Haitians rally in Orlando as deadline to extend immigration protections nears

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PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
Almost 2,000 people crowded into the Eglise Baptiste Philadelphie d'Orlando church last weekend to demand that President Donald Trump expand immigration protections for Haitians who fear they may be deported.

The deadline for the Trump administration to decide whether it wants to extend temporary protected status for Haitians is May 23. The Obama administration granted Haitians this status after the devastating 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean country, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and left more than a million people homeless. Haiti had not yet recovered when it was hit last year by Hurricane Matthew.

Last month, 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. If the Department of Homeland Security does not extend protections for 58,000 Haitians, they could be sent back to their country when the program expires on July 22. The Tampa Bay Times reports even Florida Gov. Rick Scott has asked DHS Secretary John Kelly to extend protections for the thousands of Haitians who live in the state.
PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
At Saturday's rally in Orlando, organizers played a clip of Trump visiting Miami's Little Haiti community last year on a campaign stop. During that visit, Trump told Haitians that he wanted to be their "greatest champion."

"America, great! Haitian, great!" one organizer, alluding to Trump's campaign slogan, told the crowd. "No Haitians – no great America."

Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin told the crowd that the president not only should extend TPS, but also extend asylum protections to Haiti.

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and seek my face then will I hear from them and heal their land," Siplin says, quoting the Bible. "[God] will not only heal the land of the people in Haiti, but he will heal us also."

Nermose Richemon, who works in housekeeping at Walt Disney World, applied for the TPS program in 2010. She was at Saturday's rally with members of Unite Here, a local union representing hundreds of Haitian workers at Disney. The union estimates that more than 500 Haitian refugees who work at Disney would be deported if TPS is not extended.

"TPS is important to us because I can take care of my family in Haiti and my bills," Richemon says. "That's the reason we're asking Donald Trump to see how he can help us because Haiti is not recovered yet."

Richemon says the Trump administration's move caught her by surprise because many people in her community voted for Trump in November based on his promise to be a champion for the Haitian people.

"We want to stay to work, to continue to pay my taxes and help the economy too," she says. "A lot of people voted for him because of his promise so that's why we're pushing him to see how he can make a change for us."

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