Congresswoman Frederica Wilson - A Friend Of Haiti
For over 30 years, I have worked to improve living and working conditions for Haitians in Miami and in Haiti. I have been a friend of Haiti long before the earthquake and long before I served in elected office. Recently, I was honored with the “Friend of Haiti” award as result of my continuing work in Congress.
In this newsletter, I will share my journey with the Haitian community. As the proud Representative of one of the largest Haitian-populated districts in Congress, I will also feature some of the initiatives that I have worked on to help our Haitian brothers and sisters.
While Haiti’s challenges are staggering, I am confident that, united, we will help Haiti rebuild and achieve a more prosperous and sustainable future. If you ever have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Frederica S. Wilson
Congresswoman, 17th District of Florida
Standing Up for Haitians
In 1982, After reading a Miami Herald article detailing unconscionable conditions faced by Haitian Women detained at Krome Detention Center, I worked with Father Gerard Jean-Juste and other community leaders to help them. Together, we worked with black churches and brought the issue to the attentions of President Ronald Reagan, Florida’s U.S. Senators Lawton Chiles and Paula Hawkins and other elected officials. After months of relentless advocacy which led to insurmountable pressure, the deplorable conditions were brought to light and the Haitian women were released from Krome1.
I In 1998, I fought for and secured the removal of textbooks, from Miami-Dade high schools, that blamed Haitians for the spread of HIV/AIDS. I also worked to stop discrimination against Haitians who were banned from donating blood, simply because they were Haitian.
In 2007, while in the Florida Senate, I introduced a bill that would have prohibited usage of the term "illegal alien" to describe undocumented Haitians and other immigrants in official documents2.
In addition to having sent over 6,000 Haitian boys to college through the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program, I have worked tirelessly to secure a path to citizenship and make college more affordable for Haitian immigrants. In 2003, as a State Senator, I worked with State Representatives Yolly Roberson and Juan Zapata to introduce S.B. 1852, a bill also known as Florida’s DREAM ACT3. Through this bill, foreign students who moved to Florida with their parents but who think of themselves as Americans because they grew up here – including thousands of Haitian-American children – would have gained legal status for college tuition purposes and a pathway to citizenship. This would have enabled them to pay in-state tuition as long as they have resided in Florida for a certain number of years and met other specified requirements.
Prioritizing Haiti in the 112th Congress
Representing one of the largest Haitian-populated districts in Congress and being a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, I have worked tirelessly to ensure that Haiti’s challenges are being recognized by the United States government. I have highlighted some of my initiatives below:
A few weeks after taking office, I visited Haiti. During this visit, I met with Haitian President Michel Martelly and earthquake survivors. Through conversations with survivors, leaders and a tour of the island, I was able to gauge the scope of Haiti’s challenges and the Haitian people’s unshakable faith and love of country.
Haiti Forum at Miami Edison Middle School
On January 11, 2012, I hosted a discussion on Haiti’s recovery featuring USAID Haiti Task Team Director Beth Hogan, U.S. State Department Haiti Coordinator Tom Adams, former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Kenneth Merten and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson4.
At the beginning of this year in Congress I sponsored “Haiti Week” – a week of events focusing on Haiti recovery issues, including gender-based violence, tent cities, governance, cholera, land rights and aid accountability. Haitian natives and Diaspora joined me in Washington D.C. as members of Congress and leading experts discussed Haiti’s challenges at-length5.
Meetings with former Prime Minister Garry Conille
Shortly after Haiti Week, I met with former Prime Minister Garry Conille and other Haitian leaders in my office and in the Capitol, alongside House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, to discuss Haiti’s recovery.
Delivering for the Haitian Community
Extending and Expanding Temporary Protective Status (TPS) – Securing TPS for Richard Jacque-Pierre
TPS has enabled thousands of Haitians to support their families and Haiti’s recovery. In May of 2011, at a White House meeting, I hand-delivered a letter to President Obama requesting an extension of TPS, which at the time was set to expire in three months. The Obama administration granted my request, extending TPS until January 22, 20136.
While TPS was extended to Haitians just days after the 2010 earthquake, for more than two years, Richard Jacque-Pierre couldn’t take advantage of the program. After relocating to Miami on the heels of the earthquake, Richard struggled to provide for himself. While TPS could mitigate his financial problems by enabling him to legally seek employment, he couldn’t afford the application. When I learned about Richard’s situation during an interview with a Miami Herald reporter in December 20117, I directed my staff to ask the reporter to have Richard’s social worker call my office. Within days, we helped Richard secure a waiver for the $500 TPS processing fee, enabling him to gain temporary legal status.
Securing Work Visas
After years of advocacy including my letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Haiti was added to the list of nations eligible for U.S. H-2A and H-2B work visas, on January 18, 20128. This is a win-win for thousands of Haitian families who remain displaced and the American businesses that employ them.
Speaking Up for Haiti at the USAID FY 2013 Budget Hearing
Foreign aid is an important component of our national security policy. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I took part in a hearing examining USAID’s FY 2013 budget request. In my statement, I commended the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for its timely and critical work in Haiti, in the days following the tragic earthquake. Furthermore, I asked USAID Administrator Shah to allocate more resources to fighting gender-based violence.
Sponsoring Sensible Legislation
Deportations: H.R. 3507
While I have applauded President Obama for halting deportations to Haiti on the heels of the January 2010 earthquake, when deportations resumed a few months later, so did my advocacy against it. Working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), I spearheaded a letter urging President Obama and Secretary Napolitano to halt these deportations to Haiti. However, I did not stop there.
After learning about Wildrick Guerrier’s death from cholera, less than a month after he was deported, I knew more work had to be done. Wildrick contracted cholera in an overcrowded and squalid jail cell. I swiftly worked with Haiti advocates and fellow members of Congress to host deportation briefings and introduce H.R. 3507 – Cease Haitian Deportations Act9. This bill would stop deportations to Haiti until the President reports to Congress on the status of post-earthquake humanitarian, reconstruction, and development efforts in Haiti, including efforts to mitigate the cholera epidemic.
Gender–Based Violence: H. Res. 521
H. Res. 521 calls on U.S. and Haiti government leaders to jointly address gender- based violence (GBV), starting with the adoption of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendations10. I introduced this bill after meeting young rape victims while visiting Haiti last year. Currently, 52 members of Congress have echoed my call to action by cosponsoring H. Res. 521.
Supporting Complementary Legislation
In addition to the bills I have introduced, I have supported other bills that will help the Haitian community here and abroad:
- H.R. 1016 – Assessing Progress in Haiti Act11
- H.R. 3297 – H.E.L.P. Act of 201112
- H.R. 3711 – White House Conference on Haiti Act of 201113
- H.R. 3771 - Haiti Empowerment, Assistance, and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act of 201214
- H. Res. 3515 and H. Res. 510 - Recognizing the anniversary of the tragic earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, honoring those who lost their lives, and expressing continued solidarity with the Haitian people16.
Preserving Island TV
For years, Island TV has served as a gateway to many Caribbean nations including Haiti. Through Island TV, the Haitian community has enjoyed programs that are tailored just for them and are conducted in Creole and French – Haiti’s official languages. When I learned about plans to close Island TV, I did everything possible to make sure that didn’t happen. I met with Comcast representatives in Washington and in Miami to remind them of Island TV’s importance to our community. Thankfully, they agreed with me and decided to keep Island TV open.
The Road Ahead
While the international community rallied to provide Haiti unprecedented assistance following the earthquake, in the long term, Haiti’s prosperity hinges on investment. On April 23, 2012, I attended a Haiti business conference, in Miami, which brought together investors, entrepreneurs and decision-makers to focus on investment’s role in Haiti’s future and to discuss opportunities. In the coming months, I will be attending similar conferences to encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to consider investing in Haiti.
Upcoming Haiti Initiatives
In the coming months, I will continue working aggressively to make sure that Haiti’s needs are being prioritized. Shortly, I will begin work on another TPS extension request. Without another extension, thousands of Haitians may be forced to repatriate to their homeland - where job prospects are dismal, housing is inadequate, diseases like cholera persists and living conditions are unacceptable.
1 Eady, Brenda. "Activism in Fashion for Black Sorority." The Miami Herald 11 Aug. 1982. Print.
2 "S.B. 1852." Florida Senate Website Archive. The Florida Senate, 2003. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://archive.flsenate.gov/session/index.cfm?BI_Mode=ViewBillInfo>.
3 "S.2154." Florida Senate Website Archive. The Florida Senate, 2007. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://archive.flsenate.gov/session/index.cfm?Mode=Bills>.
4 Charles, Jacqueline. "Haiti, South Florida Remember Quake Victims on Anniversary." The Miami Herald, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/13/2587302/haiti-south-florida-remember-quake.html>.
5 Tramel, Salena. "Haitians Take on Capitol Hill." The Huffington Post, 07 Feb. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/salena-tramel/haiti-earthquake-relief_b_1250676.html>.
6 Gordy, Cynthia. "Homeland Security Lets Haitians Stay Longer." The Root, 18 May 2011. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.theroot.com/blogs/immigration/homeland-security-extends-protected-status-haitians>.
7 Haskell, Charles. "Local Haitian Injured in Quake Struggles to Provide for Family." The Miami Herald, 5 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/05/2575673_p2/local-haitian-injured-in-quake.html>.
8 Charles, Jacqueline. "Haiti Workers Can Now Apply for US Guest Worker Visas." The Miami Herald, 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/01/18/2596312/haiti-workers-can-now-apply-for.html>.
9 "H.R. 3507 - Cease Haitian Deportations Act." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:9:./temp/~bdTSzd::|/bss/|>.
10 "H. Res. 521." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 23 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:13:./temp/~bdTSzd::|/bss/|>.
11 "H.R. 1016." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 26 Apr. 2011. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas>.
12 "H.R. 3297." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas>.
13 "H.R. 3711 - White House Conference on Haiti Act of 2011." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 16 Dec. 2011. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas>.
14 "H.R. 3771 - Haiti Empowerment, Assistance, and Rebuilding Act of 2012." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 13 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas>.
15 "H. Res. 35 - Recognizing the Anniversary of the Tragic Earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, Honoring Those Who Lost Their Lives, and Expressing Continued Solidarity with the Haitian People." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 May 2011. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas>.
16 "H. Res. 510 - Recognizing the Anniversary of the Tragic Earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, Honoring Those Who Lost Their Lives, and Expressing Continued Solidarity with the Haitian People." Thomas. The Library of Congress, 13 Jan. 202. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:HE00510:|/home/LegislativeData.php|>.