WASHINGTON, D.C. — Roughly 35 advocates, Black immigrants, and a congresswoman were in the nation’s capital Wednesday asking the Trump administration to prevent the deportation of Black immigrants ahead of an imminent decision on the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program next week.
“We are here and part of the society and have migrated here for decades and decades,” Opal Tometi, executive director for Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told ThinkProgress, explaining that Black immigrants make up about 10 percent of the Black population in the United States. “We brought Black immigrants and Black allies together from across the country to uplift and amplify the voices of Black immigrants.”
The TPS program — which has allowed about 320,000 immigrants from ten countries to live in the United States — is a provisional designation granted to immigrants who cannot return to their homes due to violence, natural disasters, or other conditions that prevent them from returning to their home countries. Since the early 1990s, the program has provided TPS holders the ability to legally work on a temporary basis. Although the program does not directly provide legal status, many have been in the country for decades due to multiple extensions.
Tometi said her group had a thoughtful and “surprisingly good” visit with about 15 lawmakers who understood the significance of TPS for Black immigrants and Americans.
“There’s an imperative to find a solution that’s viable and respects the dignity of all people,” Tometi said. “[Lawmakers] began to see the picture a little more clearly when we were in their offices so we’re going to follow up with them.”
TPS for 50,000 Haitian recipients will expire on January 22, 2018, but the decision deadline is expected by November 23, Thanksgiving Day. Advocates believe a decision would likely come the day before the federally recognized holiday. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump ended TPS for roughly 2,500 Nicaraguans through January 2019. It also extended TPS for Honduran immigrants for six months through July 2018, at which time the administration will determine what it will do with the designation.
For TPS holders, waiting around for decision deadlines has been difficult, particularly now that Trump — who supports slashing legal immigration and cracking down on undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for decades — is in office. For many, the ideal solution would be for Congress to pass a legislative fix that allows TPS holders a way to permanently stay in the country. That’s why Tometi and other organizers brought personal stories of TPS recipients to lawmakers to help them see the need to “create a strategy that wins for everybody.”
“We have to create a coherent, smart, equitable solution that is informed by those who are directly impacted and that to me seems like the most important thing,” Tometi said.
The rally on Wednesday included community members from the Black Immigration Network (BIN), Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Undocublack Network, National TPS Alliance and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders.
Farah Larrieux was one of the Haitian TPS recipients visiting congressional offices and attending the rally. She has been in the country since 2005. A telecommunications entrepreneur with her own television production company, she hosted the PBS public affairs show Haiti Journal between 2011 and 2016. Larrieux, who lives in Florida, wouldn’t know how to begin rebuilding her life back in Haiti without TPS.
“I would have to start over with nothing.”
“It’s starting over– you have built your life here. At first you came to the United States for a better life, for success, and now someone can decide to say you no longer deserve to be here so ‘go back,'” Larrieux told ThinkProgress, explaining that she and her husband attempted to legalize their status soon after they arrived but were unable to do so. “After building this for 20 years, I would have to start over with nothing.”
Larrieux has already considered the consequences of being sent back to Haiti, where she hasn’t lived in for more than 12 years. Her professional opportunities would be limited because Haiti is a “tough” place to be an entrepreneur, she said, with infrastructure that will be unable to absorb so many returnees.
“You have here [in America] so many opportunities and assistance and programs to help someone to succeed that you don’t have in countries like Haiti,” Larrieux said. “How will you start your life over when you don’t have these [programs] and then you lose everything [because of deportation]?”
Last month, the Haitian government formally asked the Trump administration for an 18-month extension. The initial designation for Haiti’s TPS program came after a devastating earthquake in 2010 killed tens of thousands of people. In his letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Haiti’s ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor pointed out that his country has since faced disruptions in living conditions exacerbated by Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Maria, as well as cholera.
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) said at the rally that she introduced the ASPIRE Act, a bipartisan bill to provide permanent residency for certain TPS holders who have been in the United States since January 1, 2017 and can prove to a judge that they would face extreme hardship if they were returned.
“It is just heartbreaking to see the anguish on the faces of those within my community whose lives are uncertain right now.”
“We have so many residents in our state that has TPS,” Clarke said. “It is just heartbreaking to see the anguish on the faces of those within my community whose lives are uncertain right now…Sending people back under these conditions is inhumane, quite frankly.”
Roughly 5,2000 Haitian TPS holders live in Clarke’s home state of New York, many of whom have lived in the state for an average of 15 years and come from mixed-immigration status families.
“In the United States, we’re blended as families– some folks are here as TPS, their children are U.S. citizens, they have relatives who are legal permanent residents,” Clarke told ThinkProgress. “There’s a much more humane way to address immigration.”
According to a Center for American Progress report, New York stands to lose $262.9 million annually in GDP without its Haitian TPS workers, nearly half of whom work in health care and social assistance. (ThinkProgress is an editorially-independent news site housed within CAP.)
Clarke’s bill may be able to gain traction in Congress given bipartisan support from lawmakers around the issue. The bipartisan Congressional Black Caucus supports extending TPS. On Tuesday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) wrote a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke on behalf of TPS recipients from Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador, urging for the extension of the program for “hard-working people who make valuable contributions to the economy and culture of our state.”
“My hope is that the [White House] will see that it’s a bipartisan bill,” Clarke told ThinkProgress. “We have members in the House on both sides of the aisle who see the necessity for providing TPS and having the ability for individuals who we’ve protected to be able to make their case while in the United States for hardship and hopefully prevail.”
The Trump administration’s intentions to keep TPS holders in the country remain a bit vague. As a presidential candidate, Trump visited South Florida’s “Little Haiti” to proclaim, “to all of our friends in Little Haiti, your day of justice is coming, believe me.”
“All our friends in Little Haiti they’re great people,” Trump said in October 2016, acknowledging Hurricane Matthew’s devastation in Haiti. “I mean, I spent a long time, these are people that are incredible. They have the warmest feeling, the warmest heart.”
Yet in May, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly limited the renewal of Haiti’s TPS program to six months instead of the maximum 18 months.
“Is this the United States — the land of immigrants and land of opportunities?” Larrieux questioned out loud. “When in the end, they’re trying to strip away the opportunities that I worked so hard to build? And now you’re telling me I don’t deserve to be here?”