A Haitian mother came to the US after the earthquake, now she doesn’t want to leave. After surviving a disaster, she says she’s ready for the immigration problems that lay ahead. The World’s Alex Gallafent has more. Download MP3
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MARCO WERMAN: Leaving one’s country under duress is never easy. Cuban dissidents can attest to that. So can Haitians displaced by January’s earthquake back home. Many of them left hoping to start new lives in this country. After the quake, the US government did extend an opportunity for undocumented Haitians in the United States, to apply for TPS. That’s Temporary Protected Status which allows Haitians to work and study in the US for up to 18 months. But in order to be eligible for TPS, you have to have been in the United States the day the earthquake hit. And, of course, many more Haitians arrived afterwards because of the earthquake. Every story is different. Here’s one, from The World’s Alex Gallafent.
ALEX GALLAFENT: Ninaj Raoul is the executive director of Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, a non-profit organization in the United States. Not long ago she was asked to look into the case of a recently arrived Haitian woman and her two young daughters.
NINAJ RAOUL: Her home was destroyed, as many people, and she’s from Port-au-Prince. She has four children but she left the older children with someone else to care for who’s in a tent. And she came to Miami where she has family that she had visited in the past which is where her older of the two children that are with her was born just last year.
GALLAFENT: An earthquake and a separated family. The woman, who gives her name as Anne, arrived in Florida a few weeks after the quake. She brought her then-youngest child. At the time she was heavily pregnant with her fourth. Anne is a tall and slender woman, her hair braids tied back under a plaid scarf. Sitting in a busy coffee shop, a buggy to one side, she says she’d been encouraged to come here because children born in the United States have certain rights and privileges. When she arrived in Miami, Anne stayed with a relative.
ANNE: After I got to Florida, she welcomed me for the first day. The second day was good too. But the third day was not so good. She asked me to leave, but I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know anybody. But she told me to leave, several times.
GALLAFENT: As strange as that sounds, Ninaj Raoul says isn’t actually that uncommon. In Anne’s case, it seems that her relative decided against letting her stay when it became clear that Anne had no plans to return to Haiti.
RAOUL: You know the Haitian community is generally a working class community and a lot of homes are already overcrowded and people living in a recession as it is. So it’s not unusual to see this. At least we’ve seen it a lot working with refugees over the years, that a lot of times families can’t accommodate extended family that come in from Haiti.
GALLAFENT: And so Anne says she did as she was asked and left. Now she knew that there was a large Haitian community in New York too, although she didn’t know anyone there herself. Still, she managed to get a train north.
RAOUL: And on the train she met a woman who was Haitian, who heard her story and she gave her a business card for a church that she could contact when she gets to New York.
ANNE: When I arrived in New York I met someone at the Church and she introduced me to a pastor. And he encouraged me to stay with a friend of his, a woman.
RAOUL: She said she could stay there temporarily while she figures out some kind of housing situation. At that time she was at least eight months pregnant.
GALLAFENT: Anne gave birth to another daughter. And the church member allowed Anne and her two babies to stay in her home for a couple more months. But it was a temporary arrangement. And, only a few days ago, Anne moved on again. Ninaj Raoul and her colleagues at Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees are now taking food and diapers to Anne at the shelter where she’s currently staying. Anne says they’re also helping her navigate a two-week investigation period conducted by New York City’s Department of Homeless Services.
ANNE: There’s not much access, there’s not much to do. I can’t receive visitors and if I have visitors I have to meet them outside. I’m there because at the moment there’s an ongoing process to see if I really don’t have anywhere to stay. So that’s the way it is. I can’t go out. I have to stay in. If the people bringing me food and diapers weren’t coming, I’d have nothing.
GALLAFENT: Anne’s situation is unusual because she has two American-born children. But her personal immigration status is not unusual at all.
RAOUL: She’s here on a visitor’s visa, as most of the Haitian people that are earthquake victims have come on visitor’s visas.
GALLAFENT: Ninaj Raoul says it’s likely that Anne will be able to extend her visa by another six months. But then what? What happens if and when Anne stays in the United States and loses her legal status? Raoul has heard of cases in which undocumented mothers of young US-born children still receive city housing. But that’s far from guaranteed. And Anne says she won’t return to Haiti. She wants to stay here with her daughters. She wants to go back to school. She wants to become a US citizen. And, however unlikely, she believes it’s all possible.
ANNE: I believe so, because I know God is alive watching me. I believe things will get better. They’ll get better one day.
GALLAFENT: For The World, I’m Alex Gallafent in New York.
WERMAN: Alex worked on that story in collaboration with Marie-Claire Williams of the BBC’s Caribbean Service.
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