MIAMI, United States (CMC) — Community leaders in South Florida have decried the Trump administration's decision to return nearly 60,000 Haitians to their earthquake-ravaged homeland, calling it “heartbreaking” and “shameful” while vowing that their fight has just begun.
United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Elaine Duke said on Monday that she made the decision to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for undocumented Haitians living in the US, with a delayed effective date of 18 months, “to allow for an orderly transition before the designation terminates on July 22, 2019.”
“We all know that Haiti is not ready to absorb so many of its children,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Sant La, the Haitian Neighbourhood Centre in Miami.
“This is a sad day, a very shameful day, a depressing day especially on a Thanksgiving eve where a nation of immigrants would be rebuking immigrants,” he continued.
With the outrage spreading to Palm Beach, hundreds of Florida hospitality workers came by the busload from across the state to protest at President Trump's private beach club, Mar-a-Lago, where he was scheduled to arrive Tuesday for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to the Miami Herald.
It reported that union workers from Unite Here waved flags and marched in the searing sun on a bridge overlooking the resort, chanting, “Shut it down!” Their message to the president: If you deport us, many of the resorts, theme parks and hotels, like yours, won't be able to operate, the Herald said.
“I have six children. My mom and dad were killed in the earthquake. My country is nothing now,'' said Marie Partait, who migrated from Haiti 15 years ago.
Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, declared: “Over my dead body shall anybody remove any child from the sanctity of our classrooms, from the sanctuaries that schools represent in our community,” during a news conference Tuesday with US Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and faith-based and community leaders who support extending Temporary Protected Status.
Duke's decision came two weeks after she also ended the status for 2,500 Nicaraguans. She put on hold a similar decision for 57,000 Hondurans, triggering an automatic six-month extension. But it was the decision about Haiti that incensed South Florida members of the US Congress on both sides of the aisle, the Herald said.
“This announcement will just give us more fight power,” said Wilson, who, in Miami, represents one of the largest constituents of Haitian-American voters in the United States. “We will continue to advocate.”
Supporters of TPS in the US Congress have introduced at least three bills, including the bipartisan Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act or ESPERER, which spells hope in French.
With Miami Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo as the chief sponsor, the bill would provide a path to permanent residency and American citizenship for immigrants currently living in the US under TPS, the Herald said.
Wilson, who is a co-sponsor of Curbelo's bill and another TPS-related bill by New York Democratic Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, said she plans to file her own legislation in the coming days. Her bill will be exclusively focused on the estimated 59,000 Haitians with TPS who meet certain requirements to adjust their status to legal permanent resident within three years of the bill's passage. Similar to TPS' current provisions, the Wilson proposal will allow Haitians to legally live and work in the US while their immigration application is being processed. “It's the only solution we can come up with to make sure that these people are not deported to Haiti,” Wilson said.
Florida immigration attorney Ira Kurzban said he's preparing a lawsuit against DHS.
“The conditions are now 10 times worse,” he said. “We've had the cholera epidemic [and] you had two hurricanes. They didn't consider all of the factors they were supposed to consider.” Kurzban said that, prior to extending Haitians' TPS designation for only six months in May, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the TPS programme, had made inquiries into the Haitian community's criminal history.
“We think it's part of the long pattern of discrimination and racism against Haitians,” Kurzban alleged.
Meanwhile, Carvalho, who organised Tuesday's press conference in Miami, with Father Reginald Jean-Mary of Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Little Haiti, said the decision will divide families.
“I cannot be a superintendent of schools, I cannot be a father, I cannot be an immigrant citizen of this nation if I did not stand with the 12,000 K-12 children impacted by TPS and the 5,700 adult learners currently enrolled in our school system equally impacted by TPS,” Carvalho stressed.
“This is a matter of decency. This is a matter of common sense. This is matter of respect. This is a matter of compassion for those in greatest need.”