Haiti

‘Scared to death’: Miami Haitians fear family separations if protected status expires

Christina Ponthieux, a daughter of TPS recipients facing possible deportation, urges President Donald Trump to find a permanent solution for TPS recipients during a press conference at Family Action Network Movement (FAMN) in Miami, Tuesday, July 24, 2018. In one year, the termination of TPS for Haitians will become effective.
Christina Ponthieux, a daughter of TPS recipients facing possible deportation, urges President Donald Trump to find a permanent solution for TPS recipients during a press conference at Family Action Network Movement (FAMN) in Miami, Tuesday, July 24, 2018. In one year, the termination of TPS for Haitians will become effective. snavarro@miamiherald.com

Warning of the potential for a new family separation crisis within South Florida’s sprawling Haitian and Central American neighborhoods, immigrant advocates and Haitian-born recipients long shielded from deportation are calling for the Trump administration to extend their Temporary Protected Status prior to the 2019 deadline.

Parents who came to the U.S. following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and their U.S.-born children — plus many Haitians who were already living in the U.S. — say they fear mass deportations and family separations if the federal government does not act quickly.

“I’m scared to death,” said 11-year-old Christina Ponthieux, whose parents are both recipients of the protected status. “This is our home.

Members of the community gathered Tuesday in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood and argued that their home country, which in recent weeks has been plagued by political instability and civic unrest, is in no position to receive tens of thousands of returning citizens and their U.S.-born children. And after building up lives of their own in South Florida, the families don’t want to leave.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants protected status to foreign nationals, allowing them to live and work legally in the U.S., if it is determined that they cannot safely return to their home countries due to military conflict, natural disaster or other issues. Haitians were granted TPS following the 2010 earthquake in the country.

The Family Action Network Movement, or FANM, a local group that organized the event, estimates that along with the 58,000 Haitians living under TPS in the U.S., there are 27,000 U.S.-born children dependent on them.

Of those TPS recipients, more than 32,000 live in Florida alone, according to the Center for Migration Studies, a liberal think tank. Of the estimated 57,000 Hondurans living with TPS, just under 8,000 live in Florida, the think tank found.

Foreign nationals from 10 countries currently benefit from the temporary status. TPS for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Syria, Nepal and South Sudan is slated to expire at different times next year.

Last year, DHS announced it would not extend TPS for Haitian recipients, meaning the protected status would expire July 22, 2019. If TPS expires, advocates say, parents will be forced to live illegally in the U.S. or face deportation and separation from their kids.

Marleine Bastien, the founder and executive director of FANM, said many Haitian TPS recipients have lived in the U.S. between seven and 28 years.

“In 363 days, 58,000 Haitian families will be facing deportation to Haiti,” she said. “How do you ask a family to pack 30 years of their lives in a suitcase?”

Bastien said the Trump administration has a “moral obligation to make a decision now.”

Farrah Larrieux, a 39-year-old TPS recipient who owns a communications company, said the failure to make TPS permanent for Haitians is rooted in racial profiling, adding that the Trump administration is choosing to ignore the plight of Haitians and other minorities.

“This is stressful,” she said. “We won’t know what we are going to do.”

Haiti TPS_SN130
Immigration attorney Adonia Simpson of Americans for Immigrant Justice urges President Trump to find a permanent solution for TPS during a press conference at Family Action Network Movement (FAMN) in Miami, Tuesday, July 24, 2018. In one year, the termination of TPS for Haiti will become effective. Sam Navarro snavarro@miamiherald.com

Marcia Danielle Jean Phillippe, a 49-year-old TPS recipient who works as a home aide and nurse, cried when she spoke about what the future may hold for her 4-year-old daughter, who was born in the U.S.

“I got to stay here to fight for my daughter,” she said. “Haitian people, we are good fighters.”

Adonia Simpson, the director of the Family Defense Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, stressed that it was necessary for TPS recipients to visit with an immigration lawyer to discuss their options and any alternatives to deportation that may be available to them.

She said some “immigrants may have family-based relief based on a U.S. citizen family member that could petition for them. Also ... there may be some folks that are eligible to seek cancellation of removal before the immigration courts.”

Simpson added that the issue was fraught with complications, and so it is “important that people get the right information now before it’s too late.”

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