Marjean Perhot, director of refugee and immigration services at Catholic Charities Boston, has worked with immigrants and refugees for more than 20 years. Serving one of the largest Haitian communities in the country, Catholic Charities is quickly becoming a leading advocate in the fight to continue Temporary Protected Status for Haitians. In an interview with CLINIC, Perhot shares how the Haitians in the Boston area are reacting and how other communities can speak up for TPS holders in their communities.
We are coming upon the end of the latest extension of TPS for Haiti and the Department of Homeland Security is instructing holders to be prepared for the potential end of the program.
What are you seeing in your community?
There is certainly a lot of fear right now. Catholic Charities Boston serves more than 5,000 Haitians throughout our agency. In our program offices, we repeatedly hear voices of anguish, anxiety and uncertainty from Haitians with TPS who are trying to figure out what to do if TPSis not extended for Haiti.
Boston is home to the third largest Haitian diaspora and many are TPS holders. In our consultations, we have seen an increase in the number of TPS holders who come to us desperate to find a legal way to remain in the United States. There is also a lot of misinformation about what options are truly available for TPS holders.
In and beyond Boston, we know that Haitian TPS holders and Haitians with parole are fleeing the country, seeking asylum in Canada. This is because of the horrible conditions that remain on the ground in Haiti. There is still a lack of access to clean water, food insecurity, cholera, lack of housing, etc. As we always say, if a person could return safely to their home country and build a life, they would go back. The conditions in Haiti and other TPS-designated countries just do not allow for return at this time.
What are key advocacy strategies you use to amplify the needs and benefits of TPS in Boston and across the state? What advice do you have for CLINIC affiliates and other organizations who want to engage in similar advocacy?
First, engage with CLINIC’s advocacy team and utilize their excellent resources! Be a resource for the media by being informed and having local and national data readily available to share. If you have a communications team, get them on board early. Let them know the [importance] of responding to requests from reporters quickly, especially at critical times in advocacy work like when the 60-day decision periods get close.
Also, personal stories are key for media advocacy. Be protective of your clients, but at the same time, it is critical to find people who are willing to speak publicly. We required reporters to use pseudonyms, or withhold the clients' last name, and use pictures of people’s backs where clients could not be easily identified. I was surprised by the number of Haitians with TPS who were willing to share their story. In fact, I found myself cautioning them away from allowing the media to use identifiable information.
A key resource for finding speakers was our Adult Education program and Basic Needs program. If your local Catholic Charities agency has these or other programs, it might be easier to find participants who are willing to speak, rather than only relying on your legal caseload.
Also, if you have not already done so, find out where the majority of your TPS clients work. Engage employers and remind them of the consequences if their employees lose TPS and work permits. Unions are also a critical resource. They are excellent at mobilizing workers and have strong connections to legislators. Looking ahead for El Salvador and Honduras, we are going to work with the local unions to push for re-designation of those countries.
How can CLINIC affiliates and or other organizations engage religious communities in TPS advocacy?
Yes, do not forget about the power of churches of all denominations. We are fortunate in Boston to have Haitian priests who are willing to speak up for this cause, as well as Protestant, Evangelical and Seventh-Day Adventist pastors. In the last round of Haitian TPS advocacy, several religious leaders worked together to convince the governor of Massachusetts and the state legislature to request that DHS extend TPS for Haitians.
Also, the religious community is an extremely important resource for TPS holders. The need for spiritual support, including group prayers and encouraging people to remain faithful and hopeful, is so crucial at this moment in time.
CLINIC in the News Date:
Friday, September 1, 2017 - 5:00pm