Daughter of Haitians, 10, urges Trump to extend families' protected status
Ronyde Christina Pontieux issues video calling on president not to divide families like hers by ending protections: ‘They are hardworking, honest people’
Any 10-year-old who records her own video address to a United States president is usually seeking high marks in fifth grade civics. For Ronyde Christina Ponthieux, the message is much more poignant – a personal appeal to Donald Trump not to tear her family apart.
While Ronyde is an American citizen, born and raised in Miami, her parents are not, and they face deportation if Trump follows an expected path and ends the temporary protected status (TPS) of more than 50,000 Haitian immigrants living legally in the US.
After warning in May that Haitian TPS “beneficiaries” should begin preparing to leave, the Department of Homeland Security must announce by Thanksgiving Day its plans for the programme beyond the current January expiration date.
Immigration advocates fear the Trump administration will declare that conditions in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak have improved sufficiently to order those granted interim sanctuary in the US under TPS to return.
Families such as Ponthieux’s, with US-born children who have known no other home, would face unenviable choices: to split up if one or both parents are deported; try to build a new life together in an unfamiliar country where 80% of the population lives in poverty; or to sink into the shadows of an undocumented existence in the US, at risk of arrest, detention and removal.
“They are not criminals – they are hardworking, honest people who just want a safe place to raise their families,” Ponthieux, a young leader with the advocacy group Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), tells Trump in her video calling for an extension of TPS for Haitians for a further 18 months.
“They pay taxes, they contribute to the social, economic and political fabric of this great nation. Ending TPS would not only harm families, it would be bad for business and bad for the economy.”
Ponthieux’s father, Rony, 49, who is originally from Port-au-Prince and is a registered nurse at Miami’s Jackson Memorial hospital, said it would be heartbreaking for his children, including his 17-year-old son, Christopher, to leave behind their friends, and that the uncertainty had taken a toll on his family.
“We’re concerned, particularly Ronyde. She is giving all of herself in the fight to renew TPS,” he said. “Sometimes I can’t sleep; I had a severe headache and had to go the emergency room. The doctor said I was too stressed. The uncertainty of TPS renewal put so much pressure on me that I feel sick.”
Such reactions are not uncommon: almost 275,000 US-born citizen children have been born to TPS recipients from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras, according to the Center for Migration Studies, and some health experts have warned that worrying about separation can cause severe psychological or cognitive harm.
Earlier this month, in terminating the TPS programme for thousands of Nicaraguans who fled to the US after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and deferring a decision on 57,000 similarly affected Hondurans until July, the acting secretary of homeland security, Elaine Duke, acknowledged the “difficulties” families would face and called on Congress to find a permanent solution.
Last week, Yvette Clarke, a Democratic congressional representative from New York; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican; and Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, introduced a bill to protect TPS immigrants, hoping the so-called Aspire Act would attract bipartisan support by offering a path to permanent residency only to those who could prove they would face genuine hardship in their home country.
Immigration campaigners, meanwhile, say the imminent decision about Haiti meant the clock was already ticking. “The time is now,” said Natalia Jamarillo of the advocacy group We Belong Together.
“[TPS] is the last line of protection for these families. We cannot have more kids separated from their parents.”