The Haitian-American community is now facing a looming deportation deadline. Up to 55,000 Haitians could be forcefully repatriated to their fragile, struggling homeland if the Trump administration refuses to extend a temporary protected status that has allowed them to legally reside and work in the U.S. after an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010. Haitians’ temporary protected status, or TPS, is set to expire on July 22. Immigrant rights advocates say Haiti is still reeling from Hurricane Matthew, which, in October 2016, destroyed the country’s southwest peninsula. The hurricane killed more than 1,000 people and decimated villages and farmland. Haiti is also suffering from a devastating cholera epidemic that erupted after the earthquake. For more, we speak with Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Tampa, Florida. The Sunshine State, particularly southern Florida, is home to a very large, vibrant Haitian population, with many living in the Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti. Well, the Haitian-American community is now facing a looming deportation deadline. Up to 55,000 Haitians could be forcefully repatriated to their fragile, struggling homeland if the Trump administration refuses to extend a temporary protected status that’s allowed them to legally reside and work in the U.S. after an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010. Haitians’ temporary protected status, known as TPS, is set to expire July 22nd.
Earlier this month, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, James McCament, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggesting the Haitians should be deported as early as January. In the letter, McCament said conditions in Haiti have improved considerably. His conclusion and recommendation contradicts an assessment done by the Obama administration in December. Under Obama, the State Department examined the same circumstances and recommended Haitians be allowed to remain in the United States. Immigrant rights advocates note Haiti is still reeling from Hurricane Matthew, which, in October 2016, destroyed the country’s southwest peninsula. The hurricane killed more than a thousand people and decimated villages and farmland. Haiti is also suffering from a devastating cholera epidemic that erupted after the earthquake. On the campaign trail in September, Donald Trump visited Little Haiti in Miami, Florida and vowed to be a champion for the Haitian-American community.
DONALD TRUMP: Whether you vote for me or you don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion. And I will be your champion, whether you vote for me or not.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump speaking last year in Little Haiti.
Well, for more, we’re joined now in Miami, Florida, by Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami.
Marleine, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what you understand is happening right now to the Haitian community who came to the U.S. under temporary protected status?
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Good morning, Amy, and thank you so much for having me.
Well, as you clearly indicated, over 50,000 Haitians, some who have been living in the U.S. for an average of seven-and-a-half to 15 years, who have made their lives here, built their families, their homes and businesses here, are facing deportation to Haiti. So, Haiti, as we know, is not equipped and ready to absorb all these refugees. And when President Obama approved TPS, it was so that Haiti has a chance to recover. And we know, based on what we’ve heard, that Haiti has yet to recover, not only that it’s suffering for all the natural disasters that you mentioned, and the imported cholera epidemic and Hurricane Matthew, which destroyed all the crops and livestock, forcing people to live in caves. So, these people are really living in fear of deportation, because they have their families to consider, they have their businesses to consider, there are their homes, you know, to consider. So it is really creating and wreaking havoc in thousands of families in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe Little Haiti to us? Last night, we were just in Miami. I was speaking to a Haitian man who talked about the fear that the whole community is facing right now. How many Haitians live in Miami? And the 55,000, though, goes well beyond Miami, right? It’s throughout the United States, in places.
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: For example, another concentration of Haitians is New York.
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Yes, indeed. Miami has the highest concentration of Haitians than any other places in the U.S. So, of course, many of the TPS holders, 40 percent of them, do live in Miami. And Little Haiti is a place that has been built by immigrants. When Haitians were freed in the late ’70s, early ’80s, they were, you know, let free—set free in Little Haiti, which was a very depressed and drug-infested area at the time. But through resilience and determination and hard work, Haitian immigrants have turned Little Haiti into a vibrant, culturally diverse and culturally rich neighborhood, which is considered probably the most—the fastest-gentrified area in the U.S. So, we are facing the hard process of gentrification. At the same time, we are also risking being deported to a country that is, you know, in trouble right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the change of heart? Can you talk about the Trump administration’s reversal, what it looks like, from the Obama administration?
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Well, then-candidate Trump, now President Trump, did promise to be Haitians’, you know, greatest champion. And a lot of Haitians, you know—I guess some voted for him. And we are all expecting him to do the right thing. We hope that he will do the right thing, because, you know, sending all these people back to Haiti will be a travesty, because he did promise, and then these people have created a life here. And then, they send remittances to at least half a million people in Haiti. It is in the best interest, national interest of the U.S., for the 50,000-plus Haitians to remain here, continue to contribute, socially, financially and otherwise, and then keep these remittances flowing, so that people will not risk their lives to come here as a result of these, you know, waves of deportation. So, it is in the best interest of the U.S. to keep the Haitians here, allow them to continue living here with their families. Plus, it is the humane thing to do. And President Trump needs to keep his promise, because, in Creole, we say a promise is a debt, pwomès se dèt. A promise is a debt.
AMY GOODMAN: About 500 Walt Disney World employees could be impacted by the looming removal. Can you talk about Disney World in Orlando coming out for the continuation of TPS?
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Yes. So, the CEOs of Disney World did come out over a week ago advocating for TPS, because they have over 500 employees who have been model employees, because Haitian immigrants, like most immigrants in this country, are hard-working people. They work two, three jobs, and they have strong work ethics. So, we are very encouraged by the decision of Disney World to come out in support of temporary protected status. And we hope that the Chambers of Commerce and other employers, who, some of them, are already laying people off, they will heed the call of Disney World to keep these people employed and then to put pressure on the Trump administration to renew TPS sooner than later, because the employers are getting the signal that it might not be renewed, and so some people are being fired right now.
AMY GOODMAN: Both Disney and UNITE HERE, the union that represents many of the company’s workers, again, calling for extending the temporary protected status. This is Walt Disney Company in a statement, saying, quote, "Given the current situation in Haiti we support efforts to extend the Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals. The more than 500 cast members who are currently part of this program have been and are an important part of our Walt Disney World workforce in Central Florida." Also, legislators, congressmembers, Marleine, can you talk about what their response is right now, both Republican and Democrat?
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Yes, indeed. The entire Florida delegations and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have advocated for a renewal of TPS. So, they’ve written letters. And now we are encouraging them to pick up the phone, because now we’re beyond letters right now. They’ve been very supportive thus far, but now they need to go up a notch. So, in Florida, we are focusing on Senator Bill Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio to pick up the phone and then call Mr. Trump, President Trump, and ask him to renew TPS now. And then we also encourage listeners and TV viewers to also do their part by tweeting, supporting us on social media, hashtag #RenewTPSNow and #YesForTPS. We need to get this done, because it is only fair. It is only also the humane thing to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Marleine Bastien, I want to thank you for being with us, giving a sense, as we travel this country covering the movements that are changing America, what’s happening here in Florida.
MARLEINE BASTIEN: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. Thank you.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we speak with Anand Gopal, who has covered the Middle East for years, talking about what’s happening in Syria. Stay with us.