TPS Ends; The Myth of U.S. Asylum by Lou Cespedes

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake shook the town of Leogane and sent the nation of Haiti spiraling out of control. I was on the ground in February of that year to observe firsthand this unfolding physical and social calamity. Tent communities could be found on nearly every plaza or park in Port-au-Prince. The image of the collapsed presidential palace was eclipsed only by the sight of rubble along the mountain side where the sprawling bidonville de Jalousie once stood facing Petionville, bastion of Haiti’s upper-class.

Thousands of Haitian citizens rushed to New York, Miami, and other US cities seeking refuge under what is known as TPS (Temporary Protective Status), a program that gives refugees and asylum seekers temporary protection from deportation. Haitians have not been the only beneficiaries of TPS. There are a host of other asylum seekers and refugees that have enjoyed, until recently, the protection of TPS. Among them, Honduras, El Salvador, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sudan – otherwise known as “the shithole countries”. Haitians are without a doubt the hardest hit, with over 46,000 TPS recipients (and their U.S. born minor children) due to be deported when their status expires in January 2020.

Curiously, TPS for Venezuelan’s was approved last May with the support of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart R- Miami, A Cuban American congressman. TPS for Haitians was due to expire on July 22 of 2019 and was extended for 9 months pending a court appeal.

As a Cuban American child growing up in Miami, I remember with disgust the images of Cubans being rescued on rafts in open sea, while Haitians drowned on overcrowded boats trying to reach America’s shores. Is it a surprise that today we see this obvious contradiction in US asylum policy? To understand our current situation, we need to explain the framing of immigration and asylum policy between the period ending WWII and the end of the Cold War, and our current post 911 zeitgeist. We must define the difference between ideological asylum and economic asylum; and how the immigration crisis we currently face in this country is founded on a white narrative of “freedom and opportunity” that’s been weaponized against brown and black people. 

For most white Americans, the historical narrative of “legal” opportunity immigration is reflected in storylines about Irish arriving in the U.S. during the great famine of the 1840’s. Similarly, Italians arrived here during the great arrival in the 1880’s. Jewish peoples have been in America since colonial times, but their storylines of Jewish migration stem from those fleeing European anti-Semitism during the 1930’s. These stories are reinforced by well-worn romanticized phrases about “hard work” and “rags to riches” narratives about “white migration” and capitalism with the Statue of Liberty in the backdrop. Reality however was far different. Irish, Italians, and Jews seeking asylum from war, famine, and social upheavals, suffered discrimination here in America, and as a result, created strong communities, sometimes buttressed through the protection and financing offered by illicit mob-activities and corruption during trying economic times. 

In the Cold-War era, ideological asylum versus economic migration became the norm. Receiving asylum seekers from countries that were under socialist or communist regimes were widely accepted in the U.S. regardless of economics, however the inverse condition – escaping economic hardship – was no longer welcome. Finally, in our post 911 framing of immigration, asylum now has an explicit racial profile, whether religious, economic, or ideological.  This is evident in the “self-deportation” narrative created in the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign echoed in the current “send them back” slogan. 

Our community’s reality is about to change dramatically. As news of ICE raids spread, Haitian political leaders are paralyzed, with no answers or solutions to manage the crisis here, much less the crisis back on the island. This should give us pause. 

Empty leadership can easily be identified when problems become campaign pitches rather than the focus of mechanical, hard-produced solutions of statecraft and partnerships. For example, current immigration law has made it possible for other countries (such as Mexico) to create immigration visas within free-trade agreements. We should now call to question why Haitian leaders in the diaspora, particularly those in our Brooklyn community, have not prepared their people for life after “temporary”. We must judge whether their efforts to re-name streets after Haitian generals disguises the carelessness and political expedience that will result in the forced displacement of U.S born children to a country they do not know. Haitian American children may not be in cages on the southern border, and their parents, pastors, and leaders may have chosen to abstain from the cause of DREAMERS, but their fate will be no less precarious when TPS ends. 

More importantly, it appears that the chaos post-earthquake and apparent signs of genocide in Haiti under the Tet Kale, is no longer a qualifier for asylum; but when was it ever? Now, we are left to wonder exactly how an unequipped populace reintroduced to that environment will fare without support or the proper vision and guidance of those who call themselves leaders.

To my Latin American and West Indian brethren, I say, beware and take note! To my Haitian friends, I say, look to your left. The answer to our current U.S. immigration dilemma is not here to be found. Ayiti cheri!   

Isaiah 30 v. 20-22

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