Union to Trump: We’ll fight to protect immigrant workers

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.”

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Unions support Haitian immigrants; demand long-term protected status

Bowing to public pressure, the Trump administration extended the temporary protected status (TPS) of 58,000 Haitian workers living in the US, but only for six months.

The extension means that thousands of Haitians living and working in the US won’t face the threat of immediate deportations.

But they are still living in a precarious state because in six months the administration could change its mind.

Unions supporting the Haitian workers were glad to hear that an extension had been granted but criticized the short-term reprieve and vowed to continue to fight for a long-term solution.

“Forcing refugees from a devastated country to live on edge for six months is unacceptable,” said Jeremy Cruz-Haicken president of UNITE HERE Local 737 in Central Florida, where many Haitian immigrants live.  “These hardworking, tax-paying refugees support Central Florida’s economy, and they deserve long-term certainty. We’ll take these six months to fight for a long-term solution.”

Rocio Saenz, SEIU executive vice president, said that the extension was good but too short.

“Doing so for only six months – instead of the 18 month extensions that have been granted in the past – leaves Haitians with TPS in limbo, unable to plan their lives,” said Saenz.

He added that “the fight for another extension must begin immediately.”

The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allows the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant temporary protected status to immigrants from countries where conditions are unsafe for them to return–countries such as Haiti.

That protection was extended to Haitians living in the US in 2010 after an earthquake devastated their country and left millions homeless.

TPS allows Haitians to live and work in the US without fear of being deported.

Since coming to the US, many Haitians have found work in the food service, hospitality, health care, and tourist industries and some are members of unions including SEIU and UNITE HERE.

Their protected status was up for review, and DHS had to decide before July 22 whether to extend or deny TPS to Haitians.

Under the Obama administration, DHS had reviewed the protected status of Haitians three times and extended their TPS by 18 months each time.

But word had gotten out that the current DHS Secretary John Kelly was considering denying TPS to Haitians because he believed that conditions in Haiti are improving.

But that is hardly the case. After the earthquake, 1.5 million people were left homeless, and seven years after the earthquake tens of thousands remain homeless.

After the earthquake, the United Nations sent peacekeepers to Haiti to provide security, but the peacekeepers brought cholera, which caused an epidemic throughout the country sickening 800,000 and killing nearly 10,000. The epidemic continues unabated.

In 2016, a category 4 hurricane hit Haiti inflicting damages totaling $1.9 billion to a country that the World Bank calls the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.

59 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty level, which is an income of $2.42 a day.

Lifting the protected status of Haitians would have meant that thousands of people living and working in the US would be deported to a land where they have neither homes nor jobs nor prospects.

That specter led to public protests and calls for the government to extend the protected status of Haitians.

A week before DHS announced its six month extension, 2000 people demonstrated at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida where hundreds of Haitian workers are employed to demand that the Trump administration extend long-term protected status to Haitian refugees.

DHS also heard from humanitarian organizations, unions, business, and elected officials urging it to extend the protected status of Haitians.

The Haitian government told DHS that the current conditions in Haiti make it difficult for the country to absorb the return of so many people.

“The legal and policy case for extending TPS for Haitians was overwhelming,” said SEIU’s Saenz. “Haiti cannot safely handle so many returning deportees because it has not yet recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake, last October’s hurricane, or a continuing deadly cholera epidemic that was first brought to the island by peacekeepers sent by the UN to help with earthquake reconstruction.”

After DHS announced that it was extending TPS to Haitians for another six months, there was some relief but there was also anxiety that in another six months they could find themselves deported to country where their safety is in peril.

The same holds true for other immigrants who have been granted TPS, which caused Saenz to call for a TPS extension for all who came from countries still recovering from natural disasters and wars.

Saenz also said that the US needs a more enlightened immigration policy.

“We call for a new level-headed approach to other decisions affecting immigrants,” said Saenz. “Stop wasting taxpayer resources to deport persons who have lived here for years who pose no danger to public safety. Restore America’s tradition as a place of refuge, and embrace the Constitution’s protection of religious minorities, including Muslims. And overall work to integrate immigrants to our nation instead of demonizing them and building walls.”