Haitian Disney Employees May Have to Leave the United States

  • Posted on: 27 April 2017
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Orlando Sentinel

Sandra Pedicini           

About 500 Walt Disney World employees could be affected by a federal immigration agency’s recommendation that the United States soon end temporary protections for about 50,000 Haitians.  Tens of thousands of Haitians in the United States when a massive earthquake struck in 2010 were invited to apply for temporary protected status. That has been extended several times because of the island nation’s woes including Hurricane Matthew, a cholera epidemic and political turmoil. On Thursday, USA Today reported Citizen and Immigration Services’ acting director James McCament was recommending the U.S. end the temporary protections by next January, saying conditions there have improved.  Both Disney and Unite Here, a union that represents many of the company’s workers, say the protections should be extended.  The Walt Disney Co. said in a statement that “given the current situation in Haiti we support efforts to extend the Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals. The more than 500 cast members who are currently part of this program have been and are an important part of our Walt Disney World workforce in Central Florida.”  Supporters of the protected status say ending it would create hardship for 50,000 Haitians in the United States and many more people in Haiti who receive financial help from their relatives here.

Photo Credit: NBC Miami




Farah Larrieux feels like she's about to be forced out after living and working in the U.S. for more than a decade. Immigration privileges granted to her and many other Haitians after the 2010 earthquake could soon be revoked. President Donald Trump's appointees must announce by May 23 whether to continue "temporary protected status" for about 50,000 Haitians legally living and working in the U.S. Without this status, they could suddenly face deportation.

A top immigration official has argued that Haiti is stable enough for its citizens to no longer need protection from deportation. According to emails obtained by The Associated Press, Trump appointees are looking for evidence that Haitian immigrants have committed crimes before announcing the decision. With President Barack Obama's administration repeatedly extending the protected status for Haitians, Florida came to feel like a permanent home to Larrieux, even though she's been living with "temporary" benefits.

"I am planning my life, settling down. I can tell you that I am financially getting stable — but now I don't know what's going to happen in the next three months," she said. Larrieux arrived in Florida in 2005, but four years later, she was divorced and depressed. Her visa had expired, and her green card application was rejected. The post-quake benefits gave her a lifeline: She got a Florida driver's license, returned to school and built a company promoting Haitian entertainers from her home in Miramar. "It was a rebirth," she said.

According to James McCament, President Donald Trump's acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Haiti's poverty, political instability, infrastructure problems and cholera outbreak no longer qualify its citizens for a program responding to countries in crisis. "Those myriad problems remaining in Haiti are longstanding problems which have existed for many years before the 2010 disaster," McCament wrote in an April 10 memo first reported by USA Today. His recommendation: end the status once current benefits expire July 22, and give the Haitians until January to leave voluntarily.

The AP obtained emails sent from April 7 to May 1 showing the USCIS policy chief repeatedly asking staff how often Haitians with temporary status were convicted of crimes and how many took advantage of public benefits. Her employees replied that such data weren't available or difficult to find in government records. USCIS spokeswoman Sharon Scheidhauer said the agency doesn't discuss "pre-decision documents." She said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly hadn't made a decision regarding Haiti. A criminal history disqualifies an applicant for temporary protected status, and recipients aren't eligible for public benefits.

Trump is "not going to be able to find the evidence he's looking for, and if he does, it's fake news," Cheryl Little of Americans for Immigrant Justice said Tuesday. Haitian-American leaders and Haitian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Rodrigue said deporting established property owners, entrepreneurs, students, taxpayers and the parents of U.S.-born children could cut off their remittances, financially crippling a country where the quake killed up to 300,000, cholera has killed least 9,500 since 2010 and Hurricane Matthew's landfall killed 546 in October.

Immigrant rights advocates say the U.S. economy also would suffer. Deporting the affected Haitians could cost $469 million, and $428 million in contributions to Social Security and Medicare would be lost over the next decade, according to estimates by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Nearly 500 Walt Disney World employees alone would be affected, according to UNITE HERE, the theme park's hospitality and custodial workers' union. "These people are working. They are contributing. They have lives here," said Marleine Bastien of Haitian Women of Miami. "This is one of the gravest crises we've been facing since the earthquake."

Temporary protected status allows immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict or environmental disasters to legally live and work here. To be eligible, Haitians had to live in the U.S. before Jan. 12, 2011. Residency and employment authorizations were renewed every 18 months.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors strict immigration policies, said Haitians never should have expected permanent privileges. "There is always going to be something happening in Haiti," Mehlman said. "Unless things are absolutely perfect, which they never were and they will never be, we would have to allow people to remain here indefinitely."

Haitian government officials said Wednesday they're ill-equipped to welcome back tens of thousands of people. "Their return would be detrimental to us," said Dave Fils-Aime, a political and economic affairs specialist for Haiti's embassy in Washington. The same benefits currently extend to citizens of a dozen other countries. It's unclear if USCIS also inquired about their criminal histories. McCament's memo didn't address benefits expiring next year for nearly 355,000 immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, who have had "temporary protected status" for nearly 20 years. Immigrants from the rest of the countries arrived more recently and in fewer numbers.

Trump wooed Haitian-Americans as the Republican nominee. The largely black community — 1.8 percent of Florida voters — had generally supported Democrats. But under Obama, the U.S. expanded efforts to deport Haitians who weren't eligible for the temporary benefits, particularly thousands who crowded California's border with Mexico last fall. Some also blamed Hillary and Bill Clinton's charitable efforts in Haiti for humanitarian and economic failures there. "The Haitian people deserve better, as I intend to give them," Trump said in Miami's Little Haiti in September. "I will be your champion."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats wrote Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging an extension of the Haitians' benefits. A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers and the Congressional Black Caucus sent similar letters. "This must be renewed," said Palm Beach County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Michael Barnett. "I think Mr. Trump is going to do the right thing once he's made aware of the situation and he's reminded of the promises he made during the campaign."

Larrieux said the questions in the USCIS emails echo prejudice against Haitians in the 1980s when U.S. doctors wrongly identified being Haitian as a risk factor for AIDS. "Now they're going to put a tag on us that we are criminals and we're abusing the system? This is discrimination," Larrieux said. "Does that mean that white people don't do crimes? That there's no American born in the U.S., or people with green cards, or people who get their citizenship who commit crimes? If that's their argument, they're wrong."

Associated Press writer David McFadden in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report

The Guardian


If you ask Marleine Bastien, a chill wind from the White House is fast cooling the warmth of the Haitian Heritage Month celebrations in Miami’s Little Haitineighbourhood.  The party pooper, according to the executive director of the advocacy group Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), is Donald Trump, the man who barely eight months ago on a campaign visit here told the city’s sizeable Haitian community that he wanted to be “your greatest champion”.

Now there are signs that the US president is poised to pull the plug on a longstanding humanitarian program and expose up to 58,000 Haitians to immediate deportation. Until now they have been allowed to remain under a special immigration status while their homeland recovers from disasters including a 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic and Hurricane Matthew last year that left multitudes homeless.

Just this week the Associated Press reported that immigration officials were urgently seeking data on crimes committed by Haitian immigrants, or claims for welfare benefits to which they were not entitled. “There’s a lot of fear and anxiety,” Bastien said of thousands of families in Little Haiti who, instead of celebrating the festival of music, culture and traditions of the impoverished Caribbean nation, are focused on whether Trump will renew or abolish the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) introduced in 2010 for Haitian visitors when the program expires in July.

“They came to here to try to build a life and keep their families safe and now, after so many years, they have to contemplate being separated from their family members and going back to a nation in turmoil,” she said. “They have children in school, students in college, they have businesses and have bought homes. They pay tax and contribute to the economy, here and in Haiti by sending money home. Now they are worrying about the choices they will have to make. “A man walked into my office the other day, he became a nurse after the earthquake, he works at one of the major hospitals in town and has two little girls flourishing in our public schools. He was in tears as he told me he may have to pull them out from everything they know to take them to Haiti. “You’re talking about thousands and thousands of US-born children with parents facing the heart-wrenching decision of being separated from their loved ones or leaving their children behind to give them a better life.”

Anybody reading the tealeaves would likely concur that the portents are not favorable for Haitians in the United States under the TPS program, the majority of whom are in Florida, mostly in Miami, Tampa and Orlando, with other significant communities in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

In December, while Barack Obama was still in office, secretary of state John Kerry recommended renewal of TPS based on a comprehensive eight-page report from James McCament, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). McCament’s report concluded that Haiti remained “fragile and vulnerable” and faced serious challenges including “a housing shortage, a cholera epidemic and limited access to healthcare, political instability, security risks, food insecurity and considerable environmental risk.”

By April, three months into the Trump administration, McCament had changed his tune. A memo obtained by USA Today revealed that he now believed conditions had improved enough for him to recommend to the new secretary of homeland security John Kelly the ending of the TPS programme for Haitians by next January.

For Bastien, it is an unlikely U-turn. “Are you telling me that from December to April, Haiti has recovered to a point where it can absorb 58,000 deportees and their families?” she said. “Haiti is still reeling. Most of the infrastructure has not been rebuilt. There are thousands of people homeless and the cholera epidemic continues to create hardships for 1.2 million people.”

Kelly must make his own recommendation by May 23 to meet a 60-day notice period before the current TPS program, which has been renewed every 18 months since 2010, reaches its scheduled end date for Haitians on 22 July. On Friday at the Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins, prominent members of the Haitian American community were due to dress up for a lavish heritage month gala to raise funds for the Sant La Haitian neighborhood centre.

Gepsie Morriset-Metellus, co-founder and executive director of the centre that has helped thousands of displaced Haitians settle in south Florida, said the event was a welcome opportunity to temporarily forget the swirling uncertainty over TPS before a protest rally outside the USCIS office in Miami on Saturday morning.

Many of Florida’s senior politicians from both political parties, including the Democratic senator Bill Nelson, have already written to the administration urging the renewal of TPS, and local lawmakers are expected to attend the march to lend their support. “There’s a saying that if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu, so it’s important for us to be at the table,” Metellus said.

“There are lots of Haitians, allies and supporters, people who understand this threat is targeting Haitians today but it may target Haitian Americans tomorrow, other immigrant groups tomorrow.” Santcha Etienne, from the coastal town of Petit-Goave that was the epicenter of the January 2010 earthquake estimated to have killed up to 160,000, said there would be no jobs in Haiti for anybody forcibly deported. “I stand up, I want to march, I want to scream, I want to yell for TPS to be extended,” she said. “Many people lost their homes and family members in the earthquake. Here they are homeowners, business owners and parents. There is no hope for them if they are made to go back.”

The New Yorker

Edwdidge Dandicat


D - he asked that I not use his name—moved to the United States from Haiti with his parents in 2001, when he was nine years old. They travelled from Port-au-Prince on tourist visas, and then stayed beyond the authorized time period because of political instability in Haiti. D. attended school in Miami. In high school he played football and had a 4.1 G.P.A. He completed all of his coursework, including all the Advanced Placement classes offered at his school, by the end of his junior year, and graduated in the top three per cent of his class. He applied and was accepted to Florida Memorial University in 2009, hoping to study engineering, but because he was undocumented he did not qualify for the full-ride scholarship he was offered. He tried other schools, including the local community college, but did not qualify for loans or in-state tuition. Instead, D. saved up for a paralegal-certificate course by working as a parking attendant at a Miami Beach hotel during the day, then at the hotel’s front desk at night. He studied and wrote papers during his night shifts. “It was like having two and a half jobs,” he told me recently. “I was only sleeping every other day. People kept telling me, ‘You’re so bright, why aren’t you in college?’ They didn’t realize that I wanted more than anything to go to college. I just didn’t have the opportunity.”

In 2010, after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated three hundred thousand people and leaving 1.5 million homeless, Haitian community leaders, including many Miami-based advocates, appealed to the U.S. government for temporary protected status, which was granted nine days after the earthquake. Temporary protected status, or T.P.S., is designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security in cases where a country’s nationals are unable to return safely or when the country is incapable of receiving them due to armed conflicts, environmental disasters, epidemics, or other “extraordinary” conditions.

T.P.S. is granted for eighteen months at a time and is renewable at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, at times in consultation with the State Department and the Secretary of State. T.P.S. does not offer a path to citizenship, but it does allow recipients to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license, and prevents them from being deported.

Haiti is one of thirteen countries that have been granted temporary protected status. The others are El Salvador, Guinea, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, and Syria. Of the three hundred thousand foreign nationals who are covered by T.P.S., approximately fifty thousand are Haitian and many, like D., have been living in the United States since before the 2010 earthquake. They qualified for T.P.S. because conditions in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake made their return hazardous, but also because of a raging cholera epidemic that was introduced by Nepalese United Nations peacekeepers, in 2010, and has killed nine thousand Haitians and sickened eight hundred thousand.

The last time T.P.S. was extended for Haitians was in August, 2015, during the Obama Administration. Citing conditions “that prevent Haitian nationals (or aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in Haiti) from returning to Haiti in safety,” Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security at the time, renewed the designation through July 22, 2017. Now it is up to the Trump Administration’s Homeland Security Secretary, John F. Kelly, to decide, by May 23rd, whether he will renew T.P.S. or terminate it, thus making the fifty thousand Haitians currently protected vulnerable to deportation.

Recently, James McCament, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recommended that Kelly terminate, allowing six months—until January, 2018—as a grace period for “an orderly transition” toward either voluntary return or deportation. The Haitian government has stated that the country is not ready to receive a sudden influx of returnees. In a May 3rd interview with Le Nouvelliste, one of the country’s daily newspapers, Haiti’s new President, Jovenel Moïse, declared that he was in favor of T.P.S. renewal given the slow progress Haiti has made in rebuilding since the earthquake. Haiti’s most recent natural disaster, 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, caused $2.7 billion in damages, equivalent to thirty-two per cent of Haiti’s gross domestic product. Hurricane Matthew killed more than a thousand people and devastated Haiti’s southern peninsula, destroying most of that region’s infrastructure, homes, crops, and livestock, which has led to a dearth of housing and increased food insecurity. “We believe this is not the time to welcome our brothers and sisters back because it will aggravate our already precarious situation,” Haiti’s foreign-affairs minister, Antonio Rodrigue, told Le Nouvelliste. “An extension of the TPS will give the government some respite to put in place projects to improve living conditions in the country.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, faith-based organizations, and unions, including one representing workers at the Walt Disney Company, in Orlando, have also urged Kelly to renew T.P.S. The editorial pages of major U.S. newspapers—among them the Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Miami Herald—have echoed these pleas, urging Kelly to consider that sending fifty thousand Haitians back, as the Miami Herald editorial board put it, will harm Haiti more than it will benefit the United States. According to the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Haitians with T.P.S. collectively earn two hundred and eighty million dollars a year in wages, and contribute about thirty-five million dollars annually to Social Security. Part of their wages are also used for remittances, which are vital to family members in Haiti as well as the country’s fragile economy.

In keeping with the Trump Administration’s emphatic focus on immigrant crime, part of Kelly’s decision-making process seems to involve looking at how many Haitians on T.P.S. have committed crimes or used public services for which they’re not eligible, a signal that the Secretary might be looking for some justification to end the program, an outcome which would be disastrous for D. and thousands of others.

I asked D., who said he wakes up every morning feeling like he is in limbo, what he would say to Secretary Kelly and the Trump Administration if he could. I have known him since he was in high school, and I have never heard so much worry in his voice. Like so many other immigrants who have made a life in this country, who have bought homes and started businesses, who are parents of U.S.-born children, he is living in constant fear of being plucked out of his life at a moment’s notice.

If his T.P.S. is revoked, D. said, he will not be able to work. He will be too terrified to leave his house, for fear of being deported. He will not be able to complete the college degree that he is working to pay for himself. He would remind Secretary Kelly and the Trump Administration that T.P.S. recipients, from Haiti and from other countries, are “fully invested, fully committed to this country,” and in many cases have nowhere else to go. “We have drive, we have desire, we work hard,” he said. “We have learned a lot here that we want to use for the good of this country. So many of us have already made a difference here and so many of us still can.” Extending temporary protected status, he added, is the sensible thing to do.

Edwidge Danticat is the author of many books, including “The Art of Death,” which will be published by Graywolf Press in July. 

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