By Onz Chery and Sam Bojarski
Scores of Haitian-Americans capped off a week of Haitian Flag celebrations with welcoming news Saturday that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians has been renewed and expanded, a decision that stands to affect more than 100,000 compatriots. While some said the Biden Administration’s decision is delayed, it signals the community’s strength in organizing.
“It’s been a long time coming, we’ve been fighting for it,” said Rose Tilus, a TPS holder who works as a nurse practitioner in Rhode Island. “I’m happy that decision came in. Knowing that I have the next 18 months, it gives me peace of mind. Just to know that I can continue to take care of my patients is great.”
Tilus, a Haitian Bridge Alliance advocate, also testified in front of the U.S. Senate in April.
In Flatbush, Brooklyn, the mood was upbeat on May 23, the day after the TPS announcement. Nearly 50 Haitian community members came to see New York Sen. Chuck Schumer address TPS, at a press conference in the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church parking lot.
Luvia Bernard, who attended the conference said the 18-month expansion of TPS would offer more security for undocumented members of the community.
“When you’re an undocumented immigrant you don’t have a lot of access to do the things you want to do,” Bernard, of Flatbush, said. “They cannot go to school, it’s hard.”
As Bernard and others looked on, Schumer walked into the church parking lot speaking in French, celebrating the TPS renewal and calling for a path to citizenship.
“By working hard for yourselves and your children, you create a better community for Brooklyn, for New York and for America,” Schumer told Haitian Brooklynites at the conference, which was organized by District 40 Council Member Mathieu Eugene. “Immigrants are our future, immigrants like the people from Haiti are our future.”
Schumer also assured the crowd that “elections make a difference,” speaking about the impact of voting former President Donald Trump out of office. Trump made multiple attempts to end TPS, and Haitians organized to drive voters to the polls last fall in support of President Joe Biden.
The U.S. decided to renew TPS for Haitians due the ongoing violence in Haiti, said Alejandro N. Mayorkas, secretary of Homeland Security, in a press release Saturday afternoon. The re-designation applies to Haitians who were already living in the U.S. as of May 21, including those who had not been eligible to receive TPS.
It also allows all eligible Haitians to apply for work permits.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas said.
Welcome news during Haitian Heritage Month
Community members, advocates and elected officials welcomed the renewal, which wraps up a week that featured countless displays of pride around Haitian Flag Day on May 18. Earlier in the week, several members of Congress also announced the formation of a Haiti House caucus to address U.S. foreign policy toward Haiti. Also on May 18, several immigration activists visited Washington or took part in a virtual meeting about Haiti and Haitian immigrants.
It was the latest in a series of meetings for the advocates, who had been battling the Trump Administration to renew the program first implemented after the 2010 earthquake. After that administration’s numerous efforts to end TPS, many Haitian-Americans feared that friends and relatives would be deported. That concern drove thousands of immigrant voters to the polls during the 2020 presidential elections to select the Biden-Harris ticket.
In December 2020, TPS to Haitians-Americans was extended until Oct. 4, 2021 for those members of the diaspora who’d been granted it prior. Meanwhile, at least 1,300 Haitians were deported between Feb. 1, 2021 and Mar. 25, 2021, exceeding last year’s total tally.
Ynnocent, an undocumented immigrant advocating for TPS through Family Action Network Movement (FANM), said in the group’s statement, “I applaud the Biden Administration decision to grant TPS to Haiti because now I and the 100,000 undocumented Haitians will be able to provide for our families.”
“Over 100,000 families and their children will finally have a good night’s sleep tonight and this is priceless,” FANM’s officials said in the statement.
While they also approved of the decision, some Haitian-Americans took to social media to also say the TPS renewal is behind time, echoed Tilus’s statement.
Strong community organizing
Throughout the years since it was first granted, organizations across the country have held rallies and demonstrations to encourage a decision that would allow Haitians with TPS status to remain in the U.S. and have a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
FANM, based in Miami, and its partners have been among the most vocal for TPS protections. On Saturday, the group applauded Biden’s decision. Officials said they targeted elected officials, rallied in front of ICE buildings, held press conferences, provided educational resources, launched petitions/ social media campaigns and organized Haitian community members who would directly benefit from TPS.
Guerline Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance who participated in Tuesday’s virtual meeting on the matter, said the administration’s decision is due to the community’s constant advocacy for TPS.
Renewal protects some, migrants still left out
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, the Senate majority leader, said the decision lives up to the program’s original goal of protecting Haitians.
“Congress created Temporary Protected Status to keep people from harm,” Schumer said Saturday. “Today’s action will grant more than 100,000 Haitians in the U.S. the opportunity to gain Temporary Protected Status and to receive that protection in America.”
The re-designation does not apply to Haitians at the U.S.-Mexico border and will not apply to anyone who arrives after May 21.
“Please, do not come to the border,” Jozef said. “Title 42 is still in effect. If they do come to the border, they risk deportations.”
She added, “For people who are at the U.S.-Mexico border, we are fighting for them to have a system that will welcome them with dignity.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9 p.m. on May 23, to reflect information about the Flatbush press conference with Chuck Schumer