By Wyatt Massey
In anticipation of the upcoming decision from the Trump Administration regarding Haiti’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation, a coalition of elected officials, community groups, labor, and advocates came together on May 16 during a rally at Foley Square to demand the Trump Administration stop the threat of mass deportation by extending TPS for Haitians.
Public officials, organizations and concerned citizens are uniting in calls to President Donald J. Trump and his administration to extend TPS beyond July 22 for nearly 59,000 Haitians in the United States, 22,000 of which reside in New York City. The statements from each group are similar, noting deportations will break up families and endanger people by sending them to a country unable to support their arrival.
Nisha Agarwal, Office of Immigrant Affairs commissioner, is working to raise awareness about the government program and its positive effects on international and local communities at a time when immigrants do not feel supported.
“The national rhetoric is loud, and it’s quite anti-immigrant,” she said. “Our obligation as a country is to provide the humanitarian protection and uphold our values.”
The Secretary of Homeland Security to a foreign country grants TPS when local conditions prevent people from returning safely or the country is unable to handle the return of citizens. Haiti is among 12 other countries with TPS status. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services initially granted Haiti TPS in January 2010 after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010. The designation was extended in August 2015 for an additional 18 months.
“Even the Trump administration’s threat of withdrawing this status is cruel and the pursuit of this policy would be a profound injustice,” New York state senator Jesse Hamilton said in a statement. “We will not permit Trump to trample the rights of our friends and neighbors.”
On May 18, 129 organizations and 200 people sent a letter to Trump, Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging them not to deport the nearly 59,000 Haitians in America. Incomplete earthquake recovery, outbreaks of cholera, food insecurity and recent hurricane destruction make Haiti too dangerous for people to return, as well as an issue of US national security, they said. Organizations backing the statement include Amnesty International, Oxfam America and the United Methodist Church.
“Failure to extend TPS given these conditions would be disastrous for families here and there and destabilizing, adding a significant burden to a nation already saddled with overwhelming challenges, increasing desperation and possibly entailing additional U.S. Coast Guard interdiction resources, among other possible consequences,” they wrote.
Around 220,000 people were killed and more than a million more were left homeless after an earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince in January 2010. Haitian leaders and other humanitarian leaders have voiced concerns about the slow recovery process, including a subsequent cholera outbreak killing nearly 10,000 people. Hurricane Matthew hit the nation in October 2016, killing more than 500 people and displacing thousands more. The long-term damage of these events to Haiti’s infrastructure makes the country unable to handle returning immigrants, the letter said.
The statement also points out Trump’s pledge to Haitians, when he told them, “I really want to be your biggest champion,” during a campaign stop in Miami in September 2016. Many of the Haitians have lived in the United States for more than a decade raising a family, the letter points out, and US-born children “should not be forced to choose between their parents and their birthright and future as Americans.”
Other leaders are calling out Trump after it was reported the USCIS is collecting evidence of crimes committed by Haitians before the TPS extension decision. However, statistical evidence shows immigrants are “underrepresented” in crime statistics.
USCIS does not discuss pre-decision documents, said Sharon Scheidhauer, public affairs officer. Secretary Kelly has not made a decision on the TPS designation and the organization is continuing to evaluate whether circumstances in Haiti require an extension, she said.
The supposed move reflects the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant stance, said a joint statement by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond and Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke from New York were among those behind the statement.
“Highlighting criminal activity by TPS-beneficiaries obscures the basic fact that TPS designation is based on local conditions in the affected country,” they wrote. “Reports that USCIS is collecting crime statistics to justify the denial of TPS re-designation for Haiti defies both the letter and spirit of the law, while corroding the values of our nation of immigrants.”
Rodneyse Bichotte, a New York state assemblymember and daughter of Haitian immigrants, called the collection of Haitian immigrant criminal histories a “ploy to demonize.” Bichotte is a member of a coalition lobbying to extend TPS that includes Agarwal, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, New York State Nurses Association board member Nancy Hagans and The New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steven Choi, among others.
Agarwal and the Office of Immigrant Affairs is leading “know your rights” workshops for Haitians, as well as the public, to teach about available city services and in case of deportations.
“Regardless of what Trump Administration officials are saying, Haiti is not in a place to accept an influx of people at the moment. The country is still rebuilding following a series of natural disasters that has wreaked havoc on the country, including the most recent Hurricane Matthew,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader. “I’m proud to represent one of the largest communities of Haitians outside of Florida and will stand diligently by in advocating with the community in calling for a renewal of Haiti’s TPS designation.”