Haitians in the U.S. uncertain about their future, as government ends protected status

At just 15 years old, Stivenson Jean-Louis has his future all planned out. He wants to become a psychologist, and open a business where psychologists of all disciplines work together. But the Trump administration’s decision to end temporary protected status for Haitians has Jean-Louis worried he won’t be able to fulfil his ambition.

“I feel like all my dreams that I have for myself are being washed away. That they’re going to be cancelled,” he said. 

Jean-Louis came to America with his father and brother in 2007. In 2010, after an earthquake devastated Haiti, his father was given TPS: Temporary Protected Status. It allowed Fresnel Jean-Louis to work as a cleaner and establish roots in the U.S.

Stivenson Jean-Louis

Stivenson Jean-Louis worries about his future if his family isn’t able to stay in the U.S. He came to the country at age 5, doesn’t remember Haiti and wants to remain in Brooklyn with his family and friends. (Steven D’Souza/CBC News)

On Monday, an estimated 59,000 Haitians in the U.S. living under TPS found out that the program will end in July 2019. They’ve been told to return to the impoverished nation or face deportation.

“America has offered me so much opportunity, I want to stay,” Fresnel Jean-Louis said in Creole.

‘No special program’ in Canada

If Haitians are looking northward to Canada as an answer, Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg wants them to think again. A Haitian himself, he spent the day crisscrossing Brooklyn, meeting with the community to explain Canada’s immigration laws.

“It’s really important to tell them there is no special program right now in Canada for Haitian communities or other communities,” Dubourg said.

After the U.S. warned earlier this year that TPS would not be renewed, thousands fled to Canada seeking asylum. The RCMP arrested more than 15,000 people at the Quebec border alone, the majority coming between July and October.

Dubourg said the flood of Haitians was spurred by misinformation on social media, so he’s hoping to clear things up in meetings with community leaders, lawyers, local politicians and advocacy groups. 

The MP said only a small portion of those who sought asylum were accepted, and that those that aren’t accepted will be sent back to Haiti, not the U.S.

The problem is Canada offers a better chance than Haiti, a country still rebuilding from both the earthquake and last year’s Hurricane Matthew.

Families who spoke to CBC News said the main reason they can’t return is that their children barely know the country. They’ve spent most, if not all, their lives in the U.S. 

“It’s really frightening, and the kids, they’re really sad,” said a home-care worker who didn’t want to be identified for fear she’d become a target of immigration officials.

Joanne picture

The anonymous Haitian home-care worker wants a pathway to citizenship and says uprooting her family isn’t an option. (Steven D’Souza/CBC News)

“The kids, they don’t want me to talk about it. ‘You’re not going to Haiti, you’re not going back to Haiti, that’s not possible Mummy,’ they say.”

Best of several bad options

Immigration lawyer Emmanuel Depas said there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty in the community. Some clients are worried to renew their TPS and give their address, afraid their information will then make them an easy target for deportation.

He says that’s a common misconception. He says immigration officers won’t be banging down doors, and there will be due process when TPS expires. But for those who have to leave, he says Canada may end up being the best of a lot of bad options.

Emmanuel Depas

Immigration lawyer Emmanuel Depas estimates he’s helped more than 200 people file their TPS paperwork. He says there is a lot of fear and anxiety in the community but says there will be due process for TPS holders once the program expires. He doesn’t expected mass deportations. (Steven D’Souza/CBC News)

“It’s either go back to Haiti, live here in the shadows or take your chances in Canada, and some people have some family members in Canada.”

Stivenson Jean-Louis and his family are putting their hopes in their step-brother Emmanuel, who has applied for a green card. They hope he’ll succeed then sponsor the rest of the family to stay.

Advocates for TPS holders say they hold jobs and pay taxes. The home-care worker is studying to become a nurse. She doesn’t want to uproot her family, to Canada or Haiti. 

“We don’t want to leave. We want to stay in the country, to continue to serve the country.”

Like tens of thousands of other Haitians in the U.S., she now has 18 months to figure out how to make that happen. 

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