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Haitians Impatient with Obama Over TPS

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Making Our Voices Heard at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach

by Francesca Guerrier & Kim Ives

Some 50 Haitians and their supporters held a spirited demonstration in front of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach on Monday, Oct. 26 to demand that President Obama immediately grant Temporary Protected Status or TPS to some 35,000 undocumented Haitians currently in the US.

Obama was at the hotel for a fundraiser for Democratic Florida congressmen Alcee Hastings and Kendrick Meek, who is running for senator.

The demonstration was organized by the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, Institute of Justice and Democracy (IJDH), Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) and Free Haiti Now, all groups which had been expecting Obama to reverse the Bush administration’s denial of TPS to Haitians last December.

“We are all frustrated that more than nine months after President Obama’s inauguration Haitians still don’t have TPS despite the incredibly broad editorial and political support for it, including from the three South Florida Republicans in the US House of Representatives,” said Steve Forester, an immigration lawyer and long-time TPS advocate who presently represents the IJDH in Florida. “And we are doubly surprised that we have not yet gotten a response to our request to at least give people the dignity of the right to work while the administration continues, month after month, to review the propriety of granting TPS, which to us and every objective observer is a no-brainer, based on the four hurricanes and storms that hit Haiti in a one-month period a year ago.”

TPS, which briefly can be granted by executive order to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who are temporarily unable to return to their nation because of a natural disaster, armed conflict, or other extraordinary circumstances. Since it was established in 1990, TPS has been granted to immigrants from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Burundi, Somalia, Montserrat, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Liberia.

Since January, many demonstrations demanding TPS for Haitians have been held in Florida and other states. Over 300 people from Florida and the Northeast traveled by bus to Washington, DC to demonstrate in front of the White House on Jun. 3, and many more turned out for a second demonstration there on Sep. 16.

On Sep. 18, Free Haiti Now, FLIC and Haitian Women in Miami (FANM) held a vigil at Virginia Key Beach on Key Biscayne to call for TPS and to pay respect to the many Haitian refugees who have died at sea. Performing at the protest were Miami artists DJ Khaled, Mecca aka Grimo, and Grindmode. Other celebrities also supported the action and the TPS call including M1 from Dead Prez, Black Dada, Ace Hood, NBA superstar Hudonis Haslem, and three artists from the group Poe Boy: Billy Blue, Brisco and Flo Rida.

“We need the administration to grant TPS or at least, while they are considering it, to grant work permits on a case by case basis to TPS-deserving non-criminal Haitians who desperately need work permits, drivers licenses and the ability to feed their families, pay electricity bills, and send remittances to Haiti which can support up to ten times that number, thereby increasing Haiti’s security and our own,” Forester said.

On Oct. 26, the demonstrators were restricted to a sidewalk across Collins Avenue from the Fontainebleau. The area was heavily guarded by U.S. Secret Service, Miami Beach police and private security guards. The police harassed demonstrators who sought to take pictures of the protest from the street.

Further down the sidewalk, a group of about 100 anti-immigrant “teabaggers” protested Obama’s presence in Miami with absurd signs like “Go back to Kenya” and “Go back to Indonesia” and “Obama = Comunism.” (sic)

Among those who came out to the TPS demonstration were a few Central American farmworkers from Homestead, about 25 Haitians from West Palm Beach, and FLIC staff members.

In March, former Haitian-American unionist Patrick Gaspard, now Obama’s Director for Political Affairs, traveled to Miami to soothe and reassure Haitian leaders that the administration would soon act on TPS. The reprieve he brokered has now expired.

“As far as we are concerned, regarding Haiti, the Obama administration is maintaining the same status quo as the Bush immigration policy,” Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition president Jean-Robert Lafortune told the Miami Herald.

All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberte. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Liberte.

Reflections on My Journey, by Juan Rodriguez of SWER

I was six years old, the first time I ever boarded a plane, not even able to say goodbye to three of my sisters in Colombia. I still remember that mix of nervousness and excitement as I felt myself lifted into the sky for the first time–never realizing that it would be one of the most symbolic flights of my existence. My father was taking me to “America,” a magical word for me at that age which I correlated with Mickey Mouse and enchanted castles. Little did I know that America would become my new home, refuge, and eventually, a fundamental part of my identity.

My plane landed in Miami International Airport in the summer of 1996. That was when my father told me that we would never return to Colombia. I bowed my head and accepted the destiny that had been chosen for me. What else was I supposed to think at that time? Your dad is your dad and I respected him, trusting that he would continue to guide me and look out for my best interests. He wanted a better life for his kids. He dreamed of the day that I could go off to college, become a professional, and pay for his retirement, just like practically any other father does. I took his words to heart that day and certainly didn’t know if I ever would get to go back to Colombia at all and see my sisters again.

It took at least six years for anyone in my family to finally be granted any official legal status in this country. I remember how we spent so many years with “pending cases,” which I started thinking of as “spending cases” due to the thousands and thousands of dollars that were lost every year on various lawyers and paperwork processes that seemed to have no end. Not everybody was lucky. After six years, though some of my family found the relief of being able to stay, the majority of them were denied and eventually forced to leave. Year by year I saw my family breaking down, from a cohesive whole that practically had Thanksgiving every other weekend, to scattered pieces divided by broken immigration laws that showed no justice or mercy to anyone regardless of their character or merit. I had infant cousins (American citizens) that I had to hug goodbye at the Miami airport because their parents were not granted any relief to stay. I, on the other hand, found myself in an irresolvable limbo due to the fact that I had been brought to the U.S. as a minor but became an adult without having secured any form of status.

I still wonder how it is that a person can just wake up one morning “UNDOCUMENTED”–-treated as if one came down with some sort of plague or genetic mutation that needed to be exterminated. I still haven’t been able to figure out at which point of my high school career I went from being the honors student and member of so many extra-curricular clubs and the school swim and track teams to being “an illegal.” Seeing it happen every day, even now, to people who arbitrarily do or don’t receive a letter in the mail with a little torch on it from the Department of Homeland Security…I continue to remain baffled. How is it possible that the country I grew to love so much could continuously create members of a lesser social class simply for lack of a plastic card or a nine digit number?

Why shouldn’t I have been allowed to work after high school? Everyone else I grew up with was given the opportunity, and why if I WANTED to willingly enter the workforce, did I have to be rejected? Why was I also denied from even getting a state-issued identification card, if the problem was me being undocumented?

It was a miracle, the day my stepmother petitioned for me to get my papers. Seeing how thousands of my friends had no citizen relatives, I understood the astounding privilege that I had in being helped this way. My stepmother saved me…and had it not been for this one loving deed, I would have been another of the 65,000 American high school graduates getting deported on an annual basis.

Yes, I do identify as an American. Going back to Colombia for the first time made it even more clear to me that I don’t remember my own country at all. I wouldn’t have any idea how to get around the cities I can barely pronounce properly, let alone figure out any way to survive or provide for myself. No, this IS my country, and I can tell you thousands of stories of the childhood experiences I had in practically every street and avenue of Hollywood, Florida; in Plantation; in Miami.

I choose to return because I needed to understand exactly what it was that I left behind, acknowledge my connection to that culture, and hopefully reconnect with siblings I have had no contact with in more than 14 years.

Before I got on the plane to go back, I got a call from my grandfather. He said, “Please hug my niece and nephew for me. Hug them very tight because I can’t any longer.” It wasn’t right for my grandfather to have his niece and nephew taken away. It wasn’t right for my cousins be taken away from the love of their grandfather. I find it inhumane how so many families are split apart.

I got to spend a couple of days with my cousins and my sisters. I kissed their little heads and told them that I love them with every fiber of my being. I got to tell my sisters in person that they are the most beautiful women in the world. I feel so lucky. I understood that I was the only one in my family that could go back to Colombia without being punished in some way by the U.S. immigration system. It was hard for me not to be afraid during my flight there, out of my lifelong panic that the U.S. might not let me come back.

Now I am back–continuing my work on the path to liberation for the millions of other immigrants who are still suffering in this country; striving to fulfill a dream; and struggling to make ends meet in difficult circumstances.

I landed in Miami International Airport again, and this time I came wearing my “UNDOCUMENTED: Students Working for Equal Rights” shirt, prepared to keep building a movement that has become a huge part of my life’s calling. We HAVE to pass the DREAM Act. We have to secure just and humane immigration reform for all students, workers and families. We must stay strong.

FLIC and Miami-Dade Allies Address Urgent Need for Immigration Reform

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Yesterday FLIC members and pro-immigrant allies from across Miami-Dade county, with our partners at the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board (CRB) and City of Miami CRB, came together for a countywide immigration reform summit to “unite our diverse communities around agreed-upon priorities for legislative reform that will uphold our common commitment to equal treatment and due process for all immigrants,” in the words of CRB Chairman Harold Vieux. Issues discussed included enhancing safety and security, providing for legalization and a pathway to citizenship, protecting children, re-unifying families and protecting workers.

Speakers included Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of FAMN (and FLIC Board chair), Cheryl Little, Executive Director at Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Jonathan Fried, Executive Director of We Count!, as well as Felipe Matos of SWER and FLIC’s own Maria Rodriguez. Advocates like Police Chief John Timoney, himself an immigrant, spoke out against 287(g) agreements that deputize local police to act as immigration enforcement agents, taking precious resources away from fighting dangerous crime. There was incredible support in the room for immigration reform, and much unity around our priorities.

The overarching message was that we need immigration reform now–for our families and our communities. We cannot wait. “Under the current administration, comprehensive immigration reform is something that our president, the White House and Congress can deliver,'” said Jean-Robert Lafortune, chairman of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition. “Immigrants can’t live on hope alone.”

To make sure that this message is heard throughout the state, and in Washington, FLIC and our allies are planning a variety of public events throughout the fall. Please stay tuned for more information, and add your voice to the resounding majority in Florida calling for real change–NOW!

Police Press Conference Addresses Need for Immigration Reform

jtimoneyAs Congress and the President are poised to tackle immigration reform, Chief John Timoney, Miami’s Chief of Police, Chief Art Acevedo, the Police Chief of Austin TX, and former Sacramento Police Chief, Art Venegas, held a press conference at the Biltmore Hotel, in Miami, coordinated by America’s Voice, to address how the broken immigration system has a negative effect on law enforcement and public safety.

“It is crucial that the law enforcement perspective be considered in any debate on immigration,” Chief Timoney said. “All our citizens are directly affected, whether they are immigrants or not, by these policies.”

More police departments throughout the country are taking a stand in favor of immigration reform—and they are drawing these conclusions from their own experience. If an undocumented individual witnesses a crime, they often do not contact local law enforcement for fear of being detained and/or deported. Clearly this does not help our communities. Many are also in favor of issuing drivers licenses to all residents, including the undocumented, as this would provide useful data, encourage all drivers to get auto insurance, and diminish the incidence of hit and run accidents.

FLIC is pleased to see that leaders in law enforcement acknowledge the urgent—and practical—need for immigration reform—and we will count on their leadership and support as we move forward.

Victory! Justice For A Hardworking DREAMer!

walterlara Last Wednesday, July 1st, Walter Lara held a press conference in Washington D.C. hoping to persuade Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to stop his pending deportation.

Thanks to SWER, SEIU, First Focus, and FLIC’s much appreciated efforts—including planning a fast for Walter’s cause—Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson asked a top Homeland Security official to postpone Lara’s deportation because “he has earned the chance to live and work here and call America home.” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) introduced a private bill for the same thing. On July 2nd,  The Department of Homeland Security moved to defer Walter Lara’s scheduled deportation that was set for July 6th, 2009 to July 3rd, 2010—providing him with a one year stay in the U.S. “As I look to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends this weekend, I have once again seen what makes America the best country in the world. Americans are fair, just, and kind” Walter said.

At this point, Lara is allowed to apply for a job legally. Unfortunately he cannot apply for citizenship. Although his case has been deferred, he may be deported at any time. “Walter Lara’s deferred action is a major step towards the passage of the DREAM Act and a symbol for youth power in Miami. As we celebrate this victory, we must remember that are 2 million students in the USA who are going through a very similar situation,” said SWER’s Felipe Matos. Hopefully the DREAM Act will be passed in the next year so that undocumented students like Walter can have hope for brighter futures.

FLIC’s interns go on a road trip! Check out what the Social Justice Scholars were up to in NYC!

SJS NYC Group PicOn behalf of the Civic Opportunities Initiative Network (COIN), the New World Foundation, and Marga Incorporated, our fellow interns made their way to the “Big Apple!” All ten interns, along with Siria, Naftalie, Francesca and Danna, spent 25 hours together, driving and getting to know each other better. The FLIC and WeCount! interns, along with 50 others from Community Coalition (South L.A.), CHIRLA- Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of L.A., Make the Road New York, Southwest Organizing Project (New Mexico), and Tenants & Workers United (Northern Virginia) came together on Friday June 26th for COINS’s three-day kickoff retreat.

The retreat included discussions about race, class, gender, prejudice, discrimination, institutional power, privileges, and systems of oppression in the U.S. Activities addressed cross-cultural communication, teamwork-building, social justice, political leadership, academics and a “no-talent show.” We started by watching an introductory video explaining COINS’s main objective: to strengthen community leadership, establish intergenerational and interethnic collaboration, and stabilize community-based organizations as strong anchors for development in low-income communities. By creating strong relationships with organizations in their communities, youth will have an opportunity to incorporate active citizenship into their education— learning about service, advocacy, organizing, and what it takes to build effective community organizations. Before each workshop or activity we did an ice-breaker to make everyone feel comfortable.

We were divided into groups of five—each teammate from a different organization. We discussed academic empowerment and its goals. One goal was to understand the history of inequality in the U.S. and its education system. Another was to access where you are academically and practice tracking your progress. During one activity we learned how prejudice + discrimination + privilege + institutional power = oppression. We defined discrimination, privilege, and prejudice and differentiated one from the other. We wrote each other “fuzzies”—basically compliments for one another on sticky notes that we put up on a wall. It made us all feel positive and empowered.

And on the final day of the retreat, we took them off and read them. The interns went out for evening excursions at Times Square, and meals throughout the city. The entire trip was an exceptionally motivating and unforgettable hands-on experience for all the Miami/Homestead scholars. As our summer internships continue, we are bonding and connecting with one another, becoming more involved and building on our knowledge and awareness as we discuss pressing social issues in our communities.

Get to Know FLIC’s Social Justice Scholars

Note: Our amazing communications intern, Mariana Barbosa, interviewed her fellow interns. Get to know them by checking out these brief bios, below, and be sure to say hello when you stop by FLIC or FAMN, in Little Haiti’s Dessalines Center!

JoshuaAdams
Joshua Adams was born on September 21st, 1993 in Toronto, Canada. He currently lives in Miami Shores. He attends MAST Academy (Maritime and Science Technology) where he is a part of the Young Democrats, Ocean Conservation Club and the Social Studies Honor Society. He’s a new intern for Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director of the coalition. In his spare time he enjoys skating, surfing, playing football, playing Xbox Live and hanging out with friends. He hopes to attend USC or UCLA and become a sports physician. “I’m really looking forward to a summer of hard work, but a summer filled with great reward as well,” says Joshua.

MarianaBarbosa
Mariana Barbosa was born on April 16th, 1993 in Sao Paolo, Brazil. She lives in Kendall and attends Design and Architecture Senior High. She is part of the Architecture strand, a member of the National Honor Society, and the French Club. For the past year she has worked with The Children’s Trust in their Youth Advisory Committee. She interns for Katherine Gorell, FLIC’s Communications Coordinator. Her hobbies include volunteering, sailing, reading, yoga and going out with friends. She hopes to attend the University of Miami’s School of Architecture and become an Architect. “This opportunity given to us will aid us into becoming committed and passionate activists who see something in society that must be improved or changed, and give us the will power to do something about it. The work we are doing together as a team will not only greatly impact our own lives, but the lives of others as well” she states.

MichelleCastel
Michelle Castel, a native of Miami, Florida, was born on January 6th, 1992. She now lives in Miami Shores and attends school at Booker T. Washington Senior High School. She is a part of Spicy Spinner, The School Band, and the Finance Academy. She interns for Francesca Menes, Community Organizer. She takes pleasure in reading, doing hair, photography and music. She hopes to be an international marketer in the future. “I hope to gain more experience in the work force and learn as much as I can on the job” states Michelle.

RoderickDavis
Roderick Davis was born on April 10th 1992 in Opa Locka, Florida. He now lives in Carol City, where he attends Carol City High School. Roderick is an active member of the Future Leaders of America. He is working for Subhash Kateel, Community Organizer. His hobbies include writing poetry and playing football for the Carol City Chiefs, but he longs to be a graphic designer. “This summer I hope to educate, as well as be educated on the rights of immigrants. I have high expectations for this summer and I know for a fact that this will be a great learning experience” he said.

JeffreyJullot
Jeffrey Jullot was born on July 18th, 1993 in Miami, Florida. He now lives in Homestead, where he is a student at South Dade Senior High. He is a part of 5,000 Role Models and FBLA. He is a We Count! intern, and will be working on their campaign for restorative justice this summer. In his spare time he enjoys playing basketball, football, reading books, and writing poetry. When he grows up, he hopes to be a successful businessman. “I hope to learn more about the situations in our community and how we can help change them. I’m excited about getting to know everybody and figure out how we can put our heads together so we can make great changes in our community” he said.

LeudyDeLosSantos
Leudy De Los Santos was born on September 22nd, 1992 in the Virgin Islands. She lives in Miami, Florida where she is a student at Miami Jackson Senior High School. She is a member of the Honor Society, Sophomore Board, basketball and softball team. She interns for Danna Magliore at FAMN (Haitian Women of Miami). Her hobbies include basketball, watching movies, dancing and playing video games. “One of the quotes I live for is: “I’ve been through a lot of stuff, but Imma keep my head up like my nose is bleeding” by Lil’ Wayne. This quote made me realize that everything I’ve been through in the past stays in the past. I’m going to life for today, and then accomplish my dreams and become successful in life. This quote is going to help me overcome the obstacles that I may have in this program this summer.”

BryanRodriguez
Bryan Ruiz was born on March 19th, 1993 in Miami, Florida. He lives in Homestead, where he attends School at Robert Morgan Educational Center. He works with We Count! around issues of restorative justice. His hobbies include lifting weights, playing keyboard and guitar, and jogging in the mornings. He plans to become a pilot for an airline when he grows up. “I would like to learn from FLIC how to better understand as to why people act the way they act, such as, racism, gender and power. What I’m most excited about is being able to meet new people and expanding my knowledge from what I am going to learn from the staff. Also, the trip to New York City is going to be REALLY FUN” says Bryan.

DanielaSosa
Daniela Sosa was born on January 7th, 1993 in Havana, Cuba. She lives in Kendall and is a student at G. Holmes Braddock Senior High. She is a member of the Cambridge Global Studies Academy, the Ecology Club, Global Arts Club, and the Social Studies Honor Society. Her hobbies include reading and enjoying movie nights with her friends. She wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up. This summer she’ll be helping organize events. “I hope to make life long friends while doing something that can change people’s lives for the better,” said Daniela.

DaiyaanToffie
Daiyaan Toffie was born in Cape Town, South Africa. He lives in Dadeland and is a student at South Miami Senior High. He is on the basketball team and is a Dade County coach for Ludlam Elementary. His job entails being an organizer–sending e-mails, making calls etc. and interacting with FLIC members and allies. In his spare time he plays basketball, hangs out with friends, watches sports and goes shopping. “When I grow up I hope I can help change the world and become president of team operations of a professional sports team. I’m excited about the new things I will be learning at FLIC. My overview of FLIC is an amazing organization and willing to help anybody,” Daiyaan said.

HulyaMiclissepolat
Hulya Miclisse-Polat
was born on May 27th, 1993 in Montreal, Canada. She lives in Homestead and attends Homestead Senior High School. Hulya is a majorette for her school band, Women of Tomorrow Secretary, a member of DFYIT and the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism. She is an intern and school organizer for We Count!. She hangs out with friends, shops, reads mystery and drama books, and volunteers. She hopes to become an important leader in her community who is very involved when she grows up. “I am very excited about the program; it will definitely be a memorable and beneficial experience for me. It will expand my knowledge for social and restorative justice–issues that are happening in my environment. Together, we will be able to learn things that we cannot get from a classroom, prepare for the real world, and become great leaders one day” says Hulya.

Miami City Commission Urges President Obama To Grant Temporary Protected Status To Haitians In The United States

Excellent news–hopefully more cities throughout Florida and the nation will pass similar resolutions!

http://www.sflcn.com/story.php?id=6535

MIAMI – City of Miami Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, backed unanimously by the City of Miami Commission, passed a resolution Thursday, June 11, 2009, urging President Barrack Obama to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States.

“We are urgently calling on President Obama to do the right thing,” Sanchez said.

TPS suspends the deportation of undocumented Haitians already in the U.S. and allows the granting of work permits that can last up to 18 months.

“As a proud member of Miami’s Haitian community, and an advocate for the humanitarian treatment of all people, I am pleased that Chairman Sanchez and the City Commission is poised to set an example for the rest of the country to follow,” said Francesca Menes of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. Menes added, “Haiti has been devastated–environmentally and economically–and Temporary Protected Status would help Haitians here and abroad.”

Haitian workers in the United States support relatives back home with remittances to Haiti from the United States estimated to be more than $1 billion.

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“Hurricane season is upon us and the nation of Haiti has barely recovered from last season’s devastating storms. It is imperative that we grant temporary protected status to Haitians in the U.S., so their work here can help fuel the rebuilding back home,” Sanchez said.