Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Undocumented Haitian Immigrants Need Relief, East Bay Advocates Say

Matt O’Brien, Oakland Tribune
September 17, 2009

Protestors against the deportation of Haitians ask in front of the Federal Building at Oakland…

OAKLAND — Their numbers in the Bay Area are small, but local Haitian activists joined others across the country this week in asking the Obama administration to provide relief for thousands of undocumented Haitian immigrants.

Advocates want Obama to give Haitians who fled the country’s deadly hurricanes last year a distinction called “temporary protected status” that would allow them to remain in the United States without fear of deportation.

“A lot of people got displaced,” said Oakland resident Maria LaBossiere of the Haiti Action Network. “The infrastructure of the country got destroyed. There are already no jobs there.”

Forcing thousands who fled to go home, she argued, would be “adding to the burden that’s already there.”

The proposal is a controversial one because opponents fear it could encourage more illegal immigration from the Caribbean nation.

Temporary protected status is already offered to thousands of Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans who faced natural disasters in their homelands many years ago, as well as people who fled armed conflict in four troubled African nations.

The environmental conditions and political turmoil that many displaced Haitians face today is comparable, or worse, than in those countries, their advocates say.

“Haiti is in much worse shape,” said Gerald Lenoir, president of Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which organized a small rally of about 30 people in downtown

Oakland on Wednesday.

The temporary immigration status would affect an estimated 30,000 undocumented Haitians, allowing them to live and work in the country for an undetermined amount of time.

Lenoir said he believes that Obama would have considered the status as part of a larger immigration reform bill, but that has been pushed back until later this year or next year.

“He wants to pull it in as part of comprehensive immigration reform, but that has been delayed and Haitians are suffering right now,” Lenoir said. “It cannot wait.”

The most recent census estimates show just about 3,000 Haitian-born immigrants living in California, a minuscule number compared with the thousands found in East Coast cities stretching from Miami to Boston. In the Bay Area, the biggest population is centered in Sonoma County, according to those estimates.

The numbers might underestimate the true amount, said activist Pierre LaBossiere, who came to the Bay Area from Haiti in 1970 and is Maria’s husband.

He said a wave of Haitian refugees were welcomed into the East Bay in the early 1980s. Another group came after a coup d’etat in 1991.

Pierre LaBossiere said, “Sometimes when I’m walking through the store with my wife, somebody will ask, ‘Ayisyen?'”‰”

That term means the person recognizes the Haitian Creole language the couple was speaking, he said.

“Automatically we’ll turn around and hug each other,” he said.

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