Mass migration and its causes

While much of our attention in the past month has been focused on the evacuation of Afghan refugees, one disaster after another has plagued the Caribbean island nation of Haiti.

With an already failing economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, its fortunes were further dashed when Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moise, was assassinated on July 7. A month later, a major earthquake shook Haiti and led to more than 2,000 deaths.

Last week, an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 Haitian-born migrants crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico, seeking refuge in the United States. Most of them were living in South America, having fled Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that hit their country.

Fr. Reginal Jean-Mary, a Haitian-American priest serving in Miami, told Catholic News Service that Haitians living in South America arrived there with hopes of finding work in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. 

Rather than take a humanitarian approach to the crisis, the United States, under President Joe Biden’s direction, decided to quickly deport the refugees back to Haiti. Federal authorities expedited the removal of Haitians using a Trump-era policy: Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act. This rule allows the government to take extraordinary measures during a pandemic in order to limit the spread of infectious diseases.

However, the return of thousands of people, born in Haiti, but living outside of the country for more than a decade (as well as their children who were born elsewhere), will only lead to more devastation in that Third-World country.

U.S. Catholic leaders have challenged the Biden administration to reassess its treatment of migrants at the southern border. Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski issued a statement Sept. 23, calling the rapid deportations “disappointing, draconian and discriminatory.”

“For the past several months, the Biden-Harris administration has insisted that there is no border crisis. During that same time, border crossings reached a high not seen in decades,” wrote Archbishop Wenski. “Then, about 12,000 Black Haitians showed up at the border near Del Rio, Texas, and suddenly we have a ‘crisis.’

“Haitians are being singled out under Title 42 and put on flights back to Haiti, a country on the ropes because of political instability, ongoing gang violence and a growing humanitarian crisis brought on by natural disasters,” the prelate added. “Deporting thousands of Haitians is a strange way for the administration to show that ‘Black lives matter.’”

The exodus of Haitian migrants — just as the caravan of Central Americans that arrived at the U.S. border during the Trump administration — deserves to be addressed with more than a one-way ticket back to misery. 

Leaders from North to South America need to come together and address the causes of mass migration, which include hunger, unemployment, violence and political corruption, and agree on solutions such as: 

  • Maintaining or reforming legal immigration policies.
  • Providing aid and basic assistance to large numbers of traveling migrants and refugees.
  • Addressing a resurgence in nativism and anti-immigration sentiments in countries where migrants and refugees journey because  they see them as destinations of opportunity.
  • Strengthening relations with and providing aid to developing and/or unstable countries from which immigrants are leaving in mass.

Dealing with these root causes of mass migration will not only achieve long-term success, but treat our suffering brothers and sisters with respect and dignity.

In the words of Pope Francis, our common origin as God’s children unites us. “God created us in his image, in the image of his own triune being, a communion in diversity,” Pope Francis wrote in his Sept. 26 message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees.