This Haiti Earthquake Anniversary, Black Immigrants are Under Threat

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by Luce Janvier

In so many ways, our lives as immigrants in the United States are the same as anyone who works hard to take care of their families. My story is an example of this.

I first visited the U.S. in 2004, amidst the coup d’etat against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I didn’t know at the time that I would have to stay here. But by the time Aristide was ousted from power, I was forced to seek refuge in this country because I feared for my life. As someone who belonged to a community group that supported his political party (Lavalas), I became a target.

When I started to build a life here, it was very difficult. Within a year, Hurricane Wilma damaged the house where I was staying, and I lost my papers in the storm. During that time, I started going to a Catholic church, where I found a school whose staff told me where to go for help. The school helped me get a bus card so that I could get back and forth and they also helped me find a lawyer who informed me that I was here too long to file for asylum.

In order to feed myself and support my family in Haiti, I had to work in the bean fields for two years. It was very difficult work, at times my lips would crack and bleed from the products they used.

Eventually, a lawyer helped me file for a work permit that enabled me to find a job as a housekeeper and rent a room to live in. But I still didn’t have enough to eat. I would go to church and school on an empty stomach. The minimum wage I made was just enough to pay for transportation and to send money for my three kids in Haiti.

Then the earthquake struck. It destroyed the home in Delmas (in the greater Port-au-Prince area) where my kids lived. So for several months they had to live in a tent. My son’s foot was injured, almost broken in the earthquake. My family didn’t receive any of the aid that was sent to support survivors. And because I didn’t have all my papers, I couldn’t be there with them. All I could do was send money.

Things began to turn for the better once I found out about TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Through my church, I got connected with Catholic Charities, which helped me file for TPS. For the first time in 12 years, I would be able to travel and see my children.

And then I applied for permanent residence. Though I built my life here and paid taxes, there were some basic services I still didn’t have full access to. For example, I couldn’t afford health insurance so I couldn’t go to the doctor. I haven’t been able to afford a decent apartment, so I still have to rent a room.

I’m sharing my story for one simple reason: to let you know that immigrants like me want what every person wants and deserves. We want to live and work to provide for our families. And for those of us who have made our lives here, we want a path to permanent residence and a path to citizenship. We want to live with dignity, not just to survive.

As we work towards that permanent solution, we’re asking you to stand in solidarity with us now.

Thousands of residents are fearful that they may lose their jobs because they haven’t been able to renew their work permits. The Department of Homeland Security neglected to provide Haitian TPS holders with updated information on the work authorization renewal period. We need the Department of Homeland Security to update the Federal Register, with the start date the 60-day re-registration period beginning on the day the Federal Register is updated.

We also need Congress to enact legislation that provides a humane, holistic solution for Haitians and other TPS holders. We need legislation that formalize what TPS holders already are—permanent residents of the United States.

Luce Janvier is a Haitian North Miami resident, a member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (www.BAJI.org) and recipient of Temporary Protected Status. This essay was written as part of a national initiative of the Black Immigration Network (www.blackimmigration.net).