“You Live Under Fear”: by Darlene Dubuisson and Mark Schuller

Darlene Dubuisson and Mark Schuller

“With TPS, it’s
like you live under fear,” thirty-something aspiring nurse Michaëlle explained.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen. I live with stress because of that.”

            Michaëlle’s situation just got worse
on Apr. 20, when Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly declared
that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 50,000
Haitian people living in the U.S. would be over.

            After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti,
President Obama granted temporary relief status to undocumented Haitians who
had arrived in the U.S. before 2011. Given the slow pace of recovery efforts
and subsequent disasters – notably the cholera epidemic that has killed over 10,000 and
counting, and Hurricane Matthew that hit Haiti last October –
TPS has been extended several times. The latest TPS is set to expire on Jul.
22, 2017.

            In essence, the Trump
administration’s policy would amount to kicking out 50,000 people who have,
despite their fear, put their faith in the U.S. government to legalize, like
fifty-something child care provider Wideline. She recalls that “[We were told
to] tell all fellow Haitians they don’t need to fear because they are going to
give Haitians who are illegal in this country papers so they can work.”

            Wideline specifically acknowledged
fear that TPS would become, in effect, a pipeline to deportation: “people
spread fear, arguing that the papers were so that the U.S. government can
identify Haitians living in the country in order to deport them. And this is
why some people didn’t do it.”

            Given the switch in administration,
TPS, like registering for DACA for many undocumented Mexican families, has
meant that it places a target on people’s heads. TPS, like DACA, makes people
visible to the State and thus more “deportable,” like undocumented rights
activist Jeanette Vizguerra, who sought sanctuary in a Denver church this

            While this particular threat to the
Haitian American community has gone largely unreported, it represents a
betrayal for some. Unlike Mexican Americans, specifically targeted by
then-candidate Trump, Haitian Americans, particularly in Florida, were actively
courted by Republican strategists and Breitbart News.

            In 2000, the fate of the free world
hung on 537 dimpled chads in the Sunshine State, home to an estimated 424,000
people of Haitian descent per the 2010 Census. This number is low not only
because of undocumented but because people have to self-select as “Haitian.”

            Many Haitian community leaders and
organizations were solid and early backers of Obama, the country’s first
African American president. Compared to the Cuban community in South Florida,
the Haitian Diaspora wields less political power because of the lack of dual
citizenship. As the first and only slave revolt to beget a free nation, Haiti
has long symbolized Black pride. As scholars such as Nina Glick Schiller and Georges Fouron and others
argue, the Haitian Diaspora keeps their Haitian citizenship while sending
remittances, representing a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.

            Following the earthquake,
organizations within the Haitian Diaspora such as the Haitian Congress to
Fortify Haiti
pushed for both TPS in the U.S. and dual citizenship
in Haiti. Both were won in 2011.

            Why would this solid Democratic
voting bloc help push the needle towards a candidate who openly expressed
hostility toward immigrants?

            While the Haitian community is large
and diverse, and therefore complex, an important factor was the role the
Clintons – the “king and queen of Haiti” – played following the

            On Apr. 11, the United Nations announced the end of its controversial military
force. MINUSTAH belatedly and partially apologized for infecting Haiti with cholera, but it was too
little, too late
. And the UN is still attempting to dodge responsibility for a rash of sexual assault cases. The Clintons were
involved in no-bid contracts for shoddy homes, high-end tourism, an apparel factory outside of Port-au-Prince, and gold prospecting.

            Some in the Haitian community might
have forgiven this disaster capitalism if Haiti was “built back better” as Bill
Clinton promised.

            It wasn’t.

            However, at least in the capital of
Port-au-Prince, an argument can be made for at least some economic institutions
and physical infrastructure being rebuilt. Much of this is an unrecognized
initiative by Haitian people themselves, such as in Canaan, an informal settlement created to house
the displaced after the earthquake.

            Following Trump’s election,
proponents for ending TPS suggest that Haiti has recovered enough to support
the return of these undocumented.

            It seems that yet again when
officials speak of Haiti, they mean Port-au-Prince, where recovery efforts have
been targeted. But Port-au-Prince is not Haiti. And Haitian TPS holders have
origins all over the country, including the Grand’Anse that is still reeling from Hurricane
Matthew. But people living outside of the capital are moun andeyò, “outsiders.” As the lackluster international response suggested,
these people who live far from the NGO offices and high-end hotels don’t count.
Their lives don’t matter.

            Like many community leaders here
legally, people like Michaëlle who don’t have legal status define both as
“home.” Professors Shannon Gleeson and Kate Griffith at Cornell University led a study of TPS holders
in NYC. This research documents that Haitian TPS holders tend to have
significant ties to this country, not the least having had children and raising
them here.

            Of the 30 respondents in the Cornell
study so far, most report being in the U.S. for decades, particularly beginning
in the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Being Haitian in the 1980s was to
endure ridicule and stigma, as Haiti was incorrectly blamed for AIDS. U.S. actions like
the destruction of local pigs, rural bank accounts,
as well as free-trade policies it imposed destroyed Haiti’s economy, triggering this migration in the first place.
These actions benefitted large U.S. agribusiness and other corporations.

            The people in the Cornell study tend
to have children here, and some report having left children back in Haiti. Many
people report having worked in the undocumented labor force, but after
receiving TPS they could apply for better paying jobs, albeit still below
minimum wage. But these jobs require that their TPS be current, which costs
$400 every eighteen months.

            Ending TPS would cause a deep wound
in the Haitian community, ripping apart families, and punishing people who
endure sub-minimum wage jobs because they believed the government would be fair.

            Especially because of the causes of
the migration – not to mention exploitative working conditions –benefit U.S.
companies in the first place, justice demands that the U.S. own its
accountability to these temporary status holders.

            But TPS also affirms humanity and
human decency. Michaëlle reported “I feel grateful because I am in this
country. I have the ability to go to school and to work.”

            Michaëlle, like other TPS
from Haiti, Honduras, and El Salvador, contribute to this
country through their labor and the pursuit of their dreams.

            The least we can do is act, before
the final ruling on TPS is handed down. There is a petition calling for Secretary Kelly to renew

The original version of this article was published in
the Huffington Post. Darlene Dubuisson is
a PhD Candidate in the joint Applied Anthropology program at Columbia
University. Her research interests include black intellectualism, academic
culture, diaspora, and transnationalism. Mark
is Associate Professor at Northern Illinois University and
affiliate at the State University of Haiti. Schuller has 30 scholarly
publications on NGOs, globalization, disasters, and gender in Haiti, and wrote
or co-edited seven books.