Protesters to Trump: Don’t send Haitian immigrants ‘back to nothing’

President Donald Trump made a campaign promise to Haitians to be their “greatest champions,” and hundreds gathered in Little Haiti Saturday morning to make sure he heard what they needed from him.

Protesters from across South Florida met in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on Northwest Seventh Avenue to rally for the extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians. The immigration designation, granted by the Obama administration after the 2010 earthquake that left more than 300,000 dead, 300,000 injured and 1.5 million homeless, allows Haitians to live and work freely in the United States.

If the designation were to be revoked, the 58,000 members of the program would be deported back to a nation where more than 40,000 people live in makeshift shelters and tent homes. Haiti also faces severe housing and food shortages after Hurricane Matthew wiped out homes and farmland last year.

Read More: Desperate Haitians living in caves, eating toxic plants in post-hurricane Haiti

A decision on extending TPS for Haitians can come as soon as this coming week, although the Department of Homeland Security has until May 23 — 60 days before the program’s July 22 expiration. Despite Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s chief of staff, Wilson Lalue, telling the Miami Herald this week that Moïse will appeal to President Trump to extend the program for the 58,000 enrolled, no such letter has yet arrived in Washington, sources tell the Herald.

One of the event’s organizers, Marleine Bastien, head of Haitian Women of Miami, stood on a truck bed and led the crowd in a chant, which loosely translated to “Give us justice. Give us TPS and don’t let us down.”

Around her, protesters held signs that read: “Haitian Lives Matter,” “TPS Yes, Deportation No” and “L’Union Fait La Force,” which translates to Unity Makes Strength.

They danced to music blasted from speakers or made by a crowd of musicians on drums and cymbals, chanted “TPS Now, Donald Trump,” and marched in circles on the stretch of Northwest Seventh Avenue in front of the immigration office. A woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty held a torch-shaped sign that read, “TPS is Liberty.”

Unlike most recent South Florida protests, the mood toward Trump wasn’t negative. Protesters and organizers alike repeated that they merely wanted to hold Trump to the promise he made in Little Haiti before the election, to be the Haitian people’s “greatest champion.”

“If he wants to step up to the plate and score for us, now is the time,” said Salusa Basquin, a 50-year-old teacher who moved to South Florida from Haiti in 1980.

Valerie Charlier, 25, brought her 4-year-old son, DJ Morris, to the protest. When he asked his mom why they were there, she told him, “because our people are going to be sent back to nothing.”

He rested his arms around her neck, tugging on her Spider-Man backpack as Charlier chanted, “What do we want? TPS! When do we want it? Now!”

Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon used his turn at the microphone to tell the crowd that “everybody” should support the renewal of TPS.

“Anybody with a conscience knows that Haiti has not recovered from its natural disasters,” he said.

Protesters, like Chely Paul who held a sign that read, “We are not invisible,” believe this issue shouldn’t be controversial. Paul, 41, said “a vast majority” of the people in the TPS program send money home and provide for people “who are destitute.” Without that money flowing to Haiti, those beneficiaries would struggle.

“It always comes down to the people at the bottom of the pyramid,” she said. “It’s criminal, I believe.”

That’s what worries 53-year-old Marie Sinus, the only member of her family in the U.S. She’s lived here for 17 years and sends money home every month. Sinus swiped through pictures on her phone that her family had sent to her, showing people clustered in front of a run-down home with a corrugated tin roof.

“We’re not here for fun,” she said. “This is serious. We want to work hard and provide for our families.”

Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report.