Florida Haitian-Americans Delegation Makes Case for TPS
in Washington at Black Caucus
October 1, 2017 | 8h15 PM ET
By Dessalines Ferdinand
Between September 20 and September 24, the City of Washington, D.C., was very animated as the 47th Annual Leadership Conference (ALC)/Congressional Black Caucus took place. It was a very busy week at The Walter E. Washington Convention Center where all the sessions and some significant social events, such as the Jazz Concert and Prayer Breakfast, took place.
Considered one of the biggest events in the nation's political capital, this year's Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference was entitled, "AND STILL I RISE". Once again, the Conference gathered thousands of participants from around the country.
While it was a wonderful week for members of the African-American professional/elite community to socialize, it also offered tremendous themes to debate at different sessions. These sessions provided participants a wider view into the lives of the Black people in America, specially their everyday downs.
Knowing the fact that the Haitian Community has many young, articulate professionals capable to sharing with participants the needs of their brothers and sisters, Dr. Laurinus 'Larry' Pierre, who has been participating at this annual conference for sixteen years, understands that it takes hard work and dedication to convince others to become more actively involved in politics. That is why, seven years ago, he started taking with him more African-Americans and Haitian-Americans from South Florida.
The Executive Director of the Center for Haitian Studies (CHS), a not-for-profit Little Haiti-based Community Health Center, was not pleased that too often in the past some organizers had only dedicated a single session to Haiti but failed to provide panelists who actually had direct experience and knowledge about Haiti and the challenges it faces.
As he likes to repeat, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." Dr. Pierre understands this reality and has pushed a little further each year in order to have the voice of Haitian-Americans heard at this annual conference. Pierre insisted that when the panelists address Haitian community issues, there must be one of their own, young Haitian-American professionals who are best suited to articulate Haiti's issues.
Since it became tradition, at least three members of South Florida's Haitian-American delegation were once again invited to present a session this year, entitled, "HAITIAN IMMIGRATION." It was hosted by Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL 20th District), Co-Chairman of the Democratic Caucus' Congressional Task Force on Job Creation. The session took place on Friday, September 22, 2017 from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm in Room 103-B at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. During this session, that room was filled to capacity.
The session was sponsored by the Democratic American Caucus of Florida, an organization of which Dr. Larry Pierre is interim Chair. At his introduction, Dr. Jean-Philippe P. Austin, MD, member of the organization, who also served as moderator, went on to make an executive summary of the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians living in United States.
Austin opened the session by first thanking Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland, District 7) for his support in securing a spot for the Haitian Community at the 47th annual ALC Conference. Taking the stand to address the audience, Cummings particularly pointed out how much Dr. Larry Pierre cares about his South Florida Haitian Community. The congressional representative also commended Pierre's leadership and promised all the political support he could offer in Washington throughout his term.
Dr. Austin, a respected oncologist, reminded the audience the circumstance of the initial designation of the TPS for a group of Haitians living in United States. "The original decision to cease the deportation of Haitians without criminal records was made following the tragic January 12, 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti," he said.
The latest renewal announcement came out on May 24, 2017, when then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) until Jan 22, 2018, and advised Haitians in the U.S. to use the time to get their affairs in order. Kelly is now Trump's chief of staff in the White House. By law, the DHS is required to review a TPS designation at least 60 days before it expiration. The clock is ticking on the November 22nd's deadline.
Kelly said Haiti has "made progress across several fronts." He cited multiple signs of progress including the closing of the vast majority of camps for displaced residents, the plan to rebuild the Haitian president's residence in Port-au-Prince and the withdrawal of the U.N. stabilization mission.
Austin noted that "since September 22, 2016, however, thousands of Haitian nationals have been returned to Haiti or detained as a result of a new policy under President Trump's administration. Haitian-Americans and Haitian nationals were shocked to learn that the six-year moratorium on the deportation of non-criminal Haitians was coming to an end."
"Essentially, the United States has provided more than 58,000 individuals enrolled in the TPS program a brief period of time in which, as stated by the ex-secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, these national must "attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States," Austin explained.
According to the moderator, Secretary Kelly's announcement horrified the Haitian Community for many reasons, specifically for two primary concerns.
Following his summary, the moderator introduced Congressman Alcee Hastings before presenting the four panelists [Kertch Conze, Esq., Francesca Menes, Vanessa Joseph, Esq., and Jose Magana-Salgado, Esq.] who each on his/her knowledge on the subject addressed the two primary concerns, which are: how could a fragile Haiti take back so many individuals, and what effect would that have on communities in the United States?
Attorneys and elected representatives who deal with immigration and related issues were seated in the audience, including Haitian-American Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime and Broward County Commissioner Dale V.C. Holness. Three haitian deputies (Caleb Desrameaux, Gary Bodeau and Romel Beauge) were also in attendance.
Congressman Hastings said Haiti is not ready for the thousands who will return when their Temporary Protective Status expires Jan. 22, 2018. The Florida Congressman suggested that members of the Haitian Community send a letter to the deputy secretary of homeland security (Elaine Duke) and the White House asking that this group of Haitians be permitted to remain in United States, at least temporary. According to Hastings, it is important to keep the situation in the public eye as much as possible.
He insisted that John Kelly, the former Trump administration Homeland Security Secretary, and current White House Chief of Staff has the ear of President Trump. "Kelly is familiar with the TPS case. Getting a meeting with him would be one of the best ways to advocate for this issue," Hastings said.
Attorney Kertch J. Conze explained what TPS stands for. The host of the well-respected "Chronique Judiciaire" on Radio Mega 1700 AM, a North Miami Beach-based radio station, also explained the benefits TPS affords its holders, who qualified for it and how an individual obtained this status.
"I believe that we are at a crossroad where we may be able to obtain substantial relief for all TPS recipients," Conze said. "In order to achieve that goal, we must immediately increase the pressure on our political representatives," Conze added.
Francesca Menes, an activist who is the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), encouraged bipartisan support for an 18-month extension of TPS for Haitians and bipartisan legislation geared toward securing a pathway towards permanent residency and citizenship.
"We try to connect the dots with data. The Haitian Community has to work to reach the other aisle, ideally by contacting Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio before the deadline date (November 22) because the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians expiration date is approaching. She made the point that if the American government wants to deport this particular group of Haitians they have to refund money they already contributed to Social Security. Ms. Menes also suggested that the Haitian Community should take the issue to a legal level.
Vanessa Joseph, an immigration attorney at Catholic Legal Services, Little Haiti, was on the panel to discuss the engagement of Haitian government officials in the issue. She went on to elaborate on many factors as to show why it is unrealistic for Haiti to be able to accept an influx of 50,000 or more Haitian nationals who are TPS holders. She cited cholera, natural disasters, security and infrastructure.
According to Attorney Joseph, cholera has killed more than 10,000 people in Haiti. She said that more than 59,000 people remain displaced in Haiti seven years after the January 12 earthquake. She posed the question, "How can Haiti handle the influx of more than 50,000 people on top of that from America?" She also asked, "What's the immediate action that needs to be taken?" In conclusion, Attorney Joseph pleaded for Trump's administration to give the state of Haiti the possibility to rebuild by allowing TPS holders to remain in the United States.
The fourth panelist, Attorney Jose Magana-Salgado, a Managing Policy Attorney based in Washington, DC highlighted the enormous contributions of Haitian TPS beneficiaries to the U.S. economy and communities, including economic contributions and labor force.
"The 55,000 TPS recipient workforce generates $288 million every year in the U.S. economy; $2.88 billion in ten years," Salvado noted. He later added, "This group of immigrants has contributed $42.8 million in tax and Social Security so far." Jose, who seems to be a master when it comes to technical data, presented many other figures to support his view about the negative impact deporting these immigrants would have on the business sector in the United States. He concluded to say that TPS recipients are not only good for Haiti but for U.S. economy.
Around 11:15am, the mic was opened for a Q&A session. This lasted about 35 minutes. At least 10 members of the audience seized the opportunity to either share their view about the TPS issue or ask questions of the panelists. Among them were Fayola Delica (the late Father Dr. Jean Juste's niece) from Miami, and Washington lobbyist Jonathan B. Slade of The Cormac Group.
Acknowledged by the moderator, Haiti Ambassador to the U.S., Paul G. Altidor, came to the podium to share the Haitian government's view on the issue. "Advocacy is a good thing, but we need to find creative ways to strategically approach the subject. The Haitian government is working on the TPS issue consistently by sending letters to the U.S. government," he said.
The ambassador gave one example as part of the creative way members of the diaspora can approach the issue. "You go to school here in U.S., you may have a former classmate who is now working for the U.S. government at President Trump's level, you can approach that person, and perhaps he/she could be able to drop a message in the ears of those who have power to grant a 18-month TPS extension to our brothers and sisters."
Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings remarked after Ambassador Altidor and said, "It is important for members of the Haitian Community to call the office of Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. Those two senators from Florida, believe it or not, have more political power to say something in favor of TPS than the 435 representatives in Congress."
When he (Hastings) asked if someone has Senator Rubio's office number, luckily a staff member of Rubio's Florida office was in the audience. The woman shared it (202-224-3041) with the participants. The woman also shared Senator Bill Nelson's office phone number (202-224-5274). Congressman Hastings then concluded by saying, "We need to call the Florida Senators' offices. I hope this will be done. Senator Rubio can easily set up a meeting for members of the Haitian community with the current White House Chief of Staff, John F. Kelly, who has President Trump's ear."
Moderator Dr. Jean-Pierre Austin concluded by stating, "Please, two phone calls." His intention was clear. He asked all members of the audience to call the office of the two Florida senators, hoping this could lead them to intervene in favor of the thousands of Haitian immigrants who will be in limbo as their Temporary Protected Status will soon expire.
This isn't a simple case of a few thousand people who could be displaced; it's families. It's friendships. It's businesses. The men, women, and children who have received TPS deserve to have their voices heard.
Life changed for every Haitian on that January day, and for many they will never be the same. For those who have struggled to rebuild life here in the United States, they deserve the opportunity to continue doing so, and Haiti deserves to also have its chance at lifting itself up.
TPS has helped more than 55,000 Haitians and their families do that, but the journey is not over; the road still winds forth and the path is littered with obstacles. This session brought to light the plight of these Haitians. Let's all do our part to help them forge ahead and pursue the dreams that began in the wake of a horrific nightmare.
Dessalines Ferdinand/Le Floridien