haitian immigrants

By Nadine C.

When discussing immigration in America, most automatically think of those from the Spanish-speaking community. The face of the immigration debate in America is often times a Latino, mainly because of Mexico’s proximity to America. However, there are additional stories to be told, including that of the Haitian community in different states across the country.

The immigration issue is diverse and long-standing. Haitian communities are dispersed all over the United States, some large like in Brooklyn and Miami; others smaller like those in Phoenix and the Bronx.  Despite varying personal viewpoints and experiences, one overwhelming common denominator is the care and concern for the humanity of the people impacted by immigration reform.

On Nov. 20, 2014, President Barack Obama announced the Immigration Accountability Executive Action (IAEA), which would allow millions of people to “come out of the shadows and get right with the law.” The new policy will allow over 4 million people to stay in America without fear of being deported. Under the order, applicants must have lived in the U.S. for more than 5 years, be a child of an American citizen or legal resident, pass a background check, and agree to pay taxes.


This executive action is a step in the right direction, Carole M. Berotte Joseph, Ph.D, former president of Bronx Community College said. There are people in the community with varying immigration statuses. It’s important they speak to experts for details.

“Haitian community centers will be able to guide them,” Joseph said. “People are wary; they don’t want to simply ask anybody due to fear of being discovered.

When immigration policy is debated, often times little concern is given to the real victims – the children.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Fabiola Jean-Gilles, an immigration and family law attorney based out of Arizona, says. “What happens is, lots of families are separated, making children fatherless and motherless.”

Missing the boat with TPS

“Haitian immigrants in Arizona typically already have their act together because of Temporary Protected Status (TPS),” Jean-Gilles, said. For them, there’s “less of a need for the executive order because of programs like TPS.”

Following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Department of Homeland Security granted temporary protected status to undocumented Haitians who were unable to return to Haiti because of the devastation. Despite this move, receiving TPS for some was difficult.

“It can be impossible because they have to show extreme hardship, which can be extremely difficult, in and of itself,” Jean-Giles said. The executive order will benefit those who qualified for TPS but were unable to apply because of various technicalities.

“People come here to try to get a better life and in order to work, they need papers,” Joseph said. “I’m sure for Obama to announce this, there had to be lots of debate and discussion on both sides of the House.

“Immigration is a hot button issue regardless of who it is under; people will be against it and others in favor.  They are working, paying taxes, and buying; they have purchasing power and are contributing to the fiscal health of country. It is just that their personal tax issues are not clear.  Definitely, give them a chance.”

When you remove the breadwinner from their home because of immigration issues, you’ve now increased the remaining family’s probability of poverty and incarceration, especially with boys and absent fathers, Jean-Giles said.

“Our tax dollars pay for that, so who is paying ultimately?”

According to the Pew Research Foundation, executive action on immigration isn’t new.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Cuban Refugee Program to assist Cubans fleeing from Fidel Castro’s regime. Fast forward to the Clinton years, and you find that in the 1990s President Bill Clinton protected Haitians from deportation with the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act.

When she was a little girl, Jean-Gilles father had to come to America as a result of political persecution and she endured time away from him as a result of the process. Her parents were married but the process made it difficult to live with them for a year and a half.  Despite her path to becoming an American citizen, she fairly weighs both sides of the argument.

“I understand we can’t take the flood of everyone coming in because we can’t be the only country absorbing it all; however from a humanitarian standpoint, if we are a country that helps, we need to revisit these policies and stop using Band-Aids.”

This is a nation built by immigrants, Jean-Giles said. “I am as American as apple pie, even though I wasn’t born here.”

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