Panelists for "Tales from the Borderlands." Photo Credit: Naisha Jozef
Panelists for “Tales from the Borderlands.” Photo Credit: Naisha Jozef
Panelists for “Tales from the Borderlands.” Photo Credit: Naisha Jozef

By Naeisha Rose

The only memory Maria’s son has of Haiti is that of the earthquake and being stuck under the rubble.

She came to the United States with her then four-year-old son in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

“He was stuck under the rubble at his school for five hours,” said Maria, whose real name is not being used to protect her identity. “That is his only memory of Haiti and he tells me all the time that ‘this is his home.’”

Maria is one of tens of thousands of Haitian TPS recipients who have been waiting anxiously to see what their fate holds for them following the Trump Administration’s decision back in November 2017 to eliminate TPS for Haitians, effective July 22, 2019.

“This is a very important activity for us as part of our advocacy,” said Giles Charleston, a board member of the Association of Haitian Professionals who attended a TPS summit held at the University of the District Columbia on Feb. 9. During the summit, immigration issues related to TPS, DACA and migrants stuck on the U.S. / Mexico border were discussed.

“The issue, especially with TPS is worthwhile for us to reflect on,” he said.

TPS is a legal designation that allows nationals from other countries to live, work and go to school in the U.S. as they escape political strife, war or natural disasters, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In 2010, much of Haiti was destroyed by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake, and to make matters worse, relief workers from the United Nations ended up spreading cholera to the victims of the natural disaster.

Recovery efforts in the country have been slow, and there are still thousands of cases of cholera, according to UNICEF.

It’s estimated that there are 50,000 to 60,000 Haitians with TPS in the U.S., according to Homeland Security statistics in 2018.

Maria, who was a secretary in the Health Ministry in Haiti, came to the U.S. in July 2010, because she lost everything she had back in her home country.

“Everything was destroyed and I have no home to go back to,” said Maria. “I came to the U.S. for a better life.”

Since coming to the U.S., she’s taken ESL classes, and is now a certified nursing assistant, working as a caregiver.

Maria also volunteers at a thrift store, is the president of the children’s ministry at her local church in California and  leads Bible study every Sunday. However, despite all she’s done to ensure a simple life of normalcy in the U.S., her and her family’s immigration status weighs heavily on her, especially after her husband was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“He thought he was being kidnapped,” said Maria. “They came up to him asking personal questions at 5 a.m. in our front yard. He has been detained for over nine months now.”

Maria can no longer send her kids to after-school programs and has to work 13 to 15 hours a day, five days a week. She occasionally gets help from a school aid who works at her 5 and 3-year-olds early learning academy.

“They want to visit their dad,” said Maria who started to become emotional. “They say ‘I need dad home.’”

If Maria could speak to Trump, she would ask, “Why can’t we stay, why do we have to go?”

Guerline jozef. Photo Credit: Naeisha Rose

Thanks to humanitarians, activists and immigration lawyers across the country, her family might not get deported, according to Guerline Jozef, the executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit Haitian organizations.

“A judge in California ruled in favor of our lawsuit against the government,” said Jozef. “The termination of TPS was unlawful…and therefore he has ordered the halt of the termination and the deportation of people that have TPS.”

The measure is not an extension of TPS, but a halt of termination, according to Jozef.

“People had until July 22 of this year,” said Jozef, but “because of [the ruling] nine extra months have been added to [the original date].”

While this ruling signals a step in the right direction toward an ultimate victor, the fight for TPS is far from over.

“We need to go to Congress and demand that they pass laws and bills for permanent solutions for undocumented folks,” said Jozef at the summit. “We need to continue for the community to get involved.”

Haitians and the U.S./Mexico border

TPS isn’t the only immigration issue the Haitian community is dealing with.

At the U.S./Mexico border, there are currently over 3,000 Haitians stuck there, according to Jozef.

“Those are folks who are stranded there awaiting what is to come,” said Jozef. “They are in limbo.”

Many of the Haitian immigrants escaped the 2010 earthquake and went to Brazil to work on the country’s $12 billion Olympic stadium before the 2016 games, according to Jozef.

However, many economists over the years have said that stadiums are not the best generators of wealth.

Similar to Greece, Brazil’s economy took a nosedive.

Initially, Haitians that walked from Brazil to Mexico received asylum at the U.S. border up until 2016 and many went to San Diego to live.

An Obama-era policy ended the asylum program, which led to many immigrants living in a detention center, according to Jozef, however, the treatment of immigrants have been worse since the start of the Trump Administration.

“We want to make sure the Haitian community here in the states, as well as home, knows what is at risk, for you to leave Haiti and come here with the hope of making it, and ending up at the border,” Jozef said in an interview with the Haitian Times during a November 2018 Haitian Diaspora conference, “and because of the new administration and what’s happening, they end up in prison just because they are looking for a better life.”

Naeisha Rose is a multimedia journalist and graduate of the Arts & Culture and Broadcast programs at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has experience working on independent short films, short documentaries, reality television shows, talk and web series as a Casting Associate, 1st AD and Production Assistant. She is a freelance writer with photography, voice over, social media, video production and video editing skills. She has worked as a General Assignment Reporter/Photojournalist for TimesLedger Newspapers, a Book Reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Freelance Writer for LatinTrends Magazine.

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