Photo Credit: Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs
Photo Credit: Vania Andre

By Vania Andre

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday the end of the Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country. The Justice Department has also agreed to give Congress a six-month window to possibly reinstate the program.

“To have a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest, we cannot admit everyone who would like to come here,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “That is an open border policy and the American people have rightly rejected it.”

The Justice Department will no longer consider new applications for DACA after Sept. 5, but will allow current recipients with expiring permits to apply for a two-year renewal by Oct. 5. DACA authorizations will be recognized until they expire for different recipients.

What does this mean for Haitian immigrants?

As many as 800,000 people have applied for DACA since its creation, with the majority of the program’s recipients living in California and hailing from Mexico. Experts believe about 200,000 more people have applied for DACA since Trump’s election. 

While Haiti is not one of the top countries of origin for DACA recipients, there is still considerable concern in the community about what this latest action says overall for the fate of immigrants in the U.S.

“Our first reaction was that this decision is a clear inclination of what’s to come for TPS,” said Francesca Menes, policy director for the Florida Immigration Coalition (FLIC). “We never thought [Trump] would be this crazy based on how many kids would be impacted.”

If they’re willing to pull the right for 800,000 people to live and work in this country, then “we know what the fate of TPS will be,” Menes said.

Many of the people that would have qualified for DACA, applied for TPS instead. However, there are still a number of Haitians who are dreamers, said Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul, founding director of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Haitian Studies Institute at Brooklyn College.

“There are students a part of CUNY who are dreamers,” Saint Paul said.  “Dreamers are people who are here because they want to be someone.”

For Saint Paul, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech is synonymous with the ideals that immigrants think of when they come to this country.

“[Immigrants] are hard workers who feel as though they are Americans,” he said. “They are looking for opportunity and have embraced the U.S. as their home.”

President Barack Obama created DACA through an executive order in 2012 . Under DACA, children who entered the country illegally before 2007, while under the age of 16, would be legally authorized to live and work in the U.S. for renewably two-year periods. DACA was instated as a compromise after Congress failed to pas the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have allowed children who came to the U.S. illegally to have the opportunity to gain legal residency in the United States. Instead of going the legislative route, Obama executed some of the main tenets of the DREAM Act, through an executive order instead that did not require Congressional approval.

For Trump, this decision to end DACA is about putting Americans and their security first.

“We are facing the symptom of a larger problem, illegal immigration, along with the many other chronic immigration problems Washington has left unsolved,” said President Donald J. Trump. 

“We must reform our green card system, which now favors low-skilled immigration and puts immense strain on U.S. taxpayers. We must base future immigration on merit – we want those coming into the country to be able to support themselves financially, to contribute to our economy, and to love our country and the values it stands for.”

The decision to end the program sparked protests across the country and criticism from officials, including Obama.

“To target these young people is wrong — because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love,” Obama said in a Facebook post. “And it is cruel.”

There are roughly 154,000 people whose DACA authorizations will expire between now and March 5, 2018 and will have less than a month to apply for renewals.

“This reckless and cruel decision constitutes a vicious attack on hundreds of thousands of young women and men who want to attend college, find jobs, and participate in our civil society,” said Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, whose district in Brooklyn includes a sizable Haitian population. “Throughout the history of the United States, there are decisions we have come to regret. I am certain that future generations will deeply regret this terrible decision as well.”

An uncertain future

Photo Credit: Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs

Since the beginning of the Trump administration, the Haitian community, like many other immigrant communities,  have been wrought with fear on the state of immigration in the United States.

This past May, Department of Homeland Security John Kelly announced a six month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S., who were granted temporary asylum following the 2010 earthquake. Prior to the May announcement, TPS was set to expire July 23 of this year.  Despite the extension, immigration advocates are still lobbying the administration to grant a full extension of 18 months, citing Haiti’s current state of affairs is not one that can accommodate an influx of people.

Fears of deportations to Haiti and rumors fueled by erroneous information online has led to an exodus of Haitian migrants into neighboring Canada. In a matter of six weeks, Canadian officials intercepted 7,000 asylum seekers in Quebec, with roughly 85 percent of those crossing the border being of Haitian descent.

Last month, Brooklyn Council Member Mathieu Eugene met with immigration officials in Montreal to learn more about the surge of Haitian migrants coming to Canada in anticipation of deportation to Haiti from the U.S.

Experts caution those seeking protection in Canada that fear of deportation from the U.S. is not reason enough to be granted asylum.

“The reality is that they have not received the right information,” said Eugene. “They are convinced that the doors are open, that there is hope, and that they will stay here in Canada. I intend to inform my constituents that they must think twice before they make the journey into Canada.”

Leaders in South Florida have been encouraging people to stay put in the U.S. and not venture to Canada in the hopes of getting asylum there.

Organizers at FLIC are identifying legislative and local strategies to ensure that communities will be safe from Trump’s mechanisms. They’ve organized “Protect the People” clinics where members of the community can receive free legal advice and learn about alternative types of relief available to them.

“There are a lot of people who have not had their cases reviewed by quality lawyers,” Menes said. Often times, those undocumented immigrants have their cases reviewed by lawyers who miss crucial information that may be relevant to their situation.

“We are not going to give up educating people about their rights.”

Saint Paul cautions those looking to Canada as a promise land.

“People have to be very careful,” he said. “According to Canada there is political stability in Haiti. It is no longer a country facing a political crisis. Unless someone can prove they are fleeing political persecution in Haiti, there is no guarantee Canadian officials will grant their request.

“I would advise people not to see Canada as a paradise.”

Immigration advocates, including Mendes, are waiting to see how Americans respond in the polls during upcoming elections.

“Immigration is always used as a wedge issue to separate the left and the right instead of finding a unifying solution,” Mendes said. Trump’s immigration policies may “trigger something politically republicans weren’t prepared for.”

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