Farah Larrieux: Faces of TPS

Farah Larrieux (Photo via The Haitian Times)

I met Farah Larrieux in 2000 when I was working with Djakout Mizik to participate at the West Indian Carnival Day Parade in Brooklyn. Farah was part of the band’s public relations staff. We’ve maintained a close friendship over the years.

After the 2010 earthquake destroyed her home in Port-au-Prince and the death of her mother a couple of years earlier, Farah decided to move permanently to the U.S. and settled in South Florida.

Farah is a go-getter. She radiates confidence and exudes an infectious energy. She is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise murky music industry.

Since moving to South Florida, Farah has not skipped a beat. She continued working in various capacities handling public relations for many bands and other clients. At one point, she was the impresario for Zenglen, a top-level band in South Florida.

Most recently Farah – the owner of a public relations company – organized a two-day seminar on the HMI, bringing musicians, producers and other stakeholders to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the crippling disruptions facing the Haitian artistic community.

But Farah’s days in the U.S. are numbered. She is one of roughly 60,000 Haitians who have been living legally here under the temporary protected status that the Obama administration bestowed on Haitians after the earthquake.

Late last year, the Trump administration rescinded Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and gave Haitians until July 2019 to self-deport or face deportation by U.S immigration police. In many ways, Farah’s story is similar to thousands of others. These are people who have been contributing to the betterment of their community from New York to Boston to Florida and parts beyond in the United States.

I spoke with Farah recently and the following are her own words.

How do you feel about Trump’s decision?

Trump’s decision to end TPS without giving a path to permanent residency to TPS recipients who have built their life in the U.S. is inhuman and discriminatory.

You’ve been active in the TPS fight, what have you been doing? 

Since 2017, I have embarked in the fight for TPS by working with local and national immigration and human rights advocacy organizations such as Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (FANM), Alianza Americas, Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), UndocuBlack Network, National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) … In June 2017, with Marleine Bastien and staff of FANM, I attended the TPS national conference in Washington. After this three-day event, I became a spokesperson of the National TPS Alliance. With these organizations, I have traveled three times to Washington in 2017 to meet with members of Congress of both sides of the aisle. In South Florida, I participated and/or have been a speaker for many events – rally, forum, conference, meeting, press conference. I have done dozens of interviews with local, mainstream and international media outlets such as Sun Sentinel, CBS, Voice of America (Creole Section),WLRN South Florida’s NPR station, CNN, The Associated Press, France Ô Television, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News and The Asahi Shimbun (a Japanese newspaper).

How do you feel about being deported?

As of now, I don’t want to think about that, because it is a depressing thought. I get my determination, strength and courage by focusing on the fight and the common goal.

What impact will it have in the Haitian community?

Deporting about 60,000 Haitian citizens will have a negative economic impact on the Haitian diaspora in the U.S. It will affect the life of hundreds of thousands of Haitian families. It will jeopardize the future of thousands of Haitian children some of whom will be forced to be separated from their parents [who will be] deported to Haiti, and others who don’t even speak Creole will be displaced to Haiti, a country which has very little to offer to its citizens.

What impact will it have in Haiti?

This situation will deepen the economic crisis in Haiti by increasing the unemployment rate, the housing issue and the poverty. Considering that since 2012, the Dominican Republic has been deporting en masse Haitians and those of Haitian descent to Haiti, and neither the previous governments, Martelly/Lamothe and Martelly/Paul, nor the current government, Moise/Lafontant, have been able to tackle this issue and provide the appropriate assistance to the victims to settle down in Haiti, I don’t see how the country can welcome these repatriates from the U.S.

What would you do if you were to be deported?

If it happens that we lose the fight for permanent residency, I will continue to do what I started … continue to expend my communication company and to advance my career. But I know not every Haitian has the possibilities and resources to start over in a country that has very little to offer to its citizens.

What lessons have Haitians learned from this situation?

I am not sure if in general we, Haitians, have learned anything from this situation, since we have seen a similar crisis in 2012 and [it’s] still going on in the Dominican Republic. Back then, what have our leaders, President Joseph Michel Martelly, his government, the parliament, politicians and those who were in positions of influence done with that? How did they handle the situation? Even when CARICOM and other international organizations and personalities were trying to put pressure on the Dominican Republic for this human rights violation, Michel Martelly and Laurent Lamothe stated that they will handle the situation with the Dominican Republic. But instead, they negotiated trade relations with the Dominican government on behalf of a group in Haiti which only thinks about its pockets but not about the well-being of the Haitian people. Now, under Jovenel Moise’s leadership, we see a weak Haitian diplomacy and a government which is in denial about the capacity of Haiti to absorb so many returnees and their families. 

In addition, this immigration crisis has deepened the division, discrimination and wickedness within the Haitian diaspora. Haitian TPS recipients have been bullied by their own people. Haitian media personalities in the diaspora – particularly radio hosts – have called TPS recipients all [kinds of] names, like lazy people, because they do not have their permanent residency yet. Unfortunately, when the news came out, we found out there was more support and sympathy from non-Haitians and even from white people than from Haitians. It is sad to say it, but that is the truth. On top of that, Haitians make the issue more political instead of addressing it as a human rights issue. “Haitian Democrats” took it as a revenge against Haitians who denounced the Clintons’ failure and corruption ring in Haiti. And “Haitian Republicans” were too busy enjoying Donald Trump’s victory that many did not see [it] coming. And you have another group of Haitians who say, “I don’t care. That is not my business.” As of today, I don’t see any effort or initiative to better organize the Haitian diaspora in their host country, to educate our people about the serious immigration crisis around the world and to stimulate job creation in Haiti in order to give hope to those living there.

Do you think Haitians were not prepared to deal with this?

Based on my previous description of the current state, any[one] can understand that Haitians were not and are still not prepared to deal with such a crisis. Instead, every day, there are about 130 people leaving Haiti by plane to move to Chile. We complain, we blame our government, politicians and the economic elite in Haiti, but those who are on the front line of the Haitian diaspora in the U.S. have not convened yet to join forces in order to defend their own; to put pressure on the Haitian government so they can address the issue with a level of priority it deserves; to work with Congress and allies in the U.S. in order to advocate for permanent residency for, not only Haitian TPS recipients, but also for the over 400,000 TPS recipients and over 800,000 DACA recipients who are currently living in limbo.

What do you think needs to be done?

First and foremost, in Haiti, the Haitian government needs to stimulate job creation by providing access to capital, resources and incentives to entrepreneurs and investors. They need to send a strong signal for the fight against corruption and to strengthen the justice system. This will boost the economy and encourage Haitians to stay in their country, instead of moving to other countries where they might be victims of humiliation, discrimination, racism and violence.

On the other hand, the Haitian diaspora must get organized by creating or reinforcing organizations that can accompany new immigrants to integrate the system and succeed economically in their host country – organizations that provide resources, training, technical assistance, and personal, career, leadership and entrepreneurship development programs that can help with the advancement of Haitians living abroad, therefore contributing to a stronger and wealthier diaspora. We need leaders in the Haitian diaspora of the U.S. who can do a better job advocating on behalf of the people of Haiti to change American policies vis-à-vis Haiti. We need leaders who can articulate the needs, challenges and demands of the Haitian diaspora to both the Haitian and American governments, in a timely manner, that can give efficient results.

This story first appeared in The Haitian Times. 

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