The Haitian community in Miami is engulfed in an immigration battle that we are going to lose.
In January, the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian immigrants, provided during the devastating aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, comes to an end. The reality of an anti-immigration administration that’s even ended the bipartisan-supported DACA means that the Haitian community must become more politically savvy. Our focus should shift to building stronger allies and solidifying our power as a voting bloc for long-term gains both in the United States and in Haiti, leaving behind the notorious infighting and knee-jerk protests that have become our trademarks.
It’s inherently contradictory that a group of people can continually have temporary status extended without any reasonable path to residency, leaving them in legal limbo for decades. People with immediate family (parents, spouse, or children) who are U.S. citizens should begin the process of becoming U.S. residents. Thus, our first priority must be partnering with immigration attorneys nationwide to get as many people as possible off TPS and on a path to legal residency.
Next, for those on TPS who have no means of applying for residency through a family member, activist lawyers and legal clinics should begin mounting legal challenges to the prohibition of TPS recipients from applying to regularize their status. If the federal government deemed them worthy of living and working in this country legally for decades, why shouldn’t TPS recipients eventually be able to apply for residency?
Legislation that would have done just that has been introduced in past Congresses, but never enacted, partially because there hasn’t been enough pressure from constituents. Rather than being reactive after policies are passed that affect us, Haitian constituents must become a common presence on Capitol Hill, advocating for legislative changes to TPS. This means national Lobby Days that position the hundreds of thousands of Haitians in the United States as a unified voting bloc with specific demands and a new generation of leaders willing to work together, making Congressional allies to push forth our agenda on the Hill — a similar strategy used by DACA advocates.
When we tie our advocacy to our voting power rather than just our power to protest, we can then begin to proactively shift policy and political discourse in our favor at the highest levels of government so that we are no longer an afterthought to elected officials.
Furthermore, TPS is just one of the many battles that our community faces, but it is not at all unique to just Haitians. There are national coalitions and diverse organizations working on long-term strategies to address policies that affect immigrants specifically and communities of color more broadly. While Haitians make up less than 2 percent of the foreign-born population in the United States, our ties to immigrant strongholds such as New York City, South Florida, and Boston give our community organizations the leverage to align ourselves with national organizations representing Latino, Caribbean, and black communities as well as broader human rights to work toward our shared interests.
Collaboration is vital to pushing for change.
Finally, we must acknowledge that extending TPS makes no sense politically when Haiti isn’t overwhelmed by a humanitarian crisis, and instead hold the Haitian government to higher standards. Although Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on the south of Haiti, Irma skirted its northern coast. Most of the country is safe, stable, and hungry for sustainable economic and social investment.
Haiti suffers from a brain drain (a crisis in its own right) with most of its middle class living in the diaspora. Instead of continuing this exodus, we should pressure the Haitian government to create a pathway to return to Haiti given that there is a strong possibility that TPS will end and deportations will ensue. Rather than its usual disregard for the plight of its people, a savvy Haitian government would see the end of TPS as an economic boon, welcoming back a cadre of Haitian medical professionals, teachers, engineers, accountants, etc. A program to integrate them into the public and private sectors that offered equitable salaries would allow returnees to contribute to Haiti’s long-term development.
Faced with an administration that is hostile to all non-European immigrants, spending the next few months working toward short-term gains without a long-term strategy will mark our demise. Although TPS will be a heartbreaking loss for our community, the era of Trump should shake us from our complacency and usher in a new era of Haitian activism focused on securing our political future.
France Francois, of Miami, is a writer and human-rights activist. She has worked in international development in Latin America and the Caribbean.