More than 500 Haitian refugees who work at Walt Disney World could be sent back to their country if the Trump administration ends temporary protections for about 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S.
Local unions and workers rallied outside the Disney gates on Wednesday, asking for President Donald Trump to renew protections for the Haitian cast members who serve as the backbone of the Central Florida's tourism industry.
"They make the beds, serve the food, prepare meals in the kitchen, keep the parks clean," says Jeremy Cruz-Haicken, president of Unite Here Local 737. "We only know the number for Disney, but there are thousands of workers in the tourism industry that would be directly affected. That also includes spouses, children, siblings. They could lose their homes. They could be deported. It's a looming disaster."
reports James McCament, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said "conditions in Haiti no longer support its designation" for temporary protected status for refugees. The Obama administration granted Haitians this status after the devastating 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean country, which killed about 220,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless. The Miami Herald
reports seven years later, more than 40,000 people in Haiti still live in makeshift shelters and the country is dealing with hunger and housing crises after Hurricane Matthew. If the Trump administration does not renew this special immigration status, it will expire on July 22. Last year, Trump told Haitian voters during a campaign stop that he wanted to "be your greatest champion."
Disney workers were also calling on the company's CEO Bob Iger, who sits on Trump's economic advisory council, to ask the president to extend protections. In a statement, Disney says it supports extending immigration protections for Haitians.
"Given the current situation in Haiti, we support efforts to extend the Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals," the company says in a statement. "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."
Cecilia Luis, who works at Disney as a housekeeper, says she helps support her six children by sending remittances back to Haiti that help them buy food. If she has to go back to the suffering country, she knows it will be hard to find a job to help her family.
"I'm OK, but I know a lot of people here that don't eat or sleep because they're worried they'll be sent back to Haiti," she says in Spanish. "It's not as easy to leave when you're sending money to your family to help them survive. My God knows everything, and I'm asking him to speak to their hearts so they don't do this. A lot of people will suffer."