U.S. Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection mounted officers attempt to contain migrants as they cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, into Del Rio, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez) Credit: AP Photo/Felix Marquez

Unlike Ukrainians escaping from their war-torn country who received aid, sympathetic press coverage and open arms for refuge in the U.S., Haitian immigrants and their plight have been mostly ignored and their attempts to immigrate to America vehemently rejected.

Local ministers Sadraque Cius and Ronnie Lister hope to change that.

Cius and Lister, both longtime advocates of the country of Haiti and its citizens, are issuing a call to the Black community, particularly the Black religious community, to come to the aid of “our people” from the islands by becoming sponsors, a move that would allow many Haitians entry into this country.

Lister, founder of the International Enlightenment Gathering, and Cius, co-founder of the Haitian Liberation Movement, spoke with the Defender about this pressing issue.

DEFENDER: Can you update us on those Haitians immigrants who were at the Texas/Mexico border seeking asylum?

CIUS: As we know, the world knows that Russia attacked Ukraine for over a year now. And the United States indeed opened their arms to welcome the Ukrainians into our world with no questions asked. And the United States has provided refuge, houses, food and insurance to the Ukrainians. While the United States was doing a great job for the Ukrainians by receiving them into our country, the Haitians were having a hard time coming to the United States. And after a while, many activists, such as Reverend Lister, myself and others, we have made a lot of noise about the mistreatment of the Haitians,

President Joe Biden did answer the call, and he’s now is allowing four countries to come to the United States. Haiti is one of those countries. Those four countries are as follows: Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. He’s allowing an amount of 30,000 migrants to be able to come to the United States monthly. And now when you divide 30,000 migrants a month by four countries, that gives you roughly 7,000 for each country.

And now the requirement for them to come to this country is that each one of the immigrants that is allowed to come must indeed have a sponsor. Someone that would say, “I will sponsor this person when they come to this country.”

Reverend Sadraque Cius

DEFENDER: What is required of the immigrants?

CIUS: When the sponsor agrees to accept them to this country, now these Haitians must be willing to abide by what the United States, number one, have asked of them. That is to come and be able to work. The minute they step foot into this country, the United States will authorize them to receive that which it takes for them to be able to work. In other words, a social security card will be issued to them once they apply for it. And this is where those who sponsor them would enhance them by helping them to secure and apply for a social security card so that they begin to navigate and be able to live in this country.

DEFENDER: What are the responsibilities of the sponsor?

CIUS: Great question. The sponsor must be someone who lives in this country; is a U.S. citizen whose background check will show they will not endanger those that he accepts/sponsors to come to this country. And this sponsor will be someone who actually has a place to live, whether or not he or she will accept them living in their home. Remember, a sponsor doesn’t have to necessarily have them to live in their house, because those folks that are coming here already have a place to stay. But if the sponsor chooses to have them to stay in their home, that would be very much appreciated by the community. So, a sponsor must have a good background check. Number two, the government wants to make sure the person applying to become a sponsor is not on welfare.

DEFENDER: Can you speak to why Black people in this country should have a heart for these immigrants from Haiti?

LISTER: There are two or three reasons specifically why African American persons in America should automatically and excitingly be ready and willing to embrace our brothers and sisters from Haiti. First of all, because they are human beings, that God made. That is the first reason. And really with that spiritual and theological component, one does not need further reason to be accepted as a human being in this country by our own people. The second reason that we should be ready and do the necessary preparations that we can make to ensure the safety of our Haitian brothers and sisters is because they are us and we are them, again, from a biological and human and theological perspective. Secondly, they are us and we are them from an ethnic and geographical and racial perspective.

The third reason I believe that we need to do everything that we can as African-Americans, specifically the African-American religious community (Christian, Muslim, etc), is that our brothers and sisters who are coming here from Haiti in particular, have undergone unbelievable and indescribable suffering.

Reverend Ronnie Lister

DEFENDER: What should we know about the journey from Haiti to the U.S.?

CIUS: What’s happening when the Haitians decide to leave Haiti, they go through Santa Domingo and then go thru Panama. From there to Venezuela. And all of that is on foot. And then it takes them, like six months some in some cases, to get to Mexico and then to the United States. And many of them don’t make it to Mexico, because while they’re crossing the river, many of them, the river took them away. They lost their lives. Men and women, they were watching their children as the river took them away from their own hands. Men watched their wives as the river took them from their hands. And men watched their children, their young ladies being battered and raped by gangs in Mexico in front of their eyes. So, they have gone through so many hard times heading to come to America.

LISTER: The suffering is indescribable. And Reverend Cius only gave us a little piece of it. This is why I believe these kinds of discussions are imperative in order to educate the African American community in particular about the suffering, the pain, the dehumanization, and the terrorist activity that our Haitian brothers and sisters have to face. Much of this mendacity, this madness that they are facing is engineered by the United States government. Let’s be honest with this. These are the same people who have put so many border patrol agents on the Texas-Mexican border that it is just, indescribable—like ants crawling everywhere.

And yet they are unable or incapable or unwilling to protect the wellbeing of immigrant people who are coming from not only Haiti, from other lands of Latin America: Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And these people go through some unbelievable experiences.

DEFENDER: What needs to happen to get more sponsors?

CIUS: We are called to exhibit the compassion of Christ. The church is not doing that today. With what we have in our hands, we have an opportunity to do exactly what we called for. That is to indeed be compassionate and, and have this compassion in action. What are we looking for? We are looking for churches, pastors, ministers, whoever. You don’t have to be pastors, ministers, you can be anybody. As long as you have compassion and are willing to exhibit your compassion, you are the one we are looking for. We need people that will say, “Yes; count me in. I want to sponsor a Haitian to come, and I’m willing to do what it takes to bring them over.

We as leaders in Houston, we can begin to call our friends. We can begin to call our churches, ministers and friends, and tell them, this is what we have going on. And call on me. I’d be more than happy to come and share what we’re not sharing among ourselves. I’d be willing to come and share that with any audience and take the names of those people who are willing to participate. And then once they say yes, then we can get people from Haiti. And when these Haitians come, they are coming with the idea to contribute to any community that accepts them. That’s what compassion is all about.

For those interested in becoming a sponsor, getting more information or inviting me to speak to your group or congregation, go to PeopleOutreach.org

Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...