The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Yes, Mr. President, we DO need Haitian immigrants in the United States

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Haitian flag hangs in a Haitian diaspora community in Miami, Florida. (Photo: Anna Kramer/ Oxfam America)

Contrary to Trump’s reported claims, Haitians have made enormous contributions to the US since before our independence.

According to reports that first appeared in The Washington Post, President Trump told lawmakers that the United States shouldn’t take immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, or African countries, and he characterized those nations in extremely vulgar terms. The alleged comments put promising immigration reform negotiations with Congress in jeopardy, and came on the heels of the Administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of Haitians and Salvadorans living in the US.

Media reports also indicate that the President said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

Adding insult to injury, the President’s reported remarks came just 24 hours before the eighth anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake, from which Haiti is still recovering. The temblor killed more than 200,000 people, including our Oxfam colleagues Pierre Amédée Marescot and Aurelus Auguste, and displaced 1.5 million.

The new controversy over apparent comments from the President about Haiti follows his contention that recent Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS,” reported in December in the New York Times.

While it is true that Haiti has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS of any country in the Caribbean, that statistic doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Haiti has made tremendous progress against the disease over the past decade, with US assistance providing crucial support to the effort.

According to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, between 2010 and 2016, new HIV infections in Haiti decreased by 25 percent and AIDS-related deaths fell by 24 percent. The US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a program of the US State Department, has partnered with the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population on initiatives such as providing treatment to over 80 percent of those affected by the disease in Haiti. The US Agency for International Development has helped to cut the rate of HIV transmission from mothers to their children by more than half.

But let’s get back to the question that the President is said to have asked about why the US needs Haitian immigrants. Well, Mr. President, Haitians and their US-born children have been an integral part of our country since even before we won our independence from Britain. In October 1779, 750 Haitian troops joined American Revolutionaries in defending Savannah, GA against King George’s invading soldiers. The Haitian contingent included a 14-year-old drummer boy, Henri Christophe, who would go on to become a hero of Haiti’s own revolutionary struggle for independence and the second president of Haiti.

Classroom building on the Roi Henri Christophe Campus of the University of Haiti in Limonade. The campus, built after the 2010 earthquake, is named for Haiti’s second president, who fought as a boy in the American Revolution. (Photo: University of Haiti)

But the connections don’t stop in the 18th century. Here are just 10 of the many Haitian immigrants and their descendants who have made exceptional contributions to our country over the years since then:

  • John James Audubon, the painter and naturalist from whom the wildlife conservation organization the National Audubon Society takes its name; he was born Jean Rabin in Les Cayes, Haiti.
  • Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, known as the “father of Chicago,” born in Saint-Marc, Haiti.
  • Jean Charles Faget, pioneering researcher on yellow fever, born to Haitian immigrant parents in New Orleans.
  • Edwidge Danticat, McArthur Foundation Fellow and award-winning novelist, essayist, and short story writer, born in Port-au-Prince.
  • Karl Racine, currently the Attorney General of the District of Columbia, who arrived in the United States from Haiti with his family at the age of three.
  • Jason Derulo, singer-songwriter, born Jason Desrouleaux in Florida to Haitian parents.
  • Robert Fatton, Jr., Haitian-born political scientist at the University of Virginia, where he has served as department chair and Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and author of path-breaking studies of politics in Africa and Haiti.
  • Jacqueline Charles, award-award winning journalist for the Miami Herald, born to a Haitian mother in the Turks and Caicos islands.
  • Actress Vicky Jeudy, who plays Janae in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, born in Queens, New York to a Haitian family.
  • Jason Pierre-Paul (known as “JPP”), two-time All-Pro defensive lineman for the New York Giants, born to Haitians in Florida.

Then there’s US Representative Mia Love, a two-term Republican from Utah, where she earlier served on the City Council and as Mayor of Saratoga Springs. She was born in Brooklyn, New York to parents who came from Haiti. Although her voting record is usually supportive of the Administration, she criticized the decision to end TPS status for Haitians. Following reports of the President’s remarks about the United States not needing more Haitians, CNN quoted Love’s response: “The comments are unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. The President must apologize to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned.”

That says it all.

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