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Author Edwidge Danticat: “Be the Vote for Immigrant Families Under Threat by Trump Administration”

StoryNovember 02, 2020
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We go to Florida, which could prove decisive in the 2020 presidential election and where immigration is a key issue for many voters, to speak with Haitian American writer Edwidge Danticat, who says voters in the state should cast their ballots to protect immigrant families under threat of deportation by the Trump administration. Trump has repeatedly tried to end temporary protected status for Haitians in the country. We also speak with 13-year-old Christina Ponthieux, the U.S.-born daughter of two TPS recipients from Haiti. “Terminating TPS would affect all of us, especially kids like me who are U.S.-born children who have never been to their parents’ country before,” says Christina, a member of Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, and a co-chair of the group’s Children for Family Reunification initiative.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show in the key battleground state of Florida, which could decide the presidential election. Many political analysts say Trump has little chance of winning the Electoral College if he loses in Florida, which has 29 electoral votes.

We turn now to look at how Trump and Biden’s immigration plans could impact the race in Florida. Over 273,000 U.S.-born children could be separated from their parents, should Trump win reelection and terminate TPS — that’s the temporary protected status program — which has protected migrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Nepal. Tens of thousands of TPS recipients live in Florida.

The award-winning Haitian American author Edwidge Danticat writes about this in her new piece headlined “Be the vote for immigrant families under threat by the Trump administration.” Edwidge Danticat joins us from Miami along with 13-year-old Christina Ponthieux, the U.S.-born daughter of two TPS recipients from Haiti. Christina is a member of Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, and a co-chair of the group’s Children for Family Reunification initiative. She testifies anywhere she — anyplace she can to talk about what’s happening.

Edwidge Danticat, we are on the eve of the election. Talk about what’s at stake.

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Good morning, Amy, and thank you so much for having us.

There is a great deal at stake overall, I mean, I think, for so many issues — for immigration, for COVID, for healthcare. But what specifically with Christina today is at stake is the fact that — whether she will be able to stay with her family, or she and other children in the same situation as her. There are so many of them. And Christina has a very powerful story. And when I met her in 2007 was the first time that TPS was announced terminated. And then lawsuits have kept it going — Ramos v. Nielsen in California and Saget v. Trump, which is a case that now is basically really the only wall between the full termination of TPS and children like Christina being able to stay in the only country that they’ve ever known.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s bring Christina in right now. I want to read the beginning, Edwidge, of your — of the op-ed that you wrote: “I have never seen a child work so hard to keep her family together. For the past four years, Christina Ponthieux, 13, has been addressing rallies, attending congressional briefings and press conferences, writing open letters and recording videos addressed to elected officials — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump.” Christina, tell us your story, your family’s story, your parents’ story, how you all came to the United States — how they came, and you were born here.

CHRISTINA PONTHIEUX: Thank you for having me.

Well, my parents, they came from Haiti, and they’ve been living in the U.S. for about 20 years now. And they came in 1999, where they were — they came to America for a better life, just because in Haiti they couldn’t really make their future a lot better. They didn’t see their future getting better in where they were living. And in 2010, they were granted TPS because of the earthquake that happened there. And they’ve been living here ever since 1999. And we’ve been living [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, this earthquake, 300,000 Haitians died in the earthquake.

CHRISTINA PONTHIEUX: Yes. And many people were affected. We lost a lot of family that we had there. And so, that granted them TPS and many other people TPS, too. And so they’ve been living here for 20 years.

And I believe it is 2017 that President Trump was mentioning that he’s terminating TPS. And because of this, terminating TPS would affect all of us, especially kids like me who are U.S.-born children who have never been to their parents’ country before. And there’s other children who may or may not even speak their parents’ language, their home country’s language. So, many of us could be affected on whether TPS is terminated or not.

And I found out about this when I was 9 years old. And I found out that my parents could be taken away from me at any time, and there was nothing that I could really do about it. And I, for the first time, started public speaking in this interview, and they realized that I could do something with my voice. And ever since then, I’ve been public speaking. I’ve been going to rallies. I’ve been going to Washington to speak with Congress on this issue. And it’s been about four years now.

AMY GOODMAN: Your parents are nurses?

CHRISTINA PONTHIEUX: Yes. My mom is a LPN, and my dad is a RN and licensed, yeah, registered nurse.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you’re 13, so you can’t vote.

CHRISTINA PONTHIEUX: No.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you tell kids your age to do?

CHRISTINA PONTHIEUX: Well, I cannot personally vote — and there are other kids who cannot vote — because of my age. But I do tell kids my age to, you know, encourage their parents to vote, because they can give their parents a little, like, idea, like, “You know what? I should vote.” And I do speak to adults, too, and I tell them, like, you know, it’s very important that you vote, because even though it is one vote, many votes together can make a difference, and your vote really does matter, and it does count.

AMY GOODMAN: And Florida sure does make a difference. The other day, we reported on The Guardian reporting that the Trump administration has significantly increased deportations to Haiti in the weeks before the presidential election, triggering concerns for the safety of asylum seekers and the possible spread of coronavirus in Haiti. The watchdog group Witness at the Border has recorded at least 12 deportation flights to Haiti this month. This comes as immigrant advocates say Black asylum seekers are being disproportionately targeted. Earlier this month, 60 Cameroonian and other — over two dozen Congolese asylum seekers were deported en masse, many alleging ICE agents tortured them to force them to sign removal papers.

And I wanted to bring Edwidge Danticat back into this conversation. I was speaking to someone who was engaged in a Black voter — Black turn-out-the-vote effort in Massachusetts, who said she spoke to someone, a Haitian American woman who had lived here for decades, could vote, and she said that she was afraid to go to the polls on Election Day because she could be — she was afraid she would be deported. Can you talk about the chilling effect this has, and if you think that’s part of the intention, all of this activity right before the election, Edwidge?

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Absolutely, Amy. I think this is part of — you know, voter suppression is such a part of Election Day, especially in such an important election in the United States. We know the long history of trying to disenfranchise people, to take away their ability to vote. Now there’s another layer of it, I think, with immigration and people who are citizens, like all the ways that they are going to make it harder to vote because we — you know, Miami-Dade, where we live, can potentially decide this election. So I expect tomorrow there will probably be a lot of obstacles placed in the paths of people of color, immigrants, people who might be voting for the first time. So I’m not surprised by that.

I’m also — you know, with the deportations, that seems to be part of the start of part two of the Trump administration’s immigration policy. The other day, Stephen Miller outlined what they were going to do, all the restrictions. And the deportations, especially the most recent deportations during COVID-19, seem to have accelerated in the last weeks towards that path. They seem to be trying to attack on both fronts, both on this voter suppression front and also on this immigration front.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece earlier this year for The New Yorker magazine titled “The Ripple Effects of the Coronavirus on Immigrant Communities.” As we move into this election and this record surge of COVID-19 throughout Florida, throughout Texas, throughout the Midwest, the Upper Midwest, across the country, the effects you fear this will have on the election? And also, if you can comment on President Trump coming to Little Haiti in Florida years ago and saying he — when he was running for president, saying he will represent Haitian Americans?

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Well, I think very few — I did not believe that he was going to represent — like, be our biggest champion, as he mentioned. But it’s actually been worse than he actually hinted, with these deportations, certainly, that are accelerated during COVID-19, the family reunification removed. Haitians can no longer apply for work visas, certain work visas that were available to us before. So, that is certainly the opposite of that promise.

But I think the ripple effects certainly are throughout the immigrant community where we live, Miami-Dade, which is going to be such an important part of this election, because we have quite a lot of immigration to Miami. And people, during COVID, we’ve had a disproportionate, probably, number of deaths here, as well. And people who are immigrants might be more afraid to go for healthcare, right? Because they might worry. For example, if they’re on the process to immigration, they might worry about the public charge, about having a green card not available to them later on, which then would reduce their chances of progressing, of becoming citizens. So, there’s a lot. There’s so much at stake.

And I think Christina, which is one of the reasons that I wanted to write about her in this piece, gives us a new way of looking at voting. Maybe some people who are jaded about voting, she reminds us, and all my neighbors remind us, that, you know, the vote, our vote, really affects not just us but people around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Edwidge, the whole country, maybe the world, is looking at Florida, absolutely key state. In order for Donald Trump to win, he must win Florida. What are you looking at, in these last 30 seconds that we have?

EDWIDGE DANTICAT: Well, I’m looking at tomorrow, the turnout. I hope that they won’t be putting mountains in people’s ways, that they’ll be able to come out and vote, and vote in large numbers, and vote for themselves and vote for their neighbors and really vote for the future. People like Christina, young people like that, who are counting on us, vote for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank both of you for joining us from the key battleground state of Florida, Edwidge Danticat, the Haitian American novelist, and Christina Ponthieux of the Family Action Network Movement, co-chair of group’s Children for Family Reunification initiative, one of 273,000 U.S.-born children who could be separated from their parents if Trump wins reelection and terminates temporary protected status.

Finally, this reminder: Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 3rd, Democracy Now! will air a three-hour election night special from 9 p.m. to midnight Eastern time. You can watch it live on our website at democracynow.org. We’ll cover the results from the presidential election to congressional and state races, as well as ballot initiatives around the country. Democracy Now!'s election night special will feature interviews and perspectives you won't hear anywhere else. We’ll include voices of activists, analysts, grassroots leaders, discussing how the movements on the ground will go forward following this historic election. And we’ll discuss election protection. We’ll discuss the voting around the country. Again, it’s 9 p.m. to midnight Eastern time. You can watch at democracynow.org, or also stations across the country can run the Democracy Now! special.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Libby Rainey, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Carla Wills, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Special thanks to Julie Crosby and Becca Staley. I’m Amy Goodman. Save lives. Wear a mask.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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