Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Pushing Feds to Let 50,000 Haitians Remain in the Country

Elected officials and Haitian leaders rallied in Foley Square for the extension of Temporary Protected Status for 50,000 Haitians in the United States. Madina Toure/Observer

Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, has joined fellow activists in urging Gen. John Kelly, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to allow 50,000 Haitian nationals—including 22,000 living and working in New York City—before a deadline Tuesday could expose them to deportation.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued an official recommendation to Kelly arguing that conditions in Haiti have improved sufficiently that the United States should terminate the refugees’ Temporary Protected Status, which provides sanctuary and work authorization to arrivals from countries enduring an armed conflict or natural disaster. Advocates, however, contend that the 2010 earthquake, the subsequent cholera epidemic and last year’s Hurricane Matthew have left the island ravaged.

Tometi, a Brooklyn resident and Nigerian-American, revealed at a forum in Manhattan on Saturday that BAJI had been coordinating with the advocacy group Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees to lobby Kelly to extend TPS for the impacted immigrants.

“We’re working with this particular organization because we think it’s important,” she said. “We believe it’s important to uplift the voices of women, to uplift the voices of Haitians who so frequently get the short end of the stick and who are so systematically disenfranchised in our immigration system.”

A DHS spokeswoman previously told the Observer that Kelly has to make a decision on the expiration or extension of TPS by May 23, to allow 60 days for official notification through the Federal Register, the daily publication for rules, notices of federal agencies and organizations, executive orders and other presidential documents.

Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees—founded in 1992—supported hundreds of families who sought asylum in the United States after being persecuted in Haiti. The city also conducted outreach efforts at subway stations about TPS for Haitians, particularly in the heavily Caribbean-American neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“Without networks like the Black Immigration Network, organizations like Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees would not get the support and resources and amplification that their voices that they need and deserve,” Tometi said. “They are faced right now with acute challenges, both in the community and organizationally. But the Black Immigration Network was able to come together and fundraise and support their work at the local level.”

BAJI created an action kit to help people urge DHS over the phone and on social media to ask Kelly to extend TPS.

In February, Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, co-chairwoman of the House Carribbean Caucus, introduced legislation that would expand TPS to include all Haitian nationals who were in the United States before November 4, 2016.

Tometi said her group practices “transformational solidarity,” which views people’s destinies as intertwined “and that when we lift up those who are most marginalized, all of us will benefit.”

“If they and the organizations that support them are left to crumble, then all of us suffer and this undermines us a whole,” she added.

BAJI has partnered with local and national organizations as part of #Freedom Cities, a movement for safe, healthy and thriving neighborhoods and local communities.

Tometi kicked off her keynote address at the Resilient New York discussion hosted by the North Star Fund at The New School today noting BAJI’s work—along with groups like Million Hoodies and Streetwise and Safe—to support the family of David Felix, a 24-year-old first-generation immigrant from Haiti and aspiring fashion student who was unarmed and shot to death by two veteran NYPD detectives in April 2015 in the supportive housing where he lived.

She noted that as a black immigrant that suffered with homelessness and mental health issues, he “experienced constant violence in the forms of poverty, xenophobia, criminalization of homelessness and mental health issues in addition to anti-black racism at the systemic level.”

Tometi told the crowd that there are nearly one million black immigrants in New York City, who make up nearly 30 percent of its black population. That percentage, she said, increases to more than 50 percent when the “legacy generation”—the “first generation of folks like myself who are the bridge generation”—is included, meaning 70 percent of the city’s black community “has some sort of migrant root or story.”

“Being in the immigrant rights space, I’ve heard a lot of transactional talk with questions like, ‘When will black people show up for immigrants?,'” she said. “This kind of framework isn’t working, and we need nuance, we need sophistication and we need to acknowledge the fact that people can be both black and immigrant, people can be black immigrant and queer and trans and a number of intersections.”