Miami-Dade County

Miami Haitians see hope in latest immigration bill, but say it’s too soon to celebrate.

Little Haiti TPS, DACA and DREAMers call for Florida Senators to support new immigration bill

Immigration activists and community leaders in Miami called on June 14, 2019 for Florida’s Republican Senators to support a comprehensive bill that would allow immigrants with temporary status to apply for U.S. citizenship.
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Immigration activists and community leaders in Miami called on June 14, 2019 for Florida’s Republican Senators to support a comprehensive bill that would allow immigrants with temporary status to apply for U.S. citizenship.

On the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a contentious bill banning ”sanctuary” cities, immigration activists and community leaders in Miami called on Florida’s Republican senators to support a comprehensive bill that would allow immigrants with temporary status to be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.

Heartened by last week’s passing of the Dream and Promise Act of 2019 in the U.S. House of Representatives, advocates met Friday in what they consider “ground zero” for the thousands of beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program in Florida.

“We have two senators here in Florida who have done a lot of... talking about supporting TPS,” said Thomas Kennedy, political director with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We need [U.S. Sens.] Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to now instead of talking, to take some action and actually vote on this legislation.”

Rubio and Scott do not support the Dream and Promise Act because it doesn’t include increased funding for border security, something that’s been a staple of bipartisan immigration bills in the past.

“I don’t think we’re going to pass anything unless it includes border security,” Scott said last week.

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Executive Director of Family Action Network Marleine Bastien speaks about the humanitarian crisis caused by the end of TPS for individuals and families, during the TPS, DACA, DED recipients Press Conference at the Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti on Friday, June 14, 2019. The Trump administration has ended TPS for six countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Daniel A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

The legislation could face a tough climb in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate. Last year, the Senate also voted on four immigration bills and all of them failed to receive the 60 votes necessary for passage. Kennedy said the coalition is one of many progressive organizations that lobbied lawmakers, mostly House Democrats, to vote in favor of the bill.

The latest legislation seeks to give a path for legal residency in the United States to holders of TPS, along with young undocumented immigrants, or so-called DREAMers, under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and Liberian nations with Deferred Enforced Deportation status,

More than 2 million immigrants in the country could benefit from the latest attempt from the Democratic-controlled House, including hundreds of thousands of TPS-holders from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Beneficiaries of the temporary status program, many of whom once fled natural disasters and civil conflicts in their countries, are at risk of losing their legal work authorizations and driver’s licenses since President Donald Trump terminated the program for several countries. Lawsuits from around the country have sought to challenge the administration’s actions, prompting a federal judge in February to extend temporary relief for TPS-holders from four countries until 2020.

“My parents are TPS recipients and I know for a fact that they are tired of every day waking up, having to worry, having to stress about are they going to be able to stay here?” said 12-year-old Ronyde Christina Ponthieux to a crowd of several dozen people at the Caribbean Marketplace.

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Miami local and TPS recipient Dieula Forestal records video during the TPS, DACA, DED recipients Press Conference at the Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti on Friday, June 14, 2019. The Trump administration has ended TPS for six countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Daniel A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

“My dad is a nurse, and he is saving lives every single day... but he still puts in the effort,” Ronyde said. “We have to continue to fight and not be discouraged.”

Yanira Arias, national campaign manager with Alianza Americas, said the push for a permanent status for immigrants in limbo was still just a first step in addressing illegal immigration.

The Inter-American Dialogue, which looks at remittance flows to Latin America and the Caribbean, estimate that Haitians in the diaspora sent nearly $3 billion to their homeland in 2017, according to its latest figures.

“Not having those resources in the region, it will continue to create instability in the region,” said Arias, a TPS-holder from El Salvador.

The Center for American Progress, in a study, estimated that of the estimated 60,000 Haitians who received TPS, 32,500 lived in Florida. The pro-immigration group is among several that have been advocating for a permanent solution for TPS holders.

“Although we don’t speak the same language, we face the same challenges,” Arias said. “This is a humanitarian crisis that has been created by the administration and not putting together those pieces is a no-brainer that we need a solution right now.”

Staff writers Alex Daugherty and Jacqueline Charles contributed to this story.

Bianca Padró Ocasio is a general assignment reporter for the Miami Herald. She has been a Florida journalist for several years, covering everything from crime and courts to hurricanes and politics. Her bilingual work telling the stories of the Puerto Rican community in Central Florida has been previously recognized by the Florida Society of News Editors and the Florida Sunshine State Awards.

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