By Macollvie Jean-François
MIAMI — Tomorrow, South Florida activists expect 2,000 to 4,000 supporters to attend a rally seeking Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians and to urge lawmakers to put a stop to deportations of undocumented Haitian immigrants. The rally is scheduled to take place in front of the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, a few miles north of Fort Lauderdale.[UPDATE: After the rally, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported: “Rapper Wyclef Jean made a surprise appearance at a rally in Pompano Beach on Saturday, where about 250 people called for the U.S. government to stop deportations to Haiti.” See more here.]
The rally comes after news last week that 30,000 Haitians have been ordered to leave the U.S. after a short-lived halt in deportations had made many hopeful they would be granted temporary stays. The suspension of deportations followed a series of brutal storms that lashed Haiti last year. Now Haiti is blocking the deportations by not issuing travel documents to its citizens, saying the country just cannot take in more people at this time.
TPS for Haitians was expected to be a hot-button issue for the Obama Administration, and pro-immigrant advocates in the community said throughout the presidential campaign it would be their goal to make it a reality under the new administration.
Now, a little more than a month into Barack Obama’s presidency, the issue has become a litmus test of his loyalty to a group of immigrant voters who campaigned heavily for him.
“I was expecting right after Obama took office that he would do something,” said Bob Louis Jeune, head of the Haitian Citizens United Taskforce in West Palm Beach, and an organizer of Saturday’s rally. “But he never said anything. We get tired of sending letters and emails, and nobody said anything.”
Advocates fear that the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement and border branches are rushing to execute policies instituted under the Bush Administration, before Obama’s people have a chance to review or redirect Bush-era mandates. (Just this week Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a review of the first work-site raid to take place under her watch, saying she had not been briefed on it beforehand.)
But with the news emerging of Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking to deport 30,229 undocumented Haitians, and the Haitian government’s refusal to issue travel documents to the deportees, advocates see an opportunity to raise the issue — swiftly, and loudly.
Within days, a TPS petition that has been online for some time saw a spike in signatures, its monitors say. Hundreds of student volunteers and staffers at Haitian community groups and at partner organizations have called, e-mailed and written to the White House, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other members of Congress.
Groups in Florida are also forming alliances with the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration attorneys to help win the release of from detention of undocumented Haitian immigrants, who they say are law-abiding workers who contribute to their communities.
Haitian radio, meanwhile, has broadcast warnings to be on the lookout for immigration enforcement activity, and called on people to come out on Saturday and to future rallies.
Activists, editorial writers and commentators –like Myriam Marquez at the Miami Herald and Felicia Persaud at CaribWorldNews— quickly penned articles urging the president and Congress to address the “ticking time-bomb” that the reinstated Haitian deportations have become.
That Haitian-American Patrick Gaspard, the White House political director who campaigned for Obama in Haitian enclaves, has been mum on the issue is especially troubling to many, as they had hoped he would have the president’s ear on such immediate concerns.
“We called him, he said he was in a meeting, and he said to send an e-mail,” Louis Jeune said. “We did talk to him and asked him to talk to Mr. Obama. We never heard from him.”
That silence has only spurred activists like Louis Jeune to take action.
“The same way Obama got elected –with the BlackBerry, by sending emails to different grassroots organizations– that’s what we’re going to do,” Louis Jeune said.
Not everyone is on board with the rallies, though. For one, there’s always the fear that showing up at these demonstrations might draw undue attention from immigration officials to one’s own undocumented status or that of relatives and loved ones. Some also want the matters of job creation, education and health care –the mainstream issues that spoke to the immigrant communities during the campaign– to be addressed first.
A multi-pronged effort must be established, if the community is to go beyond awareness and actually get policies favorable to undocumented Haitian immigrants drawn. That’s what Jocelyn McCalla, a development consultant and former executive of the once-prominent Haitian rights advocacy group NCHR, said. He argues that the current situation presents an opportunity for Haitians to come up with a “sensible proposal” to negotiate with the Administration.
“I say to the advocates: you can’t just cry foul,” he said. “You should have a regular lobby in Washington talking to everybody. You should be making the statement that this [TPS] is in the best interests of the U.S. Forget about Haiti.”
* Macollvie Jean-François is a journalist based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.