New York advocacy groups and elected officials are pushing the Biden administration to ease deportations and quickly provide protected status for Haitian nationals following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month extension of what’s called Temporary Protected Status for 55,000 Haitian nationals in May. But the federal government has yet to publish details on how to apply for TPS in its Federal Register, leaving potential applicants in the lurch.
“The situation on the ground in Haiti has been this frightful and this uncertain and quite frankly really dangerous for the past several months,” said Haddy Gassama, director of policy and advocacy at UndocuBlack Network. “With what we imagine to be the exacerbation of all these dangerous conditions with the assassination of the president, everything that we’ve been saying is still in existence and is probably only going to get worse unfortunately.”
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has already deported more Haitians in the early months of 2021 than former President Donald Trump did in all of 2020, according to a joint report by the UndocuBlack network, Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Quixote Center.
Advocates point to the administration’s continued use of so-called Title 42 of the United States Code, which allows the U.S. to deport asylum seekers without a trial or hearing due to COVID-19 related health concerns.
“[Title 42] literally dismantled the entire asylum system,” said Guerline Jozef, executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “While Haiti was burning, the United States was sending people to their deaths.”
‘Fleeing for Their Lives’
Jozef said that thousands of Haitian nationals are in Mexico after failing to get asylum in the U.S.
“We are asking for them to make sure to provide protections for single persons and families, not just children, that are fleeing for their lives,” Jozef told THE CITY.
Haitian Bridge Alliance, UndocuBlack Network and dozens of other advocacy groups sent a July 8 letter to Biden administration officials calling for an end to the use of Title 42 and the immediate publication of the new TPS guidelines for Haitian nationals.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services didn’t provide THE CITY with a date for when the new TPS guidelines would be published in the federal register.
The TPS designation was created by Congress in 1990 initially to protect civil war refugees from El Salvador. Since then, it has expanded to those who come to the United States and can’t return due to some form of crisis in their home country — be it natural or human-made.
Haiti was first designated for TPS status after a January 2010 earthquake killed 250,000 to 300,000 people and severely damaged several cities.
‘Policy of Interference’
Experts on U.S. policy in Haiti and advocates noted that while Biden campaigned for the Haitian-American vote in Florida, grassroot organizers shouldn’t expect his administration to act quickly without pressure.
“When it comes to Haiti, the U.S. foreign policy has always been the same, whether it’s a Republican or Democrat in the White House,” said Jean Eddy Saint Paul, a sociology professor at CUNY’s Brooklyn College and founding director of its Haitian Studies Institute. “It’s always been the same policy of interference in Haitian politics and helping people of weak moral character to be placed in the highest political office.”
Haiti was already in the midst of political and structural turmoil before Moïse was executed in the early hours of July 7, advocates and elected officials pointed out.
Haitian officials have asked the United States to deploy troops to protect some of the country’s essential infrastructure. The United States instead announced that a group of FBI and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials would go to Haiti on Sunday to help its government investigate Moïse’s death.
Some Haitian-American elected officials are wary of the United States becoming further involved.
Some pointed to the country’s occupation of Haiti for nearly two decades starting in 1915. Others referred to the U.S.’ attempt to restore Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, back to power in the 1990s while paying and helping to form a violent paramilitary group that helped to destabilize the country.
“We want to be able to protect the liberty and freedom of this Black nation… and while we appreciate this support we don’t want the risk of losing the freedom for the people on the ground,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Farah Louis, a member of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network. “So if someone’s coming to help it’s because they’re being supportive, it’s not because you want to put your influence and force to try and take over.”
Dismay in Brooklyn’s Little Haiti
New York is home to the United States’ second largest population, after Florida, of people with Haitian ancestry. An estimated 192,000 people, a likely undercount, with roots to the country residing in New York. Haitian New Yorkers who spoke to THE CITY expressed shock and dismay following Moïse’s death.
Some Haitian Americans in Little Haiti Brooklyn –– a small cultural and business district officially created in 2018 and located in Brooklyn’s Midwood, Flatbush and Kensington neighborhoods –– spoke about how distraught their family members in Haiti were after learning of Moïse’s death.
“My cousins in Haiti are crying,” said Tray Carter, 30, while outside of Kreyol Flavor on Church Avenue. “They felt like it’s the end of the world, because when’s the last time a president got assassinated?”
Jacques Laguerre said that the killing was “devastating” for Haiti, the first Black nation to secure its independence from chattel slavery, to lose its president in such a brazen attack.
“Haitian people are people that live with a lot of pride,” said Laguerre, who lives in Flatbush.
“This is a big insult” he added.
Saint Paul agreed that the symbolism of Moïse’s death is devastating for people in Haiti as well as for those across the Haitian Diaspora.
“The president is the head of the state, so if a group of people have the freedom to penetrate the residence of the president and assassinate him,” said Saint Paul. “That translates into the fragility of Haiti and Haitian people.”