Two days before Thanksgiving, hundreds of UNITE HERE members in Florida converged on President Trump’s luxury resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida to protest his administration’s decision to terminate the temporary protected status (TPS) of Haitian immigrants, who fled Haiti after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.
Thousands of Haitian immigrants living and working in the US under the TPS program work in the hospitality industry in Florida and the Northeast and are UNITE HERE members.
“DHS and the Trump administration decided to take away the livelihoods of 50,000 Haitians working legally in the US and turn them into targets of deportation,” said Maria Elena Durazo, general vice president of UNITE HERE explaining why the union was protesting.
The Department of Homeland Security on November 20 announced that it was revoking the temporary protected status of Haitians and that they would have to leave the US by July 2019 or face deportation.
“These TPS holders have lived and worked in this country for nearly a decade and have American-born children and deep roots in their communities,” Durazo said. “The Trump administration and DHS are criminalizing 50,000 legal workers and ripping tens of thousands of dedicated, committed workers from the hospitality industry.”
Durazo added that despite DHS’ decision, UNITE HERE will continue to fight for a solution that allows immigrants covered by TPS to remain in the US and provides them a path toward citizenship.
Congress in 1990 created the TPS program to allow immigrants fleeing from war, political repression, or natural disasters to live and work in the US without fear of deportation.
The law allows DHS to designate “a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”
DHS regularly reviews the protected status of each country to determine whether to extend it.
Until recently, TPS was routinely extended without much fanfare, but that began to change in September when DHS terminated TPS for immigrants from Sudan.
Six weeks later DHS terminated TPS for people from Nicaragua.
The agency also left people from Honduras in limbo when it temporarily extended their TPS for another six months but added that “it is possible that the TPS designation for Honduras will be terminated at the end of the six-month automatic extension with an appropriate delay.”
DHS will be reviewing the TPS designation for people from El Salvador and Syria in March.
UNITE HERE members for the past several months have been talking directly to members of Congress urging them to find a way to support a solution that would allow TPS recipients to live their lives without the fear of deportation.
That action has paid off. Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware and Rep. Darren Soto of Florida have introduced companion bills called the ASPIRE Act, which would allow people covered by TPS on January 1, 2017 to apply for permanent residency.
People granted permanent residency after a five-year waiting period can apply for US citizenship.
At the demonstration in Florida, Belinda Osorio a union housekeeper who came from Honduras 1991, told the Miami Herald how DHS’ decision has affected her and her family.
“We are very scared. We don’t know what will happen. I will have to leave in the middle of the night so I won’t get arrested,” said Osorio to the Herald. “After working so many years, and working so hard, they want to tear us apart. We aren’t living off the government. We pay taxes. What we have, we worked for.”
Osorio is married to a US citizen and has two young children born in the US.
Her union has vowed to fight the threat to her and her family.
“We will not allow (President Trump) to quietly destroy 50,000 other families,” said Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 355 in Miami. “UNITE HERE has and always will stand shoulder to shoulder with our immigrant workers.”