Haitians from all over Nassau County came together inside the Elmont Memorial Library for the “Haiti is Beautiful: Culture Community Celebration,” on Feb. 28. The event, presented by Legislator Carrié Solages and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, brought together the Haitian community to discuss how they can unify and protect their way of life amid the federal government’s recent actions.
Carrié, who spearheaded the event, said that the derogatory words spoken by President Donald Trump in January to describe Haiti were reminiscent of the prejudice many Haitian-Americans faced back in the 1980s and 90s.
“Those are words that are unbecoming of the President of the United States, or of any leader,” Carrié said.
After Trump’s remarks, Carrié wrote to New York’s representatives, asking them to introduce legislation that would create an inspector general position on immigration policy. Carrié fears that Trump’s views on immigration will carry over to his policies and unfairly target Haitians and African-Americans. The Trump administration has already called for an end to the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Haitians, which grants them renewable work visas and deferment from deportation for 18-month periods following the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. There are more than 2,000 Haitian immigrants on Long Island living with TPS, according to the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development.
U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, a well-known figure in Long Island’s Haitian community, said that Haitians on TPS have built a life on Long Island and cannot just be deported come the expiration date on July 2019.
“The conditions that caused the migration of Haitians into America have not been resolved,” Meeks said. “And our communities cannot be split up.”
Michaelle also expressed her worries about the effects of ending Haitian TPS might have on the local community. Elmont has more than 3,500 residents who come from Haitian decent, which is one of the highest concentrations in the Northeast, according to the local weareelmont.com site. Michaelle, the chair of New York’s Task Force on New Americans, hopes to work with local and state politicians to “Trump Proof” New York State and protect its Haitian immigrants.
“Our people need TPS, and they and our undocumented people need to have a
pathway to citizenship more readily available,” Michaelle said. “Haitians are one of the most targeted people for deportation in the U.S.”
Undocumented Haitian immigrants were the fifth highest population deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2017, according to the most recent ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Report. More than 55,000 Haitians were removed last year, five-times more than in 2016. Michaelle says providing licenses and identification cards to undocumented immigrants can help curb the number of deportations.
Mimi Pierre-Johnson, a local community activist and master of ceremonies for the event, said Trump gave everyone a wake up call. She asked the community to unite and support each other, and reminded everyone to vote and express their voice. She and all the Haitian politicians and community members at the event were all hopeful that a solution could be found for these problems as the community expressed the common idea of Haitian-exceptionalism. They all spoke about Haiti’s contributions to not only the local community, but also to the world as the first black republic and first western country to abolish slavery.
“We defeated the strongest army during our revolution, and we’ve made history since,” Hugues Sanon, a Goodwill Ambassador for Haiti, said. “But we’re still called the poorest country.”
Community leaders also asked for two things from the Haitian community. They urged them to revisit Haiti if they can, and try their best to give back to the country and show their kids the beauty of their homeland. They wanted everyone in the community to start posting pro-Haitian sentiments and talking about the community’s triumphs and issues on social media.
Meeks assured the community that he and the Congressional Black Caucus would look into the aid promised to Haiti by the U.S., and hold the government accountable for the millions in missing funds. The underfunding of Haiti’s reconstruction was the subject of author Jonathan Katz’s book, “The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster.” Katz was supposed to be the keynote speaker at the “Haiti is Beautiful” event, but could not make it.
Carrié is also looking for TPS recipients to join him in a lawsuit against the federal government for the cancelation of Haitian TPS. Michaelle’s office will celebrate Haitian Unity Day with Long Island Haitians on May 5, with a trip to Albany.