By Michel Martin
May 06, 2017
Marjean Perhot, director of immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities in Boston talks about the future of Haitians living in the U.S. since the devastating 2010 earthquake.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Immigration is often in the news, most often in connection with undocumented immigration or the fairness of various enforcement measures. But now we have a slightly different kind of immigration story. In the U.S. right now, some 50,000 Haitian migrants could be forced to leave within months after having lived here with permission for many years. They were able to stay because they received something called temporary protected status or TPS after the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians. It deems their country too unstable for them to return safely. The Obama administration extended temporary protected status for this group several times.
Now the Trump administration has until May 23 to make a decision. If the administration does nothing, those Haitians who have been allowed to live and work in the U.S. legally under this status will have to leave in July. About 4,000 Haitians who have temporary protected status live in the Boston area. So we called Marjean Perhot, director of refugee and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities of Boston. We wanted to ask her how the people in her area are reacting to the uncertainty.
MARJEAN PERHOT: People have been very scared. They’re coming into us hearing on the Haitian news and radio that TPS might not be extended. They’re coming and asking, well, am I qualified for anything else? They’re asking what am I supposed to do about my job? I like what I do. I’m working really hard. I have children here who are U.S. citizens, and they’ve never been to Haiti. People are very afraid.
MARTIN: Do you have the sense that most of the people who are living here currently would like to stay?
PERHOT: They want to stay here in the United States right now because there’s nothing for them to go home to, even though the earthquake happened almost seven years ago, there’s still so much infrastructure that needs to be built. You know, I was talking with one woman just the other day who lost her home, and she said she still has not been able to save enough money to rebuild that home, should she need to be returned to Haiti. And she also has a 4 year old who’s only lived in the United States her whole life because she was born here.
And so it’s very difficult for people to contemplate what would I do if I went back home? Here, I have a job. Here, I have the ability to have my children in school, you know, a stable environment that I’m providing for them, and they don’t feel that that would be available to them right now in Haiti.
MARTIN: On the other hand, I think some might argue that temporary protected status means temporary, and that if it were to be a long-term amnesty program, it should be called that. I mean, what would you say to people who have that argument?
PERHOT: We don’t agree with that. We do agree that it is temporary in nature, and the Haitian government themselves have directed their ambassador to ask the administration to extend TPS because they recognize that it’s still an ongoing process, and that temporary status doesn’t mean that, you know, the country can be rebuilt in a matter of a couple of years. I mean, it’s not meant to be a blanket amnesty – or turn into a blanket amnesty program because people on temporary protected status are not eligible to ever apply to become a lawful resident unless some situations change.
I think it’s important to also mention that Haitians who are working here are paying taxes. And so you’re talking upwards of millions of dollars that go into the Social Security fund and into Medicare and Medicaid.
MARTIN: That’s Marjean Perhot. She’s the director of refugee and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities of Boston. Marjean, thanks so much for speaking with us.
PERHOT: Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure.
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