On national day of mourning, Haitians demand apology from President Trump

Posted: January 12, 2018 at 11:48 a.m.

AP File Photo/EVAN VUCCI - In this Jan. 9, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with lawmakers on immigration policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. Trump used profane language to disparage African nations in a meeting with lawmakers about a proposed bipartisan deal on immigration, according to two people briefed on an Oval Office meeting held Thursday, Jan. 11.

Haitian-Americans across the United States were preparing for a day of mourning when word leaked Thursday that President Donald Trump had deployed an expletive to refer to Haiti and African nations during immigration talks..

Friday is the eighth anniversary of a massive earthquake that shattered the Caribbean and killed an estimated 200,000 people, triggering an outpouring of donations and volunteer efforts from Americans on behalf of their impoverished neighbor and prompting the U.S. government to offer undocumented Haitian migrants temporary protected status.

In Haiti and across the United States, religious services, a moment of silence and candlelight vigils are planned. Haitians are among this country's major immigrant groups, with significant numbers in Florida, New York and Massachusetts.

The Washington Post reported that Trump had grown frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the White House when they discussed including immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries in a bipartisan deal over young undocumented immigrants known as "dreamers" who were brought to the United States as children. The Trump administration announced in November that it would revoke protected status from nearly 60,000 Haitians by mid-2019, following a determination by the Department of Homeland security that the "extraordinary conditions" justifying sanctuary after the earthquake no longer exist.

"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump said, according to people who were at the meeting.

Trump denied the remarks in a series of tweets Friday morning, but Haitian Americans and others demanded that the president apologize.

U.S. Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, the only Haitian-American in Congress, tweeted Thursday that "this behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation." In Brockton, Massachusetts, Jean Bradley Derenoncourt, a newly sworn in city council member who fled the earthquake in 2010, called the remarks a "disgrace."

"The president should be ashamed of himself," Derenoncourt said, adding that Trump should also apologize to people from African nations. "My blood is boiling right now."

Massachusetts state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry called the president's words racist and "an affront to decency and to history."

Alix Desulme, one of two Haitian American city council members in North Miami, which also has a Haitian American mayor, said it was "disheartening that someone who is the leader of the free world would use such demeaning language to talk about other folks, referring to folks of color."

The United States is home to over 630,000 Haitian immigrants, not counting their U.S. born children. About 50 Haitian Americans are elected officials nationwide. Haitian Americans interviewed about the president's remarks said the comments diminish their roots, their families' sacrifices and their accomplishments in this country.

To Haitians, Trump's remarks were all the more perplexing because the president actively courted Haitians on the campaign trail, visiting Little Haiti in Miami and attempting to seize on their frustration with the pace of rebuilding after the earthquake, and the Bill and Hillary Clinton's family foundation's involvement in that effort.

It was not the first time Trump has offended the community, however. In December, the New York Times reported that Trump complained in June that thousands of Haitians allowed to enter the United States on visas last year "all have AIDS." The White House denied the report.

Haiti's Ambassador Paul Getty Altidor, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who previously served as vice president of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund in Washington, said his government in Port-au-Prince had summoned the chargé d'affaires from the United States to explain the president's remarks.

If they are true, he said, "We regret and condemn the statements that apparently the president made."

He said Trump was "either misinformed or miseducated about Haiti and its people" and urged him to brush up on the Caribbean nation's history, noting that Haitians fought alongside Americans during the American revolution and abolished slavery years before the United States.

Altidor said the embassy has been inundated with emails from Americans and others apologizing for Trump's remarks. He said the found the outpouring heartening and "testament of the strong bond" between the nations.

Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-born novelist who won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in 2009, posted a scathing rebuke to Trump on Facebook Friday. She said she had planned to spend the day checking on friends and relatives who had lost loved ones or survived the quake.

"Haiti is not a shithole country," she wrote. "It is a country that ... the United States has invaded several times, preventing us from consistently ruling ourselves. If we are a poor country, then our poverty comes in part from pillage and plunder."

Derenoncourt, the city council member, said he himself is an example of immigrants' contributions to America. His mother died when he was a child and his father immigrated to the United States, leaving him with family and sending money home. After the earthquake, he joined his father in Massachusetts.

He did not know a word of English, but he took classes and bussed dishes at a restaurant. He earned his GED, graduated from Suffolk University in Boston, and interned for politicians. He became a U.S. citizen in 2016, and ran for office in 2017. In January, he became Brockton's first Haitian-American lawmaker.

"That's the American dream right? That's the greatness of this country," he said.

Haiti's embassy is calling for a moment of silence at 4:53 p.m. Friday, when the earthquake hit, to remember the disaster victims.

In Port-au-Prince, the U.S. embassy in Haiti tweeted in English and Haitian Creole:

"Today we remember and honor the many lives lost 8 years ago in Haiti. #WeRemember #2010Earthquake"

NW News on 01/13/2018