Recent comments by President Donald Trump have left several immigrants and their supporters in the Boston area disappointed and concerned. Months after his administration ended the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the U.S., Trump allegedly referred to Haiti as a “shithole” country, leaving Haitians around the world to react.
During an immigration policy meeting last Thursday, Trump allegedly referred to El Salvador and the countries in Africa in the same manner while questioning the rights of their citizens to immigrate to the United States. Several officials briefed on the meeting said Trump specifically targeted Haitian immigrants, requesting that lawmakers exclude them from all potential immigration deals and “take them out” of his country.
In November, the Trump administration terminated TPS for Haitian immigrants, a status which had previously granted them temporary asylum in the United States after the 2010 earthquake devastated their country. Under the new regulations, Haitian refugees must return to their country by July 2019.
Matthew Andrews of the Boston May Day Coalition helped organize a rally opposing the discontinuation of TPS for Haitian refugees at the Boston Common in December. As an advocate for Boston’s large Haitian community, Andrews denounced Trump’s recent remarks, deeming them “absolutely racist.”
“[Trump’s statement] reflects a troubling, callous attitude toward the outside world that appears to be a cornerstone of his ‘America First’ policy,” Andrews said. “U.S. policy, stretching back over a hundred years, has been to bully and manipulate these smaller countries for the benefit of U.S. capital, at the expense of their people and environment.”
Andrews said it remains unsafe for refugees to return to Haiti, due to the unmanageable cholera epidemic that has persisted since the United Nations’ earthquake relief efforts in 2010. Haiti’s dependence on international markets for their food supply provides an additional economic obstacle for returning immigrants, he said.
“People living in the U.S. with TPS do not have lives back in their countries of origin to go back to,” Andrews said. “They have built their lives here. Their labor serves our community. It would be both cruel and disruptive to the economy to deport people who have lived here with TPS.”
While he finds Trump’s comments vulgar, Andrews said he does not believe they deviate from the policy decisions of past administrations. He recalled the 2009 coup in Honduras and the bombing of seven countries under former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I find these actions much more offensive than any words that could come out of Trump’s mouth,” Andrews said. “What the people of the U.S. urgently need is a perspective based on the substance of government’s policies, not the rhetoric of our president.”
Haitian-American state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester released a statement through Twitter last Friday in which she shared her disappointment over “the president’s latest racist slur” and offered her condolences to the hundreds of thousands of Haitian families mourning a loved one on the anniversary of the earthquake — the day after Trump’s alleged remarks.
“I have to express first how demoralizing and upsetting it is to have to register my outrage again and again over hateful remarks made by my own president,” Forry wrote. “The president’s words are ignorant and repulsive and an affront to decency and to history.”
Forry called for Americans to denounce Trump’s statements, saying that those who normalize his bigotry are as culpable as the president himself.
“Like many, I would like to believe that Trump represents the last gasp of a racist worldview that has been in retreat here in America since the fall of Jim Crow,” she wrote. “Sadly, his views and his presidency serve to embolden other hateful people and to diminish our nation’s position as a power for good, for decency, for democracy.”
Several Boston residents said Haitian immigrants are an integral part of Boston’s neighborhoods and chastised the president for his alleged statements.
Tina Allen, 29, of Dorchester, said she thinks the forced eviction of Haitian immigrants will be devastating for her community, which is home to one of Boston’s largest Haitian populations. Allen said she dreads the potential upcoming departures when she will have to say a final goodbye to several neighbors and close friends.
“Dorchester won’t be the same without its immigrant population,” Allen said. “Immigrants are what make America great and make Boston especially great. The cancellation of TPS for Haitian immigrants will leave a hole in our community, not just in economy and infrastructure but in our community’s spirit.”
Jeffrey Price, 60, of South Boston, said he is appalled but not surprised by Trump’s comments.
“Americans could really use a recap in the areas of compassion and decency after watching the president repeatedly spew this kind of hate speech,” Price said. “We’ve unfortunately come to expect these things from our president, which is frankly uncharted territory for U.S. politics, but then you never expect the people in your own life to start adopting his hateful diction. It’s a disheartening thing to see.”
Angela Nguyen, 31, of the South End, said she cannot support a president who fails to recognize the value of immigrants in the United States. As the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Nguyen said she respects Boston’s acceptance and celebration of immigrant families.
“When the federal government threatens the rights of one immigrant population to be here, they threaten all immigrant families in America with the reminder that we still don’t belong here,” Nguyen said. “Right now, the Haitian people need the support of all immigrant communities, all of Boston and every American who has ever been helped out in some way by an immigrant. And guess what? That’s all of you.”