On the campaign trail, Donald Trump vowed to be the “biggest champion” of South Florida’s Haitian community. Theova Milfort is holding Trump to that promise.
During Friday morning’s downpour, Milfort bundled up in rain gear and stood in the traffic circle outside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. The Haitian activist held a sign reading, “Haiti is facing a humanitarian crisis … Please renew TPS for Haitians.”
The acronym refers to the temporary protected status the federal government has offered about 50,000 Haitian immigrants in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The U.S. extends TPS for 18-month periods, and the latest extension expires July 22.
The Trump administration has said it might end the TPS designation, leaving Haitians to fear that tens of thousands of immigrants could be deported to a notoriously poor and corrupt nation that’s facing a deadly outbreak of cholera.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will make the call on whether to extend the program. Activists fret about one federal official’s recommendation to renew the designation for just six months because living conditions in Haiti have taken “an upward trajectory” since 2010.
“Actually, most parts of Haiti are under water,” said Milfort, who lives in Hallandale Beach.
It’s not just activists who are calling on the Trump administration to extend temporary protected status for Haitians. Walt Disney World said it employs more than 500 workers who are Haitian immigrants with TPS.
Temporary protected status is available only to immigrants without criminal records, and the designation allows Haitians to work legally — and to send crucial remittances to relatives in Haiti.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard, a native of Haiti, said many hospitals, country clubs and other major employers in the region rely on Haitian workers who are here under the TPS program.
“This would be a devastating blow to those residents who work here and send money home to their families in Haiti,” Bernard said.
It’s unclear exactly how many Haitian immigrants in Palm Beach County have received temporary protective status. An estimated 50,000 Haitians are in the United States under the program, and most are thought to live in South Florida, New York and Boston.
In September, when he was considered a long shot for the White House, Trump visited Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood to meet with leaders of the Haitian-American community.
“Whether you vote for me or not, I really want to be your biggest champion,” Trump said, according to The Miami Herald.
Now, Milfort and others are reminding Trump of that promise. Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, said it would be irresponsible to send tens of thousands of people back to a dysfunctional country where they haven’t lived or worked for years.
“Haiti still hasn’t fully recovered from the earthquake,” Forester said. “There are still people living in tents. People are living in caves. They’re dying of malnutrition.”