By Jocelyn McCalla
Donald Trump defied all odds to claim victory on election night 2016 in the United States. What appeared to be strategies coming out of left field since he formally launched his bid for the GOP nomination — campaigning on a brash take-no-prisoners anti-immigrant platform, singling out Mexicans for special scorn; qualifying virtually all followers of the Muslim faith as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers worthy of close domestic surveillance and registration; saber rattling Wall Street’s cages; trashing GOP policy and strategies even as he sought GOP support — turned out to be his winning ticket to the highest office in America: President of the United States. What does a Trump presidency mean for Haitians in the US and in Haiti?
Let’s not cut corners and go straight to the point:
Haitians can say goodbye to Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, President Barack Obama saw fit to use his discretion to grant this exceptional status to Haitians stranded in the US because of the extensive damage suffered by their country. The operative keyword is discretionary authority. At his discretion the president can grant TPS for a period of 18 months — which Obama did in 2010 — and extend this status for another 18 months or less depending on whether conditions in the country under consideration have sufficiently improved to allow an orderly return of the individual beneficiaries. President Trump is unlikely to extend TPS further for Haitians. In fact, he is unlikely to extend TPS for many other nationals who have benefited from such a measure.
Haitians asylum-seekers who have been admitted to the US as “Entrants,” can expect to be forcibly deported to Haiti or pressured into voluntary deportation. Over the last year, several thousand Haitians have migrated from South America — namely Brazil and Chile where they had sought and sometimes earned gainful employment — to the United States when no more jobs were available. Some 4,000 were admitted through the Southern border as Entrants (under the Cuban-Haitian Entrant program which dates from 1980). Several thousand more are in Mexico, hoping to cross legally. Charitable agencies on both sides of the border are overwhelmed given their own limited resources.
The Trump administration is unlikely to invest significantly in reducing the backlog of approved immigrant visa petitions. This means that many Haitian families will remain split, with petitioners in the USA unable to reunite with their loved ones (sons and daughters primarily) for a long time. In other words, many will not be able to escape Haiti’s poverty and remain dependent on remittances from abroad. In the best case scenario, Haitian immigrants may retain their current socio-economic standing and perhaps improve it over the next months and years. Economists warn however of a downward spiral under a Trump administration. Thus Haitians’ standing in the USA has become much more insecure.
Haitian immigrants and Haitian-Americans can expect to face much more overt racism in America. Trump’s rise to the presidency is a victory for white supremacists/nationalists: they will use their newfound ascendency to anchor their power in the public and private sphere. Let us have no illusions that Haitians can escape their wrath.
With respect to relations with Haiti, expect at best a policy of benign neglect or at worst much more aggressive control of Haitian affairs. Why?
US policy towards Haiti is fundamentally premised on preventing large migration flows from Haiti to the US mainland. Thanks to the Interdiction policy — US Coast Guards constantly patrolling the high seas near Haiti to stop boatloads of Haitians from getting near US shores–, thanks to swift refoulement procedures, the US has largely succeeded since 1994.
However, neither the economic nor the political situation in Haiti has improved much. In the last 6 years, Goudougoudou (as Haitians call the 2010 earthquake) and Hurricane Matthew have severely set back progress in Haiti, increasing pressure on emigration. And Haitians have yet to develop stable governance given the weak central, regional and local government structures.
A policy of benign neglect would at least maintain American bilateral aid commitment to the level achieved by the Obama administration. US commitment level usually influences other bilateral and multilateral aid commitments. Haitians should not expect the Trump administration to maintain or increase its commitment to Haiti, given its emphasis on withdrawing from international covenants, and on making “America great again.”
Will the US continue to insist on a sizable UN peacekeeping presence in Haiti? No. It will probably go along with the UN’s plans to progressively wind down the UN’s presence in the country just to insure that no major conflagration erupts there while Trump’s administration consolidates itself.
Will the US push for a significant effort to reduce the threat and spread of cholera in Haiti? Unlikely since the cholera strain introduced in Haiti by the Nepalese troops seems largely contained within Haiti itself. Besides, for the UN to fulfill the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s anti-cholera pledge, the US would have to foot the bill or be the primary driver for such an effort.
Thus a Trump administration is more likely to align its Haiti policy with the misguided rationale of some of the Haitians who welcomed him to Little Haiti with a strong denunciation of the Clintons’ role in their country.
In conclusion: expecting benefits for Haiti and Haitian in America from a Trump Administration is sheer madness. The Clintons promised much, delivered little. Trump also made promises, but to his followers: to make America great again, he would get rid of the immigrants that allegedly prey on America’s generosity. When Trump met with Haitians in Little Haiti, he said little and promised nothing.
Jocelyn McCalla is a New York-based development expert and a long time community organizer