Blavity REPORT — Haiti is the world’s first independent black republic. It is a country that has endured and triumphed. Despite attempts to exploit, ostracize and demonize the island, Haiti remains a symbol of black resistance and perseverance.
In January of 2010, after the devastating earthquake that killed nearly 300,000 Haitians, the Obama administration granted nearly 50,000 Haitians with temporary protected status (TPS). TPS is an immigration policy that protects people fleeing their home nations due to natural disasters or political instability from deportation, giving them legal authorization to live and work in the United States. Tens of thousands of Haitians have built lives in America. They’ve gone to college, bought homes, paid taxes, given remittances to their families in Haiti and contributed to building the fabric of this country.
The current administration, however, has decided to reverse the Obama-era policy and revoke TPS for Haitian immigrants. Former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said the "extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist" in Haiti, implying that it is ethical to uproot thousands of people and their families from the lives they’ve built in the United States and send them back to the island that hasn’t fully recovered from its humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t considered the impact this will have on the island which isn’t equipped to accommodate that many returning immigrants. Similar to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, TPS holders are now in a destabilizing predicament. Once their work authorizations expire, they will no longer be eligible to legally work in the United States, making them undocumented immigrants subject to deportation.
Blavity spoke with two prominent community activists who are working with Haitian immigrants as they navigate America’s discriminatory and hostile immigration system.
Albert Saint Jean (pictured below) is a lead organizer with BAJI NYC, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a national organization working toward racial and economic justice. He lives in Crown Heights and is originally from Elizabeth, NJ. Albert grew up in a Haitian-American family where he experienced the nuances of being both an immigrant and black in America. We asked Albert to elaborate on TPS and Haiti: “Trump stopped the program and plans for it to end in July in 2019. Haiti has been slow to recover from the earthquake and the cholera epidemic for a number of reasons. One main reason is corruption; NGOs, the Haitian government and the U.S. government all contribute to this corruption. Haiti still is not completely stable. Additionally, you have an influx of Haitians who have been deported from the Dominican Republic that the country cannot absorb. There are thousands of Haitians still languishing on the border because the country cannot take them in. We have no idea what this would look like if 50,000 TPS holders from the United States arrive on the island.”
U.S. immigration policies have consistently discriminated against Haitian immigrants. The coverage around TPS has continued to leave out the ways in which this will impact Haitian and other black immigrants. When asked about this disparity, Albert shared the following:
“There’s been a long history of discrimination against immigrants of color in general," he said. "With Haitians we saw them getting singled out around 1980 when Reagan became president. The wet food dry foot policy allowed Cubans who came over on rafts a path to citizenship, but Haitians weren’t granted the same privilege and were sent back."
"Haiti was under the Duvalier regime which was world-renowned for their torture. Despite that, Haitian immigrants weren’t granted the same privilege for fleeing," he added. "The 1996 terrorism laws include a provision that states that any foreign national who commits a crime is subject to deportation. Because of the type of policing that occurs in black communities, we have seen many folks who were in danger of being deported, or actually deported, because of nonviolent crimes.”
The racial discrimination experienced by Haitian immigrants, coupled with the repeal of TPS, highlights a familiar pattern of American immigration policy. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is suing the Trump administration for revoking TPS. They argue that the Department of Homeland Security “took irrational and discriminatory government action, denying Haitian immigrants their right to due process and equal protection under the Fifth Amendment."
We also spoke with Guerline Jozef (pictured below), a Los Angeles organizer who works with the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to build a self-sufficient community of Haitians. Guerline emphasized that the implications of TPS being taken away from Haitians are “the difference of being able to survive and not being able to survive." "Taking away TPS is taking away their livelihood,” she said.
A key part of the TPS conversation is the impact it will have on Haitians who still live on the island. Guerline elaborates, “Haiti is heavily reliant upon the help of their relatives and families in the states. That’s how they’re able to provide for their families. Someone who has been here for the past seven to 10 years works, provides for themselves and they’re also able to take care of their children, relatives and sometimes an entire community. This not only destroying the livelihood of TPS holders in the United States, but it impacts those they are taking care of in America and also on the island. We need to take a closer look at who is being affected by this.”
As a community organizer, Guerline knows the ways in which this has impacted the personal lives of Haitian TPS holders. “When I heard the news, it felt like the earthquake all over again. Just knowing the impact this would have on my community, it felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under all of us. This is real and has real impact. It has caused so many issues for us: depression, anxiety, a lot of heart-related illnesses. People are not able to sleep. People are afraid and in hiding. Children are worried their parents will be deported at anytime. Parents don’t know how to plan for their children's futures. Suddenly everything is under a huge cloud, and it's like looking into a tunnel with no light at the end. Some of them are extremely depressed and worried. It’s also important to note that people who have been paying taxes for the last seven to 10 years, paying into their health insurance for the last seven to 10 years, paying into their retirement for the last seven to 10 years now feel as though all of that has been taken from them. Homeowners are worried they will lose their homes. It is chaos; it is fear; it is almost to the point of terror. If you are scared enough to the point where you can’t leave your home, that is terror. They’re always in a state of emergency. I can only imagine the effect we will see 10 years from now because of the stress those people are under. As a community, we’re hoping to learn how to cope.”
Feelings of powerlessness are expected to ensue among Haitians, among organizers and everyday people fighting to stay politically and civically engaged despite policies and laws that continue to blatantly attack our livelihood. For this hopelessness, Guerline had the following to share:
“We need to get on Congress. Call your elected officials. Right now those people have the power to make the changes. We’re really calling for not to just give people temporary status but focus on giving them a path to legal residency and eventually citizenship. Reach out, write and contact anyone who is willing to listen. Demand that they make a way for these people. We are calling for people to join the fight. TPS holders are everyday people you interact with, contributing to the economy and making up the country. They are your neighbors, your child’s friends, your doctor, your caretaker and more. It’s not just about what you hear, but take the time to see what’s happening and see how you can make a difference.”