New York celebrates Haitian Unity Day

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New York State officials gathered in Albany to honor Haitian Unity Day and stand in solidarity with Haitian-Americans on May 7. This is the fifth year that New York has celebrated Haitian Unity Day, and State Senator David Carlucci, who represents one of the largest Haitian communities in the nation at Spring Valley, called the more than 200,000 Haitian who live in New York an essential part of the state’s success.

“Whether it’s the cuisine, culture, music, dance, the contributions to the law and medicine; Haitians are right there building our state and our country,” Carlucci said.

But as New York’s Haitian community celebrated the Unity Day event, they also expressed their concerns over the current problems facing the community, with the cancelation of Haitian Temporary Protected Status being at the forefront. TPS granted Haitian immigrants — and immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala — work visas and deferment from deportation. In Haiti’s case, TPS came after the devastating 2010 Earthquake that displaced millions, but in November, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would begin termination of the TPS programs.

Now more than 5,000 Haitian in New York, including about 1,400 in Nassau County, are at risk of being deported once their status ends. New York State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat of Valley Stream and the first person of Haitian decent to be elected to the New York legislature, said the current administration’s bias against Haitians disgusted her, a bias that was clearly revealed to her when President Donald Trump used a derogatory word to describe Haiti earlier this year.

“It’s upsetting that this exists at our highest level of government,” Solages said. “They’re letting their bias blind them from seeing the national contributions Haitians provide.”

She also mentioned that the termination of TPS would amount to a huge blow to the state’s healthcare industry because of the large amount of Haitians it employs. A 2017 Center for American Progress report found that nearly half of all Haitian TPS holders in New York worked in the healthcare industry. This is something that worried Luz Torres, of the Oyster Bay based Centro Cultural Hispano. Torres, who has been helping educate and calm her community after President Donald Trump promised to end both TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs, said Haitian immigrants made up a lot of the senior care employees in the area.

“Who’s going to take care of the elderly here if they’re gone,” Torres asked.

In response to the cancellation of Haitian TPS, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit against the federal government earlier this year. The lawsuit claims that the decision to end TPS “reflects an egregious departure from the TPS statute’s requirements and an intent to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity.”

Other than Trump’s remarks about Haiti, the administration’s bias was also pointed out in its increased deportation efforts after DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement received new priorities from the president. Following these changes, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of undocumented Haitian immigrants being deported. While fewer than 300 Haitians were deported in 2016, about 5,700 Haitians were deported in 2017.

And now, recently released documents acquired by the National Lawyers Guild have revealed that the government reports used to argue the cancelation of Haitian TPS actually outlined Haiti’s pervasive problems with natural disasters, hunger, displacement and homelessness, poor health conditions, destroyed infrastructure and a weakened economy with little to no aid from foreign nations. U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks said that the Congressional Black Caucus would look into a U.S. pledge to donate millions to Haiti and why Haiti had yet to receive it.

“When we celebrate Haiti, we should put pressure, not just for hurricane relief, but for colonialism relief, imperialism relief and racism relief, ” Assemblyman Charles Barron said during the Haitian Unity Day event.

Yet despite all the conditions outlined in the federal report, which concluded that Haiti had fallen into a tragic pattern of “One step forward, two steps back,” the termination of Haitian TPS has gone forward and will officially terminate in July 2019. Solages, who chairs New York State’s Task Force on New Americans, said she wanted to “Trump-proof” the state and has met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss ways to protect Haitian TPS holders.

“The government needs to acknowledge the conditions in Haiti and grant [TPS] an extension,” Solages said.