MIAMI (CNS) — Kevin-Jay Metellus, 28 months old, pedaled a toy car around Notre Dame d’Haiti Church’s courtyard as his parents searched nearby through donated boxes of clothes, food, household items and other necessities.
Marlene Belizaire, 27, and her husband, Kervens Metellus, 30, were among several families released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection who arrived in Miami around midnight Sept. 26, accompanied on the flight by two Miami priests: Notre Dame d’Haiti’s pastor, Father Reginald Jean-Mary, and the pastor of Holy Family Parish, Father Fritzner Bellonce.
The priests had traveled to Del Rio, Texas, Sept. 24 after receiving a Homeland Security pass to help the 30,000 or so Haitian migrants who had massed there over the past two weeks, seeking asylum in the United States.
Father Jean-Mary, Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski and the Miami Archdiocese’s Catholic Legal Services thought it would help the migrants to receive a visit from the clergy who understood their situation and spoke their language.
Just as they arrived, the Biden administration announced the Del Rio International Bridge encampment had been cleared out. But thanks to the efforts of a local pastor, the priests were able to meet with some of the Haitians.
“When the migrants saw me and Father Bellonce with the collar, they saw the church,” said Father Jean-Mary. “We helped them spiritually and psychologically. We guided them through the airport. We are action. Some of the migrants only had the clothes on their back.”
Belizaire and her husband didn’t have anyone to stay with, so Father Jean-Mary put them up in a hotel when they arrived in Miami. Balliston Elidor, a Notre Dame d’Haiti parishioner, heard about the family’s dilemma.
“This husband, wife and small child had nowhere to go,” Elidor said Sept. 26. “They had never been in Miami and everything is foreign to them.”
Elidor is a Haitian American and a 50-year U.S. resident who owns a home in North Miami Beach.
“My children are grown and have moved out so I offered the family a room in my house,” he told the Florida Catholic, Miami’s archdiocesan newspaper. “Tomorrow, I will take them back to Notre Dame d’Haiti Church so they can apply for TPS, temporary protective status.”
Belizaire and her husband had been living in a rented room in Santiago, Chile, since 2017. Although getting to Chile and staying there was easy for them, her husband couldn’t work until he had the proper immigration papers. After eight months in Chile, he got the needed documentation and found work as a forklift operator.
But the Chilean people didn’t like the Haitian migrants, she said.
“They thought we were taking their jobs,” said Belizaire. “They were giving us a hard time. It had become unsafe for us.”
The family decided to leave Chile and head for the United States. They took several buses, walked and slept in hotels.
“We left June 4 and arrived in September at Del Rio,” Belizaire said. “We crossed through the bushes and the water to not be seen.”
By the time they arrived at the bridge, they had run out of money.
Belizaire and her husband, who speak Spanish as well as Creole, said they were happy to see Father Jean-Mary and Father Bellonce under the bridge in Texas.
Belizaire has a 10-year-old son in Haiti who is living with her mother. She wants to eventually bring both of them to the United States.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, about 5,000 Haitian migrants were moved to processing centers throughout the U.S., and another 12,000 were released pending a court date.
The rest were repatriated to Haiti or returned to Mexico under a public health rule due to COVID-19. The Mexican government has made an offer to the migrants to stay in Mexico and proceed with legal residency and work permits.
The Haitians’ homeland is reeling from the July assassination of their president, Jovenel Moïse, an August earthquake and the ongoing presence of violent gangs.
Many Haitians had migrated to South America, namely Brazil and Chile, after the massive 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. As the economic situation deteriorated due to the pandemic, the host governments began rescinding their work permits and urging them to leave.
Father Jean-Mary issued a statement upon his return to Miami decrying the “flagrant injustice” of the way the migrants were treated in Del Rio, extolling their courage, and urging the U.S. to do more to alleviate the chaos in their homeland.
“What we witnessed at the border of Del Rio is a very inhumane situation. This has been a very horrific, graphic act of dehumanization of the children of God,” he said in the statement. “That place under the bridge of Del Rio was hell on earth as one of the migrants described it.”
He called the area “a place of deception, humiliation, rejection, condemnation, crucifixion and execution,” where the migrants, he said, were mistreated and denied “fundamental rights.”
“We ask the Biden administration to stop the deportation, to tell us where they have put the migrants that they have displaced so that we can assist them legally, psychologically and to provide humanitarian assistance,” Father Jean-Mary said.
He urged the State Department to continue “to work to restore order in Haiti so that the country can find stability and an economic path toward the future.”