By David Henderson
To say the first week of Donald Trump’s presidency has been hectic would be a massive understatement. He’s passed a flurry of executive orders, sparred with the press, and appeared on television constantly. Its been tough to follow all of Trump’s moves, but it’s critical to analyze his policies, and how they relate to Haiti, with great care. The effects otherwise could be massive.
Trump gained a following by promising to be tough on immigrants, and he has in no way backed down from this stance. After taking office, Trump reassured his fervent followers that he would move quickly to deport at least 2 million undocumented immigrants, focusing on those with criminal records. It is worth noting that Barack Obama has long pursued a similar, if less aggressive policy, but the end result has been far from the purge of violent threats to society he intended—immigration officers have shipped thousands of migrants out of the United States for offenses as simple as traffic violations. Trump has extended the definition of criminal even further, to the point that any undocumented migrant within U.S. territory is now a target for deportation.
This is likely to be disastrous for undocumented Haitian immigrants, although not in the short term; Haitian migrants enjoy special protection from the Department of Homeland Security. The temporary protected status granted to Haitians following the earthquake originally expired in 2014. The U.S. government took a long time to act upon this expiration, waiting until the fall to begin deporting Haitians en masse. After Hurricane Matthew, widespread outcry at the cruelty of sending migrants back to their flooded homes prompted the Department of Homeland Security to extend this policy, with Haitians granted temporary protected status until July 22, 2017. So, in the short term, undocumented Haitians are unlikely to face deportation as long as they have applied for temporary protected status, but, given Trump’s unflinchingly tough stance thus far, one can anticipate massive deportations come July.
In response to Trump’s harsh rhetoric, several cities, including Boston and New York, both of which house large swaths of Haitian immigrants, have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for undocumented immigrants: local authorities in these cities will refuse to assist federal immigration officers in locating and deporting migrants. Unfortunately, however, Miami’s mayor, Carlos Gimenez, announced Miami will fully comply with federal officials, meaning Miami will be a dangerous city for undocumented Haitians come July, and for any Haitians who have not applied for, and received, temporary protected status.
Even for those he doesn’t deport, Trump promises to make life more difficult for undocumented migrants of all nationalities, including Haitians. Trump passed an executive order that will force U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to create an “Office for Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens,” which will release quarterly reports to the public that will “study the effects of the victimization by criminal aliens present in the United States.” These reports are likely to further isolate and stigmatize immigrants from all countries, making it harder to live, and thrive, in the US.
While Trump’s blistering anti-immigrant rhetoric may have stolen most of the headlines, his early actions with respect to international aid indicate his presidency may bring devastating consequences to Haiti, the nation, rather than just to migrants. Last week, Trump’s transition team began drafting an executive order titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations,” an order that calls for massive decreases in U.S. funding for international aid, starting with, at a minimum, “at least a 40 percent overall decrease” in total US funding given to international organizations—meaning international organizations that work in Haiti are likely to see their budgets vastly diminished.
This will be particularly devastating to United Nations agencies; the U.S. has been the largest funder of UN activities since the body’s inception. While the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission has largely (and fairly) been reviled by many Haitians, other UN programs, including UNICEF, the World Food Program, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank, and World Health Organization all do critical work that pertains to Haiti; The US pulling roughly half of its funding to all of these organizations would likely cut the UN’s total budget by at least 10%, meaning swiftly and drastically reduced capacity across the board.
This potential shift comes at a time when the UN is set to do critical and morally imperative work in Haiti. A few months ago, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced the creation of a $400 million fund to fight cholera and provide aid to families affected by the disease, as a means of making amends for the UN’s wrongdoing in bringing cholera to Haiti. If the U.S. goes through with its threat to drastically reduce support for UN agencies, it seems unlikely that the UN will be able to successfully raise $400 million from member states to fight the disease.
Meanwhile, a few weeks ago The Atlantic pointed out that the Trump administration has shown a great deal of hostility towards PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), the massive fund created by George W. Bush, which is reviewed and renewed annually. PEPFAR was arguably George W. Bush’s greatest accomplishment while in office; the fund massively increased access to AIDS medication throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world, while also strengthening health systems’ capacity. PEPFAR continues to be critical for Haiti’s health system—in 2015, the Haitian government received $105 million in support from the program.
Trump’s team hasn’t just threatened to reduce funding for PEPFAR—they’ve shown outright hostility towards the program. According to the New York Times, in a questionnaire sent to the State Department, the Trump team mentioned PEPFAR twice, asking “Is PEPFAR worth the massive investment when there are so many security concerns in Africa? Is PEPFAR becoming a massive, international entitlement program?”
In his first week, Trump did not act upon this skepticism, but it seems very possible he may in the near future. If Trump abolishes the program altogether, the global AIDS epidemic will take a catastrophic turn for the worse. But, even if Trump simply reduces funding, by, let’s say, 40%, Haiti and a myriad of other nations will be sent scrambling for funding if they want any chance of keeping AIDS under control.
Perhaps the greatest threat the Trump presidency poses to Haiti, and, indeed, the planet, is the threat of completely unmitigated, and perhaps accelerated, climate change. With its susceptibility to flooding and generally weak infrastructure, any increase in frequency of severe weather will have devastating effects on Haitians; If Trump carries on with the climate change denialism he proudly displayed in his first week (for example, by removing all climate change related information from the White House and EPA’s websites), Haiti will bear the devastating brunt of climate change in the imminently near future, and will continue to face more and more destructive weather patterns for decades to come. Trump’s presidency, it seems, will be unprecedentedly destructive for Haitians, an astounding feat given the US’ 200 year-long history of poor policy choices with respect to our island neighbor.