South Florida

After Hurricane Matthew, Haitians plead for the right to stay in U.S.

Fan Ayisyen nan Miyami (Hiatian Women of Miami) Executive Director Marleine Bastien, left, stands next to Marie Carole Jeune, mother of a 21-year-old Hiatian detainee at a news conference on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016.
Fan Ayisyen nan Miyami (Hiatian Women of Miami) Executive Director Marleine Bastien, left, stands next to Marie Carole Jeune, mother of a 21-year-old Hiatian detainee at a news conference on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. chsieh@miamiherald.com

The painful images and news coming from Haiti after Hurricane Matthew hits home for Haitians living in Miami.

Buildings gone. Trees toppled. The return of cholera.

The destruction worries people in Little Haiti. The grim situation prompted about 100 community leaders to gather this week to make a plea to politicians: Halt deportations, grant temporary protection status and expand the Haitian Family Reunification Program for Haitians.

These appeals allow undocumented Haitians to either stay in the United States or welcome those affected by storm to make America their home.

The appeals come just 2 1/2 weeks after the Obama administration lifted the six-year moratorium on Haitian deportations due to “improved conditions” after the 2010 earthquake.

“We learned with shock and disbelief that the Obama administration was rescinding, and actually rescinded that policy of non-deportation,” said Marleine Bastien, the executive director for Fan Ayisyen nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami). “We know that Haiti has yet to recover because Haiti is still plagued with political instability, natural disasters — in addition to an imported cholera epidemic.”

Along Haiti's southern coast, from Port-Salut to Roche-a-Bateau, Hurricane Matthew's destruction is visible. Banana trees are gone, coconut palms look like wet mops and debris stand where homes once stood. As Haitian officials still try to figure

Advocates for the changes say that Haitians deserve the same privileges as Cubans, who are allowed to stay in the United States because of the Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. The law allows Cubans who make it to U.S. ground to apply for residency a year and a day after their arrival date. Those intercepted in the water are deported.

“This is the old double standard,” said Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

Community leaders say that neither the Hillary Clinton campaign nor the Donald Trump campaign responded to their petition.

“Whether we vote Republican or Democrat, we goin’ to hell,” said Patrick Muhammad, a student minister for the Nation of Islam. “We’re not asking for special privileges. We’re asking for equal opportunity

Some of the most impassioned voices at a Monday briefing were family members of detainees in California.

One woman’s son was detained at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in California. Through tearful eyes and cracking voice, she expressed her distress.

“I don’t know how I’m able to stand in front of you,” said Marie Carole Jeune, through a translator “I’m really, really going through a tough time.”

The mother’s home was also destroyed in Haiti. Her son is being detained at the Imperial “Regional Detention Facility.

The community is now asking those who want to help their cause to sign their petition. As of Monday, they still needed more than 99,500 signatures to reach their goal of 100,000.

Donations also are being accepted at 100 NE 84th St. in Miami for medications and basic essentials incdcluding water, diaper and bandages. The nonprofit is also accepting monetary, tax-deductible donations at www.fanm.org.

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