Haitian American Students Association Holds Sit-In After Trump Administration’s TPS Decision

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“So even if I’m here and I feel good my friends are aware of this I’m still bitter, very bitter.”

“When I say Haiti, you say ‘Rise Up,’” Mathania Toussaint, the PR chair for Haitian American Student Association (HASA), instructed the group of students and allies gathered on the steps of Kimmel Thursday night. Toussaint lead them in the chant, which swelled with each call and response.

This was the scene from the sit-in, organized in response to the Trump administration’s recent decision to strip immigrants of their Temporary Protected Status (TPS). HASA said it was necessary to bring attention to the move, which will affect immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan and Haiti, because they believe the issue has been overlooked in discourse regarding immigrant struggles.

“After we first found out about the decision, HASA was kind of scrambling because we found out about it over Thanksgiving break and had a planned meeting,” Toussaint said. “So we flipped everything because this is more important. We need to talk about TPS. Trump has systematically removed immigrants of color from the U.S., it’s been group by group.”

Initially, Toussaint expressed qualms about the prospect of organizing the demonstration because she hadn’t planned a protest before. But the reaction from students, especially Haitian students like sophomore Fatima Julien, made it abundantly clear her decision to highlight this issue was necessary.

“After finding out about the TPS removal, I was like ‘Shit, what are we going to do…What can I do?’” Julien said. “Then finding out about the sit-in I harassed all my social media followers saying ‘Come: if you’re a social justice type I’m taking attendance.’”

“Being here, especially during the chant,” Julien continued, “I got a little emotional but it was good. It feels nice to be able to say that I was here and that my friends know about it.”

Julien, who immigrated to the U.S. two years ago, has family members who will be directly affected by the decision: a sister will have to return and cousins that were trapped under the rubble of the massive 2010 earthquake, will also be forced out of the U.S. In light of their trauma, Julien expressed trepidation about them returning to Haiti.

Despite those fears, she also made it clear she and her family would continue fighting to ensure everyone remained in the states.

Albert Saint Jean addresses attendees.

The sit-in was planned to operate with the goals of bringing attention to the TPS matter and educating attendees on ways to help those affected going forward. Albert Saint Jean, the New York organizing fellow at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and Ellie Happel an NYU Law graduate, both provided information on the latter.

Saint Jean recommended students reach out to organizations such as Haitian Women for Haitian refugees, Haitian Americans United for Progress and, the one he’s a part of, BAJI. “Because we’re actually in the communities doing work, helping people to get legal access,” he explained.

He added that often the help impacted communities need isn’t complex and can be as simple as assisting a family with filing paperwork.

Similarly, Happel suggested that helping the Haitian community could be very doable right here at NYU — with NYU Law and undergrads collaborating to monitor what’s happening in Congress, in Haitian neighborhoods and responding accordingly.

After the sit-in’s moment of silence for Haitians affected by the cholera epidemic the nation is still recovering from, attendees began to gather their belongings to leave. HASA president, Fabrice Juin, left those gathered with a final message.

“I personally only see things like these — sit-ins — as beneficial and productive if every single one of you leaves the space with more knowledge and ready to help physically and tangibly,” Juin said. “Thank you for showing up but I also want to let you know pay attention and ask yourself ‘What can I do in my own way to help the cause?’”

By: Arimeta Diop for NYUlocal.com | December 11, 2017

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