by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
In November, the Trump administration rescinded the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that gave protections against deportation for some 60,000 Haitians who came to the US after a massive earthquake hit their country. Today is the eighth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.
“The situation is very scary for our people because they don’t know what really is going to happen,” says Ilexene Alphonse, interim pastor of Eglise des Freres Haitiens in Miami, Fla., a Church of the Brethren congregation. “Is it time for them to get out of the country? They are in limbo. It is heartbreaking.”
Last year Alphonse transitioned to leadership of the Miami congregation, one of the largest Haitian Brethren churches, after serving as Church of the Brethren staff in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The rescission of TPS status for Haiti goes into effect in July 2019. According to media reports, the administration also has announced rescission of TPS status for El Salvador and Nicaragua, with varying cut-off dates. TPS status for El Salvador will end in September 2019, affecting an estimated 200,000 people. TPS for Nicaragua is set to expire in January 2019, affecting more than 5,000. A decision on ending TPS for Honduras has been delayed and it currently is extended through July this year, affecting an estimated 86,000.
Some 15 families have TPS status in Alphonse’s congregation of 198 families--representing about a twelfth of the congregation--but he has a feeling there are more he does not know about. “Some of them don’t really want to talk about it,” he says.
“We are fortunate,” he adds. “Smaller churches will be having more problems.” He thinks smaller Haitian American churches will have higher percentages of TPS holders.
Two families from his church already have left for Canada, since the TPS rescission was announced, but none have returned to Haiti. None are planning to return to Haiti, at least for now. They are waiting instead to see what happens. The time of waiting is full of fear, he says. These families are afraid of what the US government might do as the deadline approaches, and afraid of the chaos that will ensue.
Top on their list of reasons not to return to Haiti is that “many of them don’t have a place to go,” Alphonse says. Many with TPS status no longer have immediate family in Haiti, or they do not know anyone who could put them up or offer housing or jobs on their return. He gives the example of a man with a wife and several children as someone who cannot simply announce, “We’re coming to stay.”
Another top reason for not returning to Haiti are their American-born children. Haitian parents may face deportation, but their American children do not. All of the 15 families with TPS status in the Miami congregation have children born in the US.
These parents “don’t know what to do,” Alphonse says. “The mother and father will have to leave. Whether they will take the children with them to Haiti or keep them here in school.... For many of them, there is nothing in Haiti. To take children with them, that is a concern.”
The church’s role is to stand by these families, Alphonse says, “to see what we can do to keep families together.” He is meeting with an immigration lawyer, seeking advice about what the church can do, if anything. At this time, he says, “we don’t know what that might be.”
Alphonse’s church is involved in planning a march for immigrants in the Miami area, to take place later this spring, and will be inviting other congregations and the community to join in.
“We need prayer,” he responds, when asked what he would like to tell the wider church. In light of President Trump’s comments yesterday about Haiti and African nations, among others, he concludes that “we can’t rely on the government for anything.” Their dependence is solely upon God, and the grace received through Christ.
-- Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.