‘There’s a lot of fear and anxiety’: Miami’s Haitians hit by threat of deportation
Donald Trump told Miamis Haitian community hed be their greatest champion but hes ready to pull the plug on a longstanding humanitarian program
If you ask Marleine Bastien, a chill wind from the White House is fast cooling the warmth of the Haitian Heritage Month celebrations in Miamis Little Haiti neighbourhood.
The party pooper, according to the executive director of the advocacy group Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), is Donald Trump, the man who barely eight months ago on a campaign visit here told the citys sizeable Haitian community that he wanted to be your greatest champion.
Now there are signs that the US president is poised to pull the plug on a longstanding humanitarian program and expose up to 58,000 Haitians to immediate deportation. Until now they have been allowed to remain under a special immigration status while their homeland recovers from disasters including a 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic and Hurricane Matthew last year that left multitudes homeless.
Just this week the Associated Press reported that immigration officials were urgently seeking data on crimes committed by Haitian immigrants, or claims for welfare benefits to which they were not entitled.
Theres a lot of fear and anxiety, Bastien said of thousands of families in Little Haiti who, instead of celebrating the festival of music, culture and traditions of the impoverished Caribbean nation, are focused on whether Trump will renew or abolish the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) introduced in 2010 for Haitian visitors when the program expires in July.
They came to here to try to build a life and keep their families safe and now, after so many years, they have to contemplate being separated from their family members and going back to a nation in turmoil, she said. They have children in school, students in college, they have businesses and have bought homes. They pay tax and contribute to the economy, here and in Haiti by sending money home. Now they are worrying about the choices they will have to make.
A man walked into my office the other day, he became a nurse after the earthquake, he works at one of the major hospitals in town and has two little girls flourishing in our public schools. He was in tears as he told me he may have to pull them out from everything they know to take them to Haiti.
Youre talking about thousands and thousands of US-born children with parents facing the heart-wrenching decision of being separated from their loved ones or leaving their children behind to give them a better life.
Anybody reading the tealeaves would likely concur that the portents are not favorable for Haitians in the United States under the TPS program, the majority of whom are in Florida, mostly in Miami, Tampa and Orlando, with other significant communities in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
In December, while Barack Obama was still in office, secretary of state John Kerry recommended renewal of TPS based on a comprehensive eight-page report from James McCament, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). McCaments report concluded that Haiti remained fragile and vulnerable and faced serious challenges including a housing shortage, a cholera epidemic and limited access to healthcare, political instability, security risks, food insecurity and considerable environmental risk.
By April, three months into the Trump administration, McCament had changed his tune. A memo obtained by USA Today revealed that he now believed conditions had improved enough for him to recommend to the new secretary of homeland security John Kelly the ending of the TPS programme for Haitians by next January.
For Bastien, it is an unlikely U-turn. Are you telling me that from December to April, Haiti has recovered to a point where it can absorb 58,000 deportees and their families? she said. Haiti is still reeling. Most of the infrastructure has not been rebuilt. There are thousands of people homeless and the cholera epidemic continues to create hardships for 1.2 million people.
Kelly must make his own recommendation by May 23 to meet a 60-day notice period before the current TPS program, which has been renewed every 18 months since 2010, reaches its scheduled end date for Haitians on 22 July.
On Friday at the Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins, prominent members of the Haitian American community were due to dress up for a lavish heritage month gala to raise funds for the Sant La Haitian neighborhood centre.
Gepsie Morriset-Metellus, co-founder and executive director of the centre that has helped thousands of displaced Haitians settle in south Florida, said the event was a welcome opportunity to temporarily forget the swirling uncertainty over TPS before a protest rally outside the USCIS office in Miami on Saturday morning.
Many of Floridas senior politicians from both political parties, including the Democratic senator Bill Nelson, have already written to the administration urging the renewal of TPS, and local lawmakers are expected to attend the march to lend their support.
Theres a saying that if youre not at the table youre on the menu, so its important for us to be at the table, Metellus said.
There are lots of Haitians, allies and supporters, people who understand this threat is targeting Haitians today but it may target Haitian Americans tomorrow, other immigrant groups tomorrow.
Santcha Etienne, from the coastal town of Petit-Goave that was the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake estimated to have killed up to 160,000, said there would be no jobs in Haiti for anybody forcibly deported.
I stand up, I want to march, I want to scream, I want to yell for TPS to be extended, she said. Many people lost their homes and family members in the earthquake. Here they are homeowners, business owners and parents. There is no hope for them if they are made to go back.