By Carlton Joseph
The Canadian province of Quebec has become an entry point for as many as 250 migrants a day. Most of those crossing into Canada in recent days are Haitians who have been living in the United States for years. They are reacting to the Trump administration’s announcement that it is pulling the plug on the longstanding humanitarian program that granted them temporary protected status (TPS) as their country recovers from a series of natural disasters. Now, as a result, thousands of Haitians could face deportation.
John Kelly, the former Homeland Security Secretary, had granted a six-month extension to the program to allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to obtain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States. The extension was also intended to provide the Haitian government with the time it needed to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients. The Trudeau government ended its own TPS designation for Haitians last year, inviting 3,200 of them to apply for residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Many have since applied but advocacy groups noted that some have been deported.
As with every crisis, some people will find a way to financially exploit the situation. One example in Canada is a 43-year-old woman who was arrested after she was found driving nine people in an isolated area north of the Canada-US border. Police seized a significant amount of cash at her home. She has been charged with human smuggling and conspiracy to commit human smuggling.
The large-scale migration is sending authorities scrambling to set up additional welcome centers and the province began busing asylum seekers –including children and pregnant women – to the Montreal’s Olympic stadium, their new temporary home.The mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, welcomed the migrants stating that they can count on the city’s full cooperation. But the mayor’s welcome to the mainly French-speaking city does not in itself guarantee Haitians asylum. Under international law, a refugee is someone who has left his/her country due to a well-founded fear of persecution owing to that person’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Fleeing poverty or a natural disaster does not qualify for refugee status.
Legal scholars have indicated that the questions for the Canadian authorities are these: Are the new arrivals truly refugees? Or are they merely circumventing the immigration process, deliberately or unwittingly? Obviously, there are some of each. In recent years, about half of Haitian refugee claims have been accepted. But those who have been living in the United States for several years and did not apply for refugee status there, or were turned down, will have a tough case to make. Chances are that among those who have just arrived, there will be many whose claims will ultimately be rejected, and who will be deported.
As a Caribbean person, I am perplexed by this unfolding tragedy which has been created in large part by France, the United States and other Western countries repeatedly intervening in Haitian politics since the country’s founding, sometimes at the request of one party or another. Along with international financial institutions, they have imposed on Haiti a heavy debt burden– so heavy that foreign debt payments have rivalled the available government budget for social sector spending. Financial institutions have also enforced trade policies on Haiti that are considered by some to be detrimental to local industry.
Ever since Haiti defeated the French in 1804 and became the only nation in the world to defeat three European super powers, (France, Spain and the United Kingdom) and to be established as a result of a successful slave revolt, the Western colonial powers have conspired to keep this nation from achieving its potential as an independent nation.
Haiti was forced to pay France 150 million francs in order to recognize its liberation as an independent nation, and France’s loss of men and a slave colony. Although Haiti agreed to pay, the Western nations did not give Haiti formal diplomatic recognition when it became an independent nation. For many years this action isolated the Haitian economy and society.
In December 1914, the United States invaded Haiti and seized control of the banking system; they installed a new pro-American president and occupied the country for 20 years. During this time they created a new constitution that allowed foreign ownership of the Haitian lands, and allowed the occupying forces to take people from their homes and farms to build roads, bridges and any other structures that the US wanted constructed. In effect, they reinstituted slavery in Haiti.
Since the slave revolution, Haiti has been decimated by natural disasters, pro-American local politicians, the United States and the United Nations.
In 1994, Hurricane Gordon’s rain and flooding killed an estimated 1200 persons. In 2004, tropical storm Jeanne killed 3600 persons. In 2008 tropical storm Fay, Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike killed 331 persons and left about 800,000 in need of humanitarian aid. In 2010, Haiti was struck by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, leaving approximately 85,000 dead. Adding to this chaos, a massive cholera outbreak was triggered when infected waste from the UN peacekeeping station contaminated the country’s main river. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew dealt Haiti another devastating blow, leaving 3000 persons dead and the country in a state of emergency.
This is the Haitian reality under which the Trump administration has decided to revoke the TPS for Haitians. I am totally convinced that this is racially motivated but more important, it is a warning to all people of color that you “know your place in this world,” – slave to the Western Caucasian powers. If you revolt, this is how they will use their extensive financial, military and political relationships to ensure that you will not succeed.
We must therefore support Haiti and Haitians, and insist that the United States, France and other Western powers cease interfering in Haiti’s internal affairs and allow the country to develop and achieve its economic, social and political potential.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)