By Larisa Karr
Yolnick Jeune stood before Congress for the second time, impassioned not just for herself but for the sake of her five children, thinking about the hardships they had endured. One of her daughters had skipped from middle school to high school and now wished to attend college, but was unable to, solely because of her immigration status. Now, their situation was growing increasingly more urgent.
“I moved here 10 years ago and I take it very seriously that they are trying to take away TPS,” said Jeune, a 46-year-old life insurance agent from Haiti. “I am fighting for PPS, Permanent Protected Status, instead of TPS. After 10 years, I should be a citizen by now.”
Temporary Protected Status, also known as TPS, is a designation by the Department of Homeland Security that there are conditions in certain countries preventing nationals from returning home safely.
Last year, Haitian Brooklyners defended a federal lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s decision to end TPS for thousands of nationals from the island nation, including some calling for a pathway to citizenship.
Nine Haitians who have the protection, a nonprofit (Family Action Network Movement), and a business (Haiti Liberte) sued the government, saying they would be negatively impacted by the loss of the protection.
“One of the (individual) plaintiffs was a woman whose son had chronic asthma and he has a nebulizer,” said Ninaj Raoul, co-founder of the Brooklyn-based organization Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees. “He wouldn’t be able to get the services that he receives here if he went back to Haiti and Haiti’s in crisis right now.”
Haiti experts said there are multiple reasons why TPS holders should not be forced to go back.
With the recent onslaught of COVID-19, life in Haiti is poised to become even more chaotic. Although the country has less than 1,000 cases at the moment, medical experts say this is not indicative of the true number.
“The situation is very dire, not just in the political spaces, but in the social spaces. You have a lot of unrest, a lot of gangs and food scarcity is affecting 30-40 percent of the population,” said Dr. Jean-Claude Compas, a family physician originally from Miragoâne. “We don’t have the tests or the manpower and what we have is just the tip of the iceberg.
Dr. Compas said the real number of COVID-19 cases is about 15-20 percent higher than the ones that have been recorded. He recalled a conversation with Jean William Pape, Haiti’s leading infectious disease expert.
“Dr. Pape sent me a picture of a young guy who was about 25-35 years old that died in his facility. The family that brought him were crying, kissing and holding him,” said Dr. Compas. “They are getting infected and they are going to spread it all over. It’s as simple as that.”
TPS for Haitians started after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 150,000 people. Federal data shows there were about 46,000 Haitian TPS holders in the U.S. as of 2018.
“The 2010 earthquake, the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew, and the introduction of cholera to Haiti by the U.N. were like three sledgehammer blows and so it’s a closed question as to whether or not Haiti merited TPS designation,” said Steve Forester, the Immigration Policy Coordinator at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “Now you’ve got the political turmoil and so it doesn’t make sense to deport people.
In Brooklyn, groups such as Little Haiti BK are being proactive by talking to elected officials, specifically members of Congress, about their ideal solution.
Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees is a member of the National TPS Alliance, which is composed of over 40 committees and 10 organizations in the U.S. Through the Alliance, TPS holders from several countries, including El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, rode a bus across the country last year to raise awareness about why TPS should not be terminated.
In 2017, various governmental officials and the New York State Haitian Delegation, which has helped many Haitians with TPS who moved to New York, took a trip to Haiti under the direction of Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre. The president of the Haitian-American Political Action Committee, a PAC which supports politicians who advocate for the Haitian community, was also present. While there, they met government officials and further discussed ways how they could strengthen ties between Haiti and New York State.
A report from the Center for American Progress found that on average TPS holders have lived in the U.S. for 19 years and that 69.2 to 83.5 percent were employed. If TPS holders were to be removed from the labor force, the report shows that $164 billion of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product would be lost within the next decade.
State politicians, such as Chairman of the 42nd Assembly District State Committee Josue Pierre, went on radio and social media to support the lawsuit, which resulted in the court ruling against Trump’s attempt to end TPS. Pierre said education plays a crucial role in getting attention for TPS holders.
“Immigrants especially who understand what it means to be an American view it in a different way. They tremendously value it,” Pierre said. “It’s something that people outside of this country invest years in. To come here and start to build things up and then to lose that would be a great loss.”
If Trump were to continue pressing for the end of TPS, Haitians would go back to a country in chaos.
Protests have riled the country for the past few years. February, police officers fired guns and threw tear gas to raise awareness about their salaries and working conditions. Last year, protests against government corruption sparked violence, the Canadian embassy temporarily closed and hospitals lacked basic medical supplies. Subsequent protests erupted when several of the country’s biggest opposition groups joined together to demand the ouster of the president, who they believe is backed by the U.S.
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who represents Brooklyn’s Ninth Congressional district and works in East Flatbush, is one of the lead sponsors of the “Dream and Promise Act.” The bill, which passed the House of Representatives in June of last year, builds upon the original “Dream Act” to help children with the protected status known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The legislation introduced new legal protections and a path to permanent citizenship for TPS holders as well.
Although the Dream and Promise Act, known as H.R. 6, passed Congress in June of last year, experts are not optimistic about it progressing further under the current government.
“A lot of people thought that the Democrats should have tried to strike some kind of deal with the Trump administration to get some protections for these populations. I don’t think anyone expects, given that the Republicans control the Senate, that H.R. 6 is going to pass the Senate,” said Forester. “If it does, that’s thrilling, but it goes against what the Republicans have stood for.”
Nonetheless, Jeune said she will continue to fight for permanent residency because the stakes are too high.
“If it wasn’t for TPS, I don’t know what I would do. With TPS, I am able to go to school, go to work, have a decent job and provide for my family,” said Jeune. “I have nothing, no money, in Haiti. Life in Haiti is unbearable.”