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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  1.'Pastor Jack Ottoson

    To:you Details
    Dear Mr. President,

    If the latest quote about countries constituting 2/3rds of the globe’s population is true, I find it vulgar, crude and ignorant. The statement is
    totally inexcusable for a leader of the free world.

    Allow me to share a short, personal story.

    In 2017 I underwent cardiac surgery. My cardiologist was from the country of Haiti. The nurse/angels who attended to my care were from
    Columbia, Kenya, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Phillipines and Egypt. This group of people was like a “United Nations” of health care.
    It is due to their expert care that I am alive and thriving today. If you would care to read a short story about my experience, I am including
    the details below.

    Mr. President, please, please, think before you speak. While being plain spoken may be lauded in a locker room or bar, it is truly not befitting
    of a person holding the highest office in the land.

    Respectfully yours,
    Pastor Jack Ottoson
    Daytona Beach, Florida

    A cardiac ablation through the eyes of “little” Jack
    (Adult translation: hospital, menopause, anesthesia, kidney, electricity, intubation)
    I walked up the steps of the big hop diddle past a little waterfall. The waterfall was making a nice pond so we looked into it hoping to see the fish. There were no fish in the water. Someone must have caught them all.

    We went up to the front desk and saw a nice lady with beautiful black skin and a very nice smile. I think the hop diddle has comedians at this desk to make people laugh and feel better when they come in.

    Her computer didn’t work. She said, “Dear God!” A miracle happened right then & the computer began working.

    The lady asked, “Sweetheart, what is your birthday?” She said, “Ooh my, I got into this world before you!”

    She asked, “Do you smoke?” I said, “no”. She said, “Would you like to? I have a pack in my purse.” This was a joke because I know you can’t smoke in a hop diddle.

    Just then the lady quickly stood up and took her sweater off. She said, “I am positively mean pause.” I think her mean pause sweater stops her from doing mean things. We should all have one of those.

    We went to see a nurse who got me ready to go to the Anastasia room. She said not to worry about going to see Anastasia because when she was a little girl she also had to see Anastasia. This was the kind nurse who is giving a kid knee to someone she loves. She told her daughter that grown ups have extra kid knees and they can give the extra kid knees to people who need them. When I grow up I want to give my extra kid knees. For now, I just have to learn to share my sandwich with my sister.

    The nurses were from many places. One nurse was from Sweden. But, when I spoke Swedish to her she did not understand. Maybe she didn’t learn Swedish from her grandma like I did. That’s ok, because when I looked at her face she looked just like my cousins in Sweden.

    I got to ride a big Hot Wheels bed to go and see Anastasia. Anastasia’s room is very large with lots of TVs and many people standing around my bed. The nurses all work very hard because they know that the doctor with the Star Wars sabor is in the house. That’s a funny thing to call a hop diddle but it is a very BIG house.

    The nurses put big stickers all over me. Stickers on my legs. Stickers on my chest. Stickers on my back. Stickers all over. I think my bonus granddaughters, Sarah and Grace, would have had a lot of fun watching stickers go on little Jack. I was totally covered in stickers.

    The nurse next to me talked in a voice from a far away place. She had a soft voice and kept asking me if I was ok. Who wouldn’t be ok with all those fun stickers on you? They did tickle tho.

    My doctor is the best doctor in the whole world. He is very smart and knows lots about lectricity. He can do two things at the same time. He uses a very tiny Star Wars sabor. The sabor went up to my heart. Then my doctor watched it all on a very big TV. He fixed the lectricity in my heart. He fixed the lectricity by waving the Star Wars sabor while he was looking at the TV. I fell asleep, but my friend told me all about it. I never got to see Anastasia but I know she is doing fine.

    I went to a room where the night nurse was very kind. He watched over me all night & said I could have as many graham crackers & peanut butter as I wanted. I stopped at two packages cause I didn’t want to be a pig. The night nurse has the keys to the graham cracker and peanut butter cupboard and gives them out for free!
    My throat was a little sore. The nurse said that this was because of inner tube vacation. I didn’t know what inner tube vacation was, but the nurse said I could have ice cream at 3 a.m. I think he has lots of ice cream cause he said I could have all I wanted. Wow!

    At the hop diddle they take your clothes and most of your toys but I didn’t mind. I still have my family, friends, faith and smile. Someday I’m going back to the hop diddle at lunchtime and have all my new friends tell me about the places they are from like Haiti, Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Mexico, Kenya, Philippines, Columbia, the whole world really… Jack Ottoson has served as a pastor, university chaplain, hospital chaplain and fishing guide. In retirement he has written, Just Plain Sense – Reflections of a Plains Pastor.

  2.'Joe Loughrey

    Marc, great perspective for all who read this. It reminds us all how Haitians and immigration in general have shaped Ameri ca for the better though some of us seem to have forgotten. I am sharing with others. Thanks for doing this.

  3.'Charles Barne

    That guy pay the money to become president and said he going to make America great again ,iam pretty sure he will destroy America before he’s 4 years.And want to tell him go to America history before he’s talking shit ,and go read the bible a bit to see how god was treat those king.


    No. Immigration is killing the West. There will eventually be cause for war – why would you say this is good for us? Why are you pushing us towards huge social upheaval and conflict?

  5.'Lazarus marmanidis

    I am son of Greek immigrant parents in America , to those that may be concerned about Haiti and it’s great people , I Lazarus would like to tell the folks who don’t know their greatness to take a few minutes and go to your local library or Google it on your phone’s and find out what the relationship between Haiti and a country 6 thousand miles away named Greece is , Read how one people and their nation named Haiti stepped up to recognize a nation named Greece , who where also enslaved just as they were , and mind you folks they were not white brown yellow red green or Martian , folks they where black African descent , folk’s it’s not only America and Greece they stood up for, but fore all those nations that thirst for their freedom , if Haiti and it’s people are suffering today , the major reason of many other reasons is that those political hack’s of Haiti with the help of past and present political hack’s of the united States have been and still are hacking the Haitian citizens , folks one thing that you must know is that the Haitian citizens are hard working people with great minds and let us not ever forget that in their strong warm heart’s flow’s liberty and freedom , and that is all I wanted tell those that will have the chance to Read this, Thank you from( Lazaros marmanidis) from Boston mass.


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