Miami’s Haitian-American community leaders planned to spend Friday remembering the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the horrific 2010 earthquake on the island. Instead, they spent the afternoon reacting to reports that President Donald Trump referred to their nation as a “shithole” and wanted to exclude Haitians from any special protected status.
“Isn’t it sad,” Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, a prominent Haitian women’s group, told a crowd of several dozen. “We should be here remembering our brothers and sisters, but instead we’re answering to President Trump.”
Activists marched from the Toussaint L’Ouverture Monument to the Little Haiti Cultural Center waving signs that said “President Trump is a racist!!!,” “Respect Haiti,” and “We will not forget.”
About 300,000 people died in the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, and millions were displaced. The immense damage that the 7.0-magnitude quake caused to the island’s infrastructure and economy led to the designation for Haitians of a U.S. immigration protection known as Temporary Protected Status. More than 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients live in South Florida, which is home to the largest concentration of Haitians in the nation.
Trump revoked that protection, which officially ends on July 22, stoking anger and anxiety in the community that was only worsened by what he reportedly said on the subject in a meeting Thursday.
Trump was meeting with lawmakers in a bid to gain bipartisan support for an immigration deal that would possibly restore TPS for countries — including Haiti — where it’s been removed, according to The Washington Post.
In that meeting, the Post reported, the president asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” in reference to Haiti, El Salvador and African countries. Further, the Post reported, Trump requested that Haitians not have their TPS status restored, asking: “Why do we need more Haitians?” and “Take them out.”
Trump denied the vulgar remarks the next morning via tweet and said, “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians.”
While campaigning in 2016, Trump came to Little Haiti and told a small group of Haitian Americans that he wanted to be their “biggest champion.”
Last year, the president reportedly said the 15,000 Haitians who immigrated to the U.S. “all have AIDS,” The New York Times reported. The White House denied that the president made those remarks.
Bastien, the community leader, said the president’s previous statements compared to his newly reported ones “prove he’s speaking out of both corners of his mouth.”
Steven Forester, of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, blasted the president’s decision to sunset TPS as racist and said the reported comments prove it.
“Racism is not recognized under the law as reason for immigration policy,” he said. “Now that all the emperor’s clothes have been stripped off, we see. He’s saving this nation for white immigrants and saying to black people ‘go to hell.’ ”
Forester, Bastien and other advocates called on Florida lawmakers to immediately propose a bill that will reinstate TPS and offer Haitians a path to citizenship. Then, as the exact time that the earthquake hit drew near, Bastien said, “Enough of Trump” and everyone closed their eyes for a moment of prayer.
“Eight years later, there are still people under the rubble. There are still people who haven’t been found,” Bastien said. “Every year at the same time we will be here to remember. We will never forget.”