Trump turns his back on Haitian quake refugees

November 29, 2017

The end of a program protecting refugees from the 2010 earthquake is only the latest betrayal of the Haitian people by the U.S. government, writes Ashley Smith.

DONALD TRUMP has opened a new front in his war on immigrants and refugees.

Beyond the intensified raids against the undocumented, repeated attempts to ban Muslims from entering the country and promises to deliver his apartheid wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Trump administration has announced the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 59,000 Haitians--with a deadline of July 2019 for them to leave the U.S.

The Haitians were given TPS because they were stranded in the U.S. after a devastating earthquake in 2010 leveled much of Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.

Now, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke claims that the "extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist." With the same rationale, the U.S. is pressuring the United Nations to withdraw the bulk of military forces that have occupied Haiti since 2004--without rectifying the further problems the occupiers have caused in Haiti, much less their failure to contribute to ordinary Haitians' well-being.

Victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake continue to live in makeshift camps
Victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake continue to live in makeshift camps (Notfallpädagogik Haiti | Wikimedia Commons)

More than seven years after the earthquake, Haiti remains a devastated country--one that is in some ways worse off because of the neoliberal policies inflicted by the U.S. and other Western powers. The Trump administration has no justification to claim otherwise in order to cynically end legal status for Haitian refugees.

THE HAITIAN government estimates that 300,000 people lost their lives in the 2010 earthquake. Another 300,000 were injured and 1.5 million people were displaced from their wrecked homes.

The Obama administration granted TPS to Haitians who were legally in the U.S. at the time of the disaster, allowing them to stay legally until conditions improved enough for them to return to their country.

The U.S. government established TPS in 1990 to cover visitors to the U.S. with legal status who were trapped because of ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster or other extraordinary, temporary conditions in their native land.

More than 300,000 people from 10 countries are currently covered under the Department of Homeland Security's TPS program. Their status is precarious to say the least. Homeland Security can revoke TPS at will, so recipients are subject to forced departure at the discretion of a federal bureaucracy notoriously unfriendly to immigrants and refugees.

Unsurprisingly, given his xenophobic "America First" worldview, Trump has declared war on TPS--his administration has revoked the status for Nicaraguans and Haitians and is threatening to do so for Hondurans, Salvadorans and Sudanese.

While living in fear that their TPS status would end, the Haitian refugees managed to carve out a life for themselves in Miami, New York City and Boston, among other cities. Over 80 percent of them have found employment, working in all sorts of jobs--with hundreds working at Disney World.

They pay taxes just like all other people in the U.S. About 20 percent have bought houses with mortgages. They have raised children they brought with them and, while in the U.S., have had 27,000 children who are full citizens.

Trump's decision to end TPS will throw all of these people's lives into crisis.

AND THERE is certainly no reason to believe that the crisis caused by the 2010 earthquake is over.

Masses of people still struggle in abject poverty amid the rubble left by the earthquake. The UN and so-called international community betrayed promises made by Obama and Bill Clinton that Haiti would be reconstructed, with housing for those left homeless and new jobs.

Today, seven years after the disaster, the UN reports that 2.5 million Haitians are still in need of humanitarian aid. UN Humanitarian Coordinator Mourad Wahba admits that "there are still about 55,000 people in camps and makeshift camps. Many are still living in unsanitary conditions due to displacement caused by the earthquake."

Well-known international NGOs like Red Cross collected billions from people the world over to help quake victims in Haiti. But they did next to nothing. Notoriously, the Red Cross had only built a total of six permanent homes as of 2015 with the $500 million it received, spending the bulk of that money on internal expenses, including lavish salaries for its bureaucrats.

The country remains the poorest in the Western hemisphere. Nearly 60 percent of its population lives below the poverty line of $2.41 per day, according to the World Bank--and nearly 25 percent of them in extreme poverty.

Two-fifths of population eke out a living based on subsistence and small-crop farming, while the urban poor put together livelihoods in the informal economy.

Workers struggle in various low-wage industries like the sweatshop textile industry, which accounts for 90 percent of the country's exports. Those jobs remain precarious. In fact, the predatory textile magnates are threatening to pull out of the country in response to workers organizing for improved wages, benefits and working conditions.

These horrific conditions were made worse by devastating hurricanes that ravaged Haiti since the earthquake.

Hurricane Sandy laid waste to whole sections of the country in 2012. The damage from Matthew in 2016 was even worse--it caused $2.8 billion in damage, killed 1,000 people and left 300,000 people in emergency shelters. The country's south has yet to recover from the storm.

THE TRUMP administration's false claims that conditions for the Haitian masses have improved should come as no surprise. The U.S. and other imperial powers have never cared about Haitians' lives any more than was necessary to exploit them as cheap labor.

They have for the most part viewed them as a threat ever since African slaves, led by Toussaint Louverture, overthrew their French masters in the Haitian Revolution and declared their independence in 1804. Ever since, the imperialist powers have backed various regimes in Haiti that suppressed the masses' fight for liberation, equality and a just social order.

For the last 30 years, the U.S., in cahoots with France and Canada, attempted to roll back the aspirations of the Haitian masses who rose up against the dictatorship of Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier in 1986.

The U.S. hoped to replace the dictator with a compliant neoliberal technocrat in the subsequent elections. But the Haitian people instead voted for firebrand liberation theologian and social reformer Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president with a whopping 67 percent of the votes.

The administration of George Bush Sr. undermined Aristide's rule and turned a blind eye to a Duvalierist coup that drove him from power in 1991 after only eight months in office. The Clinton administration only reluctantly restored Aristide to power in 1994 on the condition that he agree to impose the very neoliberal policies his supporters rejected in electing him.

Tragically, Aristide accepted this deal with the devil. He balked at the worst measures, but did impose many others, undermining his popular support.

But the U.S., France and Canada never trusted him and stood by once again while former military officers led yet another coup in 2004. The U.S. took advantage of this crisis to kidnap Aristide and whisk him out of the country for eventual exile in South Africa.

The imperial powers then subcontracted repression of the population to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Its stated aim was to bring peace and security to the country and oversee free and fair elections.

In practice, the UN occupation and its thousands of international troops did nothing of the sort. They policed and repressed Aristide's popular base, especially in the impoverished slums like Cite Soleil in Port-au-Prince.

Like all occupying armies, UN troops engaged in all sorts of ugly and brutal practices. Various investigative reports have revealed that UN troops exploited Haitians as prostitutes, repeatedly assaulted innocent people, raped numerous women and fathered untold numbers of children who will no doubt be abandoned with the end of the occupation.

Perhaps the UN's worst legacy was introducing cholera into the country in 2010. Before then, there had never been a recorded case of the disease in Haiti. But after Nepalese troops carrying the disease dumped raw sewage into the Artibonite River, it spread like wildfire in the country's dilapidated water system. It has killed 9,000 and sickened 800,000, about 10 percent of the country's population.

After a long campaign to expose the UN's responsibility, it finally did admit its guilt and set up a voluntary trust fund for Haiti's fight against cholera. Unsurprisingly, though, the New York Times recently reported that the fund had received only a few million dollars and is now nearly out of cash.

While the UN wreaked havoc in the lives of the poor, it was completely successful in rebuilding the Haitian Police Force (PNH) of 15,000 to repress the population. With that force in place, the imperialist powers and the UN were able to secure the election of Jovenel Moïse, a member of the venal elite, as president.

Moïse is a corrupt banana exporter under investigation by Haiti's Central Unit of Financial Intelligence for laundering $5 million. Haitians were so disinterested in the election that only 21 percent of them turned out to vote. Nevertheless, the U.S., French and Canadian governments now have their man in Port-au-Prince.

BY ANY rational measure, the claim that social, economic and political conditions have improved enough to end TPS is not only absurd and false, but also sadistic.

The announcement that TPS would be revoked has struck terror into the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians. They will have to decide in the next 18 months whether to return to Haiti, flee to Canada or become undocumented workers subject to raids and deportations at the hands of ICE.

For the parents of children who were born in the U.S. as American citizens, they face a terrible choice: Do they leave their children behind or bring them along to an uncertain future in Canada or Haiti?

Not only will Trump's decision wreck the lives of the 59,000 Haitians in the U.S. who were granted TPS, it will impact the whole of Haiti.

The end of TPS will shut off the remittances sent by Haitians to sustain their relatives back home. The Haitian diaspora supplements Haiti's economy with $2.36 billion annually, which according to the World Bank is more than a quarter of the country's national income.

As for the Haitians in the U.S. who lose TPS, the options are not good. Fleeing to Canada is, in fact, very dangerous--but many are already attempting that route out of desperation.

And no one should be under any illusions that Justin Trudeau's country is any safe haven for Haitian refugees. Remember, the Canadian state was an accomplice to the U.S. in the coup against Aristide. In 2016, it terminated its own version of TPS, called Temporary Suspension of Removals, based on the same preposterous judgment that conditions are better in Haiti.

Moreover, the Canadian state has maintained a Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. since 2004. It assumes that the U.S. has fair procedures for refugee claims for asylum, an assumption that has never been true at any point in U.S. history and is obviously not under the Trump administration.

As a result, Haitians who attempt to pass through legal checkpoints and apply for asylum in Canada will be rejected and legally barred from any further applications, even if they pass across the border illegally.

Haitians will be left with no choice but to cross into Canada and Quebec illegally. Already this year, 17,000 refugees from Trump's America have done so--5,500 in August and another 5,390 in September alone.

Last winter, Haitians and others fleeing the U.S. war on refugees and immigrants risked life and limb in the effort. As Naomi Klein reported in the Intercept, "Last year, during the coldest months there were wrenching reports of frostbitten toes and fingers having to be amputated on arrival in Canada."

The average rate of approval for asylum applications in Canada is about 50 percent, but that is likely to go down as the authorities crack down on those seeking asylum. Remi Lariviere, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, recently declared: "There are rigorous immigration and customs rules to be followed--and make no mistake--we enforce them to safeguard our communities against security risks."

Even worse, the Trudeau administration will be sending a delegation of ministers from his ruling Liberal Party, including Emmanuel Dubourg, who is Haitian, to dissuade Haitians from making the border crossing.

Those who have made it into Canada and Quebec have been welcomed by some. But they have also become the object of an increasing racist backlash against immigrants and refugees. The far right has specifically targeted Haitians in Montreal and Toronto among other cities.

BUT HAITIANS and their supporters are not taking the Trump administration's assault sitting down. They have staged protests in Haiti, the U.S. and the Canadian state.

Some sections of the establishment have voice their displeasure. A handful of Democrats and even a few Republicans like Marco Rubio denounced Trump's decision and called for him to reverse it. Some businesses, like the Walt Disney Company, which exploits hundreds of Haitian workers on TPS at Disney World, have also voiced opposition.

But the most important resistance has come from below by Haitians, their organizations and their unions. In the most inspiring action yet, 300 Haitians and other workers organized in UNITE HERE, SEIU Florida, Florida Immigration Coalition and the New Florida Majority staged a march on Trump's resort Mar-a-Lago.

UNITE HERE spokesperson Rachel Gumpert voiced the spirit of the protest, declaring: "It's inhumane given the conditions where we're sending these people back to. You've paid your taxes, started a business or maybe a family in this country and then a racist administration gets here and wants to get rid of you."

Hundreds of Haitians marched in New York City to call for Trump to reverse his decision. They also called on Congress to pass a bill that would grant Haitians with TPS a path to citizenship.

In both the U.S. and Canada, supporters have set up support networks to help Haitians and others fleeing persecution in Trump's America to find safe passage across the border. In Montreal and Toronto, activists have worked with Haitians to protest the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees, and to defend their rights and access to services and employment. There have also been demonstrations against the far right's attack on immigrants and refugees.

It will take further struggle to pressure the Trump administration and Congress in the U.S. to reverse the cruel decision to revoke TPS and pass the proposed bill to grant legal residency to Haitians--and in the Canadian state, to put an end to the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. and win all the rights and services they need for those fleeing oppression in the U.S.

We should also demand that the imperial powers and the UN finally deliver the promised aid for the reconstruction of Haiti after the earthquake, hurricanes and cholera epidemic. More than that, the U.S., Canada and France all should pay reparations for the oppression and impoverishment of the Haitian masses over the last two centuries.

We must stand in solidarity not with the predatory rulers of Haiti, but the country's workers and poor, and their struggle for improved wages, living conditions and democratic rights. Only then can the original dream of emancipation born of the Haitian Revolution be realized.

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