For roughly 36% of New Bedford and Fall River residents, recent immigration is such a part of life that a language other than English is spoken at home. In Fall River, Taunton, and Cape Cod, especially, many are of Haitian descent.
National policy toward immigrants affects our region immensely, and unfortunately many recent national developments have had confusing and disturbing impacts on the Haitian community in particular. Thankfully, we have already seen our community rise up in solidarity for our Haitian members, and our region will only further benefit from this continued support.
The federal government has officially recognized that the stakes are high right now for migrants from Haiti. This summer, our government cited a “deteriorating political crisis, violence, and a staggering increase in human rights abuses,” as well as “rising food insecurity and malnutrition” and COVID difficulties when it decided to declare a special humanitarian opportunity for Haitians in the U.S. to remain and work lawfully here. It is estimated that over 10,000 Massachusetts residents will obtain safety through this program, called Temporary Protected Status (TPS). However, to qualify for TPS, a person must have already been in the U.S. as of July 29, 2021.
Of course, given the bleak situation in their country, Haitians who were not in the U.S. by that date may also be unsafe at home. Under U.S. and international law, the mechanism for seeking safety in a new country is to request asylum.
One might expect consistency to demand the U.S. welcome asylum requests from Haitians especially at this time; however, thousands are being turned away, or otherwise precluded from requesting asylum, and deported to dangerous conditions in Haiti. The purportedly legal device for this is called “Title 42,” and it is a health law designed to require quarantines of noncitizens and citizens alike where needed for public health.
In 2020, the law was used for the first time as a premise for forbidding entry of noncitizens (but not citizens) arriving in the U.S. by land (but not air). It was used for the first time to expel migrants without processing their pleas for asylum.
The continued use of Title 42 as an immigration impediment is concerning. Indeed, on Sept. 16, a federal judge found that its use is likely illegal and ordered it to cease. However, the judge allowed a 14-day period for officials to continue to use Title 42 while the government explored appellate options.
It was within this 14-day window that the government executed now-infamous deportations of Haitians in Del Rio, Texas — expelling more than 7,000 people back to Haiti after Sep. 19. It is difficult to make sense of this rush to apply Title 42, when the government has simultaneously declared TPS opportunities for Haiti due to its dire lack of security. Haitians served by our agency are panicking, unsure whether they can trust the TPS opportunity to endure, unsure if they are welcome in this country, or even viewed as people at all.
Thankfully our community is already stepping up to show solidarity, and has the opportunity to do more. What can we do? For one, we can join forces to register as many people for TPS as possible so that they will not be subject to deportation, and instead can work and live lawfully in safety.
Our organization, Catholic Social Services of Fall River, recently partnered with the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts and others to host a series of TPS workshops, where we welcomed no fewer than 49 volunteers. People from Seekonk to Cape Cod attended to receive and offer support, and the effect is a reinforced sense of fortitude. We are a region with a rich immigrant heritage. When one group is affected, all of us are. If we keep our eyes open and our hearts open, all of us will benefit.
Rebecca Eissenova, Esq., and Hana Hershey are with the Immigration Department at Catholic Social Services of Fall River.
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