Haitian Community Grapples With Uncertain Deportation Timeline

May 26, 2017

Florida’s Haitian immigrants are getting a six month reprieve on deportation orders. Advocates are claiming a small victory, but the timeline falls short of what many hoped for. Some are worried the community’s special status may be coming to an end.

Scene from Les Cayes, Haiti, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
Credit United Nations Photo via flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/un_photo/31569587301/

In a storefront church just a few blocks from the state capitol, a couple dozen worshipers pray and sing in Creole and French, at the Eglise Bateau de l’Evangile de Jesus Christ.

Pastor Hugues Balde says God led him away from a high-paying job in New York to create a church, and a new home, for the Haitian community in North Florida. Now he’s hoping for more divine intervention, this time for immigrants who fled the island country after the 2010 earthquake.

“They lost everything when the earthquake happened. If you go to Haiti, it is still like a desert. Right now it is flooded. Problem after problem. There is no such thing as Haiti recovered,” Balde said.

After the disaster, the federal government let about 58,000 Haitian immigrants settle and work legally in the U.S. About half came to Florida. They’re allowed to stay until the country is ready to take them back. Now the Trump Administration is implying that time has come. Balde isn’t in the program, but he has family members who are.

“Listen, the stress on those people right now is unbelievable,” Balde said.

"If you go to Haiti, it is still like a desert...there is no such thing as Haiti recovered."

The administration is extending the temporary protective status or TPS program for another six months. But that timeline falls short of the eighteen months advocates hoped for.

Democrat Daphne Campbell represents Miami’s Little Haiti community in the Florida Senate.

“What about those who have kids born here? So they have to leave the kids if the kids are underage, and the parents have to be deported? What are they gonna do?” Campbell asked.

Critics say the program is designed to be a temporary fix, not a long-term solution. She wants to reform TPS too.

Children scavenge in a garbage dump in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
Credit United Nations Photo via flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/un_photo/4687808301/

“A long-term goal to me is to give them amnesty or give them a green card. And I think that’s what we all should voice for to get a long-term goal for these people who have been waiting for so long,” she said.

State Representative Al Jacquet of West Palm Beach says Haiti is in no condition to receive the TPS beneficiaries. He’s inviting lawmakers to see the country firsthand.            

“I am opening the door to anybody who wants to go to Haiti, especially from the administration. I am willing to go with them. I can interpret. I can show them around. But what is important is they see firsthand what is going on in Haiti,” Jacquet said.

Governor Rick Scott wants the administration to extend the program too. He met with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly before the decision came down.

“I mean this is a federal issue. I brought this to the attention of the federal government. And you know it’s one of the frustrating things as governor, you don’t have control over immigration policy,” Scott said.

"What about those who have kids born here? So they have to leave the kids if the kids are underage, and the parents have to be deported?"

Back at the church, Balde says deporting some 58,000 people en masse could undo the progress Haiti has made. According to the World Bank, 25% of the country’s GDP comes from remittances, expats sending money to family and friends back home.

“People are living on $50 USD a month in Haiti. So that $50 will not be able to be sent to Haiti…if they keep deporting…60,000 people! That’s a lot of people,” Balde said.

If Balde’s sister is deported, her kids might have to drop out of college too. It would be up to him to provide for them, as well as his father, sisters, and cousins who are already in Haiti.

“I would be affected too. Those people now, they support themselves and all their people in Haiti. Now I would have to support them! And all their people in Haiti!” Balde said.

In the meantime, he says he’ll keep praying. If the administration doesn’t extend the program again, deportations could begin in January of 2018.