Trump’s Haiti TPS Decision is Disastrous – and Can Be Defeated

UUSC calls for the immediate reinstatement of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti and a permanent legislative solution, in the wake of the Trump administration’s callous decision last night to withdraw TPS from 59,000 Haitians in the United States. This decision is morally indefensible and blatantly at odds with current realities in Haiti. Congress has the power to extend protections for TPS holders by passing the SECURE Act and should act without delay.

Haitian TPS holders have spent years in the United States, building lives and enriching our communities. They are also the parents of an estimated 27,000 U.S. citizens. Just days before the start of the holiday season, the administration has thrown these families’ unity, futures, and lives into jeopardy. The U.S. State Department issued a warning in September to U.S. citizens about the dangers of traveling to Haiti that remains in effect as of this writing. Yet the administration proposes to deport the parents of 27,000 U.S. citizens to these very dangers.

Haiti is in no position to receive people who have been living in the U.S. for years. The country continues to grapple with the compounding effects of recent hurricanes, a cholera epidemic introduced by U.N. peacekeeping forces, a recent outbreak of diphtheria, a devastating 2010 earthquake, and ongoing political instability and economic dislocation wrought by decades of U.S. intervention. A program of mass deportation and the end of remittances from TPS holders, which provide a critical economic lifeline for the country, would be a further catastrophe.

UUSC and our Haitian partners are directly aware of the gravity of the injustices facing Haiti and the ongoing need for TPS. As Associate Director for Program and Partner Support Michael Kourabas wrote upon his return from a recent visit to our partners the Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP), with whom UUSC has collaborated on an innovative model for sustainable recovery called the EcoVillage project, “The structural disadvantages facing Haiti, particularly when experienced first-hand, can feel paralyzing… Both the enormity of the struggle and the sliver of hope are on display in the EcoVillages.”

Heartless as the administration’s move may be, it is not surprising. Last night’s decision is the latest in a string of similar blows to programs that uphold the rights and safety of immigrants. In the past few months alone, the administration has terminated Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Central American Minors (CAM) program, and TPS protections for both Nicaraguan and Sudanese nationals.

While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claimed yesterday that its decision was based solely on a review of conditions in Haiti, its actions reveal it as part of a larger agenda of criminalizing immigrant communities.

When DHS made an earlier determination about TPS last spring, senior officials reportedly instructed staffers to dig up stories of Haitian TPS holders committing crimes. Previous DHS Secretary John Kelly allegedly pressured Acting Secretary Elaine Duke to end TPS for Hondurans as well, earlier this month, as part of a broader push against the program.

This xenophobic agenda can be resisted and defeated. Last week, Members of Congress introduced the SECURE Act, which would enable TPS holders to become green-card holders after three years. UUSC’s partners at the UndocuBlack Network, along with allies from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Mormon Women for Ethical Governance, CASA and other organizations, joined with Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen to introduce the Bill. Congress can and should pass this legislation immediately and protect 55,000 Haitian immigrants who are beloved members of our communities.

Once again this week, the administration used the enormity of its power to harm some of the most vulnerable communities in the United States; yet, the strength and leadership of our partners gives us hope that there is still time to sway the future. As the poet Langston Hughes once wrote: “I have such meager power/ Clutching at a moment, while you control an hour./ But your hour is a stone./ My moment is a flower.”

Haiti: The Enormity of the Struggle and the Sliver of Hope

Read my pre-trip post, Haiti On My Mind.

It is hard to visit Haiti and not feel a deep sense of shame, anger, and pain, and I’ve choked up a few times since returning home. Spending any time in Haiti’s Central Plateau, as I just have, is a gut-punch reminder of the privilege of being born with white skin; the privilege of being born in the Global North; and the privilege afforded by an uncompromising power structure that benefits the few at the great expense of the many.

The structural disadvantages facing Haiti, particularly when experienced first-hand, can feel paralyzing. As Paul Farmer of Partners In Health wondered on the eve of the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide, it’s hard to imagine “what even a government of saints and scholars could do in the face of such odds.” And yet, across the country, communities continue to find creative ways to survive and grassroots movements like UUSC’s partner, Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP) continue to support them and help give them hope.

Both the enormity of the struggle and the sliver of hope are on display in the EcoVillages and the EcoVillage School. On my trip, I found that Village 1, the first village supported by UUSC after the earthquake, is thriving. It has a functioning solar-powered well for drinking water, two cisterns to catch rain and irrigate the village’s gardens, and a pleasant stream nearby. The gardens produce moringa, manioc (cassava), peanuts, mangoes, and papaya. Goats, which the village owns, live in an enclosure on a hill. On the day we visited, bags of recently harvested peanuts and corn leaned against the community center’s walls, waiting to be taken to market. There are two community motorcycles for transport, an ox to help plow the larger fields, and a few houses even have electricity.

Kids play under a tree in Village 1. School was closed in observance of a national holiday.

Village 5, on the other hand, continues to struggle. As with Village 2, the well has not been able to produce any water for over a year and hopes that the rainy season might sufficiently raise the water table were recently dashed. The drought may be over, but water is still absent here. Villagers who want drinking water must walk 30 minutes to Village 6, where a UUSC grant recently repaired another broken well, and then carry it back home. Every village but Village 1 also lacks electricity, the absence of which prevents anyone from doing much of anything after the vast darkness blankets the area each night.

A girl carries water back from Village 6 to Village 5.

In spite of this, there are rays of light. A recent microloan project sponsored jointly by UUSC and our partners to support income-generating projects in the villages has begun to pay small dividends. With a loan from MPP, Village 5 planted a large field of manioc and peanuts, both of which can grow in harsh conditions. Despite failing to plant the manioc properly, the village succeeded in planting a large field of peanuts, which were nearly ready to harvest at the time of our visit.

The proceeds from the sale of these crops will not, in and of themselves, bring water or electricity to Village 5, but a portion will support the EcoVillage School. Hopefully, the village can use the remaining funds to strengthen their food sovereignty and incrementally improve their lives. In other words, some hope.

Students repeatedly told us of their passion for math. A few hoped to be engineers someday.

More hopeful still is the progress made by the EcoVillage School. Two years ago, the project was at a standstill: years behind schedule, students crowding into shared classrooms, nowhere for the students to eat lunch, and gardens suffering from the epic drought. When we visited last week, the student body had grown to 172 children. Four more classrooms had been built, allowing every grade from kindergarten through sixth to have individual space to learn. The school even has a separate kitchen, cafeteria, and food storage area now. Students repeatedly told us of their passion for math. A few hoped to be engineers someday.

Recently harvested peanuts dry in Village 4’s community center.

The vast gardens behind the school, once plagued by a protracted lack of rain, are now robust, growing moringa, pigeon beans, peanuts, and manioc. The school’s well delivers clean drinking water and virtually every student comes to school proudly wearing a bright green uniform. When we visited, Andraal, a parent living in Village 1, worked in the shade painting a new sign that would stand in front of the school, announcing the Institution Mixte Communautaire des EcoVillages de Colladere.

Of course, this being Haiti, there are still mountains left to climb. To qualify as a “government school,” thereby shifting hefty operating costs from MPP to the government, three more classrooms still need to be constructed. At least two more bathrooms must be built to accommodate the expanding student population. The school lacks a perimeter fence, which means that any equipment of value is at risk of theft. There is no system for irrigating the fields that support the school’s limited food program, and each of the food relief organizations to whom MPP has reached out for help has reported that they are too focused on hurricane relief in other parts of the country to worry about school lunches in the Central Plateau.

However, while the future of the school is still somewhat uncertain, it is surely a beacon. The community and its partners are committed to its future, and to the parents, children, and others in the Central Plateau, it represents hope. As the Haitian proverb goes, Lespwa se viv— “Hope makes one live.”

Thank you for virtually going on this journey with UUSC.

Kindergarteners welcome UUSC and the Atlanta Church Group to the EcoVillage School. 

Haiti On My Mind

I’ve started the packing list for my trip to Haiti next week to visit with our long-time partner, Mouvman Peyizan Papay (Peasant Movement of Papaye) (MPP), Haiti’s largest peasant movement. We’ll be returning to the EcoVillages and EcoVillage school, first-of-their-kind projects to which UUSC, MPP, and many others have devoted significant time, energy, and resources over the last seven years.

A bit of background. After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince in 2010, MPP used its headquarters in Haiti’s rural Central Plateau to shelter nearly 1,000 people who had been displaced from the capital. Despite their limited knowledge of agriculture, many people did not want to return to the city. So, with a significant amount of available land, an expertise in agro-ecology, and a long-term focus on peoples’ rights to healthy, culturally appropriate food, MPP asked UUSC to help create sustainable rural livelihoods for those who wanted to stay.

And so, the EcoVillage project was born!

EcoVillage #4 in June 2016.

What started as one village eventually grew to six, each with ten households practicing sustainable agriculture. As construction drew to a close, UUSC and a group of Presbyterian churches (the “Atlanta Church Group”), raised money to build a school to serve the many children now living throughout the EcoVillages.

When I traveled to Haiti in June 2016 the then two-year-old school served children from kindergarten through the fourth grade. Because of construction delays and limited space, two grades were sharing a classroom and another was using a storage room for classes. Since that trip, MPP has finished construction on two classrooms, and the school can now accommodate children through the fifth grade without sharing space.

The EcoVillage school in June 2016.

MPP has assured me that I will have ample time to visit with the students and their teachers on this trip. Frankly, I’m just excited to see how this school has continued to evolve—how the kids are learning both basic subjects and sustainable farming techniques. I’m also eager to see the uniforms that the Atlanta Church Group donated and the newly completed cafeteria that makes sure children don’t have to eat their lunch on the ground.

I’ll also be meeting with MPP staff, school administrators, and village leaders to discuss the projects’ sustainability and what more UUSC can do to ensure that the EcoVillages and the school are able to thrive.

It’s important to point out that, in the seven years since we first partnered with MPP, the EcoVillages and the school have faced serious challenges—drought, theft, inflation, growing operating expenses, broken water pumps, an absent national government. There’s no question that much of this work has been difficult and has required faith, patience, and innovation by our partners, their communities, and UUSC. But unlike so many international aid organizations that arrived after the 2010 earthquake, UUSC is committed to the long-term viability of these projects. The EcoVillages and school are models for future development, not reminders of how the Global North has failed Haiti.

Stay tuned!

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

Haiti: Stateless People Trapped in Poverty, Human Rights Watch, November 29, 2016

“Not only have many been deprived of their right to nationality, they are not getting the assistance they so desperately need. Neither the Haitian nor the Dominican government is helping some of the most vulnerable undocumented people.” 

In the last year and a half, after a 2013 court ruling, roughly 150,000 Haitian-Dominicans have migrated to Haiti after living in the Dominican Republic their whole lives. The Dominican Republic took away the nationality of countless Haitians of Dominican decent, forcing these individuals and families into statelessness and into poverty. Some of the poorest are living in a Haitian Town Anse-à-Pitres, struggling to find food, basic medical care, proper shelter.

Many pregnant women and girls were interviewed in Anse-à-Pitres and found to lack access to basic medical care. Anse-à-Pitres only has two full-time doctors, but because of the lack of equipment and staff, they are not able to perform surgeries.

This article also highlights some of these interviews and makes some recommendations to alleviate the situation:

  • For Haiti to establish a helpline for assistance with their nationality
  • For Haiti and the Dominican Republic to work together
  • For the Dominican Republic to restore nationality to those affected, especially children born in January 2010
  • For the Dominican Republic end arbitrary deportation

UUSC also has a partner in Anse-à-Pitres to work with those affected by Hurricane Matthew and to work with the stateless population. Click here to read more about the work.

Myanmar’s Leader Faulted for Silence as Army Campaigns Against Rohingya,  Jane Perlez, NY Times, December 1, 2016

Satellite images of two villages in the Rakhine State, an area where the Rohingya Muslim minority live in Myanmar, show villages to be burned and destroyed. The Rohingya have faced continued brutal persecution and torture by the military and are not recognized as citizens despite having lived there for generations. Human rights organizations have confirmed incidences of brutal rape, murder, and torture, and thousands are trying to flee to Bangladesh but are being turned away. Foreign journalists have also been restricted into these areas and aid workers who were forced to leave are denied travel permits to reenter.

Noble Peace Prize winner and leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent on these human rights abuses, with some human rights organizations even suspecting her of supporting this military campaign against the Rohingya. Not only has Aung San Suu Kyi remained silent, she has not visited the Rakhine State or the border with Bangladesh and she claims she is “taking seriously allegations of human rights violations in this country.” Aung San Suu Kyi has also recently asked the international community to withhold judgment stating that we are further fueling tension.

Obama urged to dismantle NSEERS visa tracking program, Nadeem Muaddi, CNN, November 23, 2016

“As organizations that represent diverse communities and that are committed to civil and immigrant rights, we firmly believe that removal of the NSEERS framework is a necessary imperative. We ask the administration to immediately take steps to remove the regulatory structure of NSEERS and stop any future use of the program.”

Close to 200 organizations, including UUSC, have signed a letter asking the Obama administration to abolish the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System, (NSEERS). The NSEERS program was first implemented by George W. Bush after 9/11 and “used to register and track mostly Arabs and Muslims.” The program was for males over the age of 16 from Arab countries or countries where there was a large Muslim population. The NSEERS program is technically inactive but could be reinstituted if not abolished altogether. In the ten years that it was implemented, there was not a single terrorist conviction. However, because Trump has mentioned registering and tracking Muslims or banning them altogether throughout his campaign, human rights advocates are calling on Obama to officially end NSEERS before he leaves office.

Support Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew

Updated October 13, 2016: For an update on UUSC’s advocacy work to support Haitian immigration to the United States  and how you can take action in your congregation to support efforts during this recovery period, please click here.

Hurricane Matthew slammed into the southwest coast of Haiti yesterday, packing 145-mph winds and destroying houses and other buildings, crops, roads, bridges. Getting accurate information on conditions in Haiti is a challenge. But here’s what we know for sure—this struggling country has suffered another devastating blow, and its people need our help.

Immediately.

The United Nations has already called Matthew “the largest humanitarian event” in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake and warns that more than 4 million children are threatened by cholera and other waterborne diseases.

The tens of thousands of Haitians whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake and are still living in tents were especially vulnerable when the monster storm roared across the country—and they remain most vulnerable in the aftermath.

UUSC is working with our local partners to conduct an assessment of the greatest threats survivors face and put together an emergency crisis response. Meanwhile, we’re also working to strengthen our emergency response capacity—a capacity that can be a matter of life and death for the most marginalized and the most vulnerable. 

We’ll focus especially on the “stateless” refugees deported from the Dominican Republic and stranded along that country’s border with Haiti, vulnerable families living in shelters, and other groups most likely to fall through the cracks of traditional rescue and relief efforts.

They’re counting on UUSC. And we’re counting on you.

Please send whatever you can, as soon as you can. The faster we act, the more lives we will save.

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War

Ken Burns presents the story of UUSC’s founders

In September 2016, PBS aired Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, a new documentary directed by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky that tells the story of Martha and Waitstill Sharp, two of UUSC’s founders.

The film explores the lives and work of the Sharps, a young Unitarian minister and his wife, as they undertook vital missions in Nazi-occupied Europe to rescue Jews, dissidents, and refugee children at great personal sacrifice. As the film’s website describes:

“Drawing from the couple’s journals & letters, with Tom Hanks providing the voice of Waitstill Sharp, along with compelling commentary from people they saved as well as holocaust scholars, the film is a suspenseful and intimate look into the lives of a husband & wife willing to risk their lives to save others.”

UUSC urges you to use this film as a unique opportunity to deepen your commitment to social justice and the values that Sharps embodied. Resources for discussion, dialogue, and outreach are available below.

Seize this moment to explore a rich history of advancing human rights and carry on the Sharps’ legacy of courage and compassion. To learn more about the upcoming film and companion book, visit the Defying the Nazis website. For more information on congregational resources or to sign your group or congregation up to host an event this fall, visit uua.org/sharpstory.

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