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MLK Event Looks at Immigration, TPS Status, and U.S. Responsibility

The Department of Homeland Security’s decision to end temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from Haiti has repercussions not just for Haiti and Haitian Americans, but for the economy, and the wider community, said panelists at Emerson’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Diversity Forum.

Held Friday, January 19, in the Bordy Theater, the forum aimed to honor King’s legacy and “celebrate his example of courageous action in the face of injustice and oppression” through a focus on immigration and immigrant issues, said Dr. Raul Reis, dean of the School of Communication, the event’s sponsor. Boston 25 reporter Evan White ’05 moderated.

Temporary protected status was instituted in 1990 to allow people from countries in the grip of violent conflict or natural disasters to enter the United States and work legally until it was safe to return home. Haiti was granted TPS status following a devastating earthquake in 2010.

In November, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was removing TPS status for the 60,000 Haitians in the U.S., claiming that the country had sufficiently recovered from the earthquake. The order is slated to go into effect in July 2019.

Even before the earthquake struck, the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, had begun deporting Haitians across the border, creating a migrant crisis, said Jacqueline Charles, who covers Haiti for the Miami Herald. In recent years there has been a cholera outbreak, and the country’s public hospital system still has not been rebuilt, despite promised funding from the U.S. and France, she said. More than 250,000 people are living in a camp outside Port-au-Prince with no roads, water, or sanitation.

“Haiti has made some strides, yes, but eight years later, the country is still not ready,” Charles said.

The Rev. Myrlande DesRosiers, director of the Everett Haitian Community Center, talked about the derogatory words President Trump allegedly used for TPS countries in a meeting with lawmakers about immigration reform – specifically, the impact those words had on the children she serves.

“It takes a second to destroy the self-esteem of children by what these words bring back,” DesRosiers said, “the hurtful ideas or beliefs that some folks are genetically inferior.

The kids in her community want to channel that hurt and anger into something positive, she said, and while the actual words Trump used shocked and surprised them, the sentiment behind those words did not.

“As we were knocking on doors [during the last election], we met people who displayed this type of sentiment, and who truly believe they are not racist, that this is simply a financial or economic behavior,” DesRosiers said.

Massachusetts state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry (D-Boston), a first-generation Haitian American, said there are more than 12,500 people in Massachusetts from different countries with TPS status, and they have 4,000 children who were born in the U.S. and are American citizens. Those are children that will either have to leave the only home they’ve ever known, or will need to stay behind without their parents, she said.

TPS status immigrants contribute $2.2 billion to Social Security, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, and many of them are sending money back home, so losing their status means a loss of income for families in both countries, Dorcena Forry said.

Certain industries would be heavily impacted by mass deportations. A huge percentage of home health aides are from TPS countries, and that has repercussions for many families, immigrant or U.S.-born.  

“The majority of people who are cooking for your loved ones [in their homes] are folks from these countries. The majority of people who are bathing and clothing them… are from these countries,” she said.

There are bright spots, Dorcena Forry said. There are a number of organizations who are working on behalf of these immigrants and who have come together to focus on TPS. And Haitians are allowed to stay and work until July 2019.

“That gives us 18 months to organize and continue to work to change the dialogue that’s happening in Washington,” she said.

Charles, the Miami Herald reporter, pointed out that the United States has inserted itself into the politics and economies of these TPS countries. In the case of Haiti, the U.S. occupied the country for 19 years, supported what some would call racist policies, and led to a civil war.

“If you are talking about the conditions in Haiti and where they are, you have to ask yourself what responsibility does the U.S. government and U.S. agencies bear in this,” Charles said.

Rafael Trujillo ’18, a Journalism major, said he attended the event because he was interested in the panelists; a native of Venezuela, he said immigration issues are very important to him.

“I learned a lot about the situation in Haiti and the work being done in Boston,” Trujillo said.

Julie Gehring, MA ’08, just started her first semester as an instructor in the Marketing Communication department. Her full-time job is director of mentoring at Mother Caroline Academy in Dorchester, a tuition-free school for girls in grades 4-8.

Gehring said she came to support Dorcena Forry, get more information on TPS, and learn how she can empower the students she works with at Mother Caroline and at Emerson.

“I think it was Linda Dorcena Forry who said TPS isn’t just a Haitian issue, it’s all our issue,” Gehring said. “I strongly believe that we need to hear this call to action to empower our communities.”



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