Mary said about his travels to Texas in an interview with the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper.
“We might stay two or three days,” he said. “We plan to celebrate Mass, but because of the constant movement under the bridge, we may not be able to do that, but we will pray with them, talk with them and see what we can do for them through Catholic Charities.”
Father Jean-Mary said Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski and the archdiocesan Catholic Legal Services office thought it would be important for the migrants to receive a visit from a member of the clergy who speaks their language and has compassion for them in their predicament.
Noting many of the migrants are thought to have traveled to the U.S. from Brazil and Chile, Father Jean-Mary said their lack of legal status and permission to work in South America left them with an impossible situation.
Many of the Haitians living in South America originally arrived in that region to work there in advance of the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, to the priest.
“Today we heard there are 3,200 Haitians (under the bridge) and they are moving very fast: Mexico is joining the efforts of the U.S. so they can later deport them to Haiti, and they continue to deport them with no compassion — this is one of the most inhuman acts I have witnessed in our lifetime,” Father Jean-Mary said.
He claimed that what the authorities are doing “is random selection where they keep this one, and send another one away, deporting children to a country (Haiti) with a cycle of violence even as the U.S. special envoy to Haiti is resigning.”
The priest was referring to Daniel Foote’ resignation from his post Sept. 23 over the administration’s treatment of the migrants.
Right now, they are likely undergoing a spiritual and existential crisis, Father Jean-Mary said.
“By cutting off the hope for those people, they are getting the message that you are not human beings,” he said. “They will be asking themselves: What is the meaning of my existence, and many might be in a state of contemplating suicide. It is important that someone tells them, ‘God loves you.'”
In a Sept. 23 statement, Archbishop Wenski said the current border crisis at Del Rio was “seemingly provoked by the Biden administration itself by having sent mixed signals to potential immigrants.”
“It should be held liable in the same way that the ‘attractive nuisance’ doctrine holds landowners liable for injuries to children who trespass on land if the injury results from a hazardous object or condition on the land that is likely to attract children who are unable to appreciate the risk posed by the object or condition,” he said.
Having created the crisis, the administration should try to resolve it humanely without visiting further harm on this vulnerable population, the archbishop added.
“Our immigration system has been broken for decades, but the administration’s actions on the border to date do not bode well for any positive immigration reform soon,” he said.
By Tom Tracy. Tracy writes for the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami.