Sunday, October 26, 2008

TPS for Haitians

Haitians rally for protection of immigrants

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Friday, October 24, 2008

WEST PALM BEACH — A crowd of about 3,000 traveled by foot, by taxi, even by bus, to rally in front of the federal courthouse Friday afternoon, demanding that Haitians are no longer returned to a country that is falling apart.

Children cheered from the shoulders of their parents and even the elderly twirled umbrellas in the air like batons, shouting, "Hey, Hey, George Bush, TPS for Haitians."

Decimated by four storms this hurricane season, the already poor and unstable country is in such dire straits that even President René Préval has asked the U.S. to grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status, which means those living here illegally could stay and obtain work authorization until Haiti's atmosphere improved.

TPS is usually granted to nations in the midst of an armed conflict or an environmental disaster. In the past, it has been given to natives of Somalia, Burundi, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Sudan.

Because of Haiti's natural disasters that killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless, many wonder why the country also hasn't been granted TPS.

"They ignore Haitian people," Wisner Toussaint of Coral Springs said of the U.S. government. "We don't know why. We need to be treated fairly."

This summer, the Department of Homeland Security announced a temporary suspension of deportations to Haiti because of massive flooding from the storms, but the government has not gone as far as to call it TPS.

"Little kids, 3 and 4 years old, are on the street asking for food and money," said Bob-Louis Jeune of the Haitian Citizen United Task Force. "The people don't know where to go, what to do. It's very sad. TPS ... we deserve it."

Buses came from as far as Orlando for the four-hour rally, which forced police to shut down a section of Clematis Street because they couldn't contain all of the people on one side of the road.

Local Haitian disc jockey Lesly Jacques directed the crowd to sing the American and Haitian national anthems, then led the supporters in a passionate chant that echoed through the streets. Men and women waved signs displaying words of support, and others held cellphones in the air so relatives from afar could hear.

Although deportations to Haiti are temporarily halted, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are still arresting those living in the U.S. illegally and placing them in detention centers until the suspension is lifted. Immigration advocates are asking ICE to stop the arrests, arguing that many of those arrested do not have criminal backgrounds and contribute to society.

ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas said they are still breaking the law.

"We are still enforcing immigration laws," Navas said. "Those with final orders of removal will remain in custody."

Representatives from the Haitian Citizen United Task Force, which organized the rally, said their next stop is Washington. They plan to ask, just as they did on Clematis Street, "President Bush, can you hear us?"

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