Wait for Trump’s decisions is personal for south Florida’s Cuban, Haitian immigrants

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A report by Alexandra Glorioso for the Naples Daily News.

Natalie Marquis, a second-generation Cuban-American, struggled with her choice for president last year.

When it came time to mark her ballot, she chose Donald Trump because she believed he would increase border security, exercise diplomatic strength and take a tougher stand against Cuba’s Castro government.

“I have hopes that if he takes on the right approach with Cuba, it would hopefully reflect a better approach all around regarding immigration and foreign policy,” said Marquis, a 35-year-old Republican who considered supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton because she is a woman and for her education proposals.

Trump is scheduled to announce new policies toward Cuba during a visit here Friday, returning to the city where he promised Cuban-Americans during the campaign that he would reverse President Barack Obama’s actions.

Trump is expected to tighten restrictions on travel and trade with the communist country, although many younger Cubans celebrated Obama’s move to open relations.

Trump also is considering changes that could affect another significant immigrant group in South Florida. His administration has extended temporary protective status for Haitian refugees until January, although he has signaled a likely end to the policy is coming.

Both South Florida groups are watching Trump closely, believing that the actions he takes affecting their communities will offer insight into his administration’s approach to broader issues affecting immigrants across the country.

Haitians hoping for permanent status in the U.S. were disappointed earlier this year when U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said temporary status may no longer be warranted. The U.S. designates such status for residents of countries because of conflict, natural disaster or some other extraordinary circumstance affecting safety.

“My thinking is that this is a strategy to begin to phase out temporary protected status as an immigration benefit,” said Gepsie Metellus, executive director for a north Miami resource center for immigrants that focuses on Haitians. “So I think they’re beginning with Haiti and may slowly move down to other countries with the designated status from Honduras to Salvador and many countries on the African continent.”

Temporary protective status designations for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were terminated last month.

Trump already has acted to tighten U.S. immigration policies, including two travel bans issued through executive orders that federal courts have blocked.

Even without those bans and a promised wall on the Mexican-U.S. border, the number of undocumented immigrants caught illegally crossing the border decreased in February and March under Trump by 52 percent compared with the same period last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Trump’s new Cuba policy likely won’t satisfy some supporters like Marquis, who want a tougher U.S. position against the Castro government. They argue Obama’s policies hurt the Cuban people while helping the Castro government and U.S. businesses.

Trump is expected to roll back some of Obama’s changes. Obama’s policies opened tourism to Cuba for U.S. citizens and led some U.S. businesses to consider operating in Cuba. One hotel chain received a license to do business on the island.

But South Florida’s Cuban community is no longer solidly Republican and no longer solidly against improved relations with the island. The shift was evident in last year’s election, according to a voter analysis by University of Florida professor Dan Smith.

Even though Trump was endorsed by Cubans who fought in the 1961 Bay of Pigs battle, he didn’t take as much of the Cuban vote as many have assumed.

Smith’s analysis shows that in precincts like Marquis’ in southwest Miami where about 40 percent of the Hispanic voters were born in Cuba – historically the most conservative voters from the Cuban community – Trump took about half of the vote.

A 2016 Florida International University poll also offered another insight: Younger Cuban-Americans and new arrivals aren’t as conservative as Marquis and older Cubans in South Florida, especially those Republican voters who arrived from Cuba in the 1960s and ’70s.

Karla Montalvan, a 23-year-old Cuban who came to the U.S. when she was 9, describes herself as a Democrat. She had hoped Obama would go further in opening relations with Cuba and supported his decision to end the special “wet-foot, dry-foot” status Cuban refugees enjoyed over most others.

The special status allowed Montalvan to obtain documentation as soon as she touched American soil and to pursue residency.

At her parents’ kitchen table in southwest Miami, she described meeting a child she left behind at a refugee camp in El Paso, Texas, who was dying from eye cancer.

“What is the difference between that little girl and me?” Montalvan asked. “That she was born in Mexico and I was born in Cuba?”

Montalvan, who runs a nonprofit called Inspire Cuba that builds infrastructure on the island, said it would be easier to apply for funding and to develop more projects if Trump allows more U.S. engagement with the country.

But Cubans like Humberto Diaz-Arguelles, who fought in the Bay of Pigs and was imprisoned by Fidel Castro’s government for 22 months, want more radical change.

Diaz-Arguelles, president of the Veterans Association of the 2506 Brigade, said his organization broke its typical political silence to endorse Trump during the campaign. They believed they were running out of time and wanted to see the Castro regime overthrown before they died.

“We should use diplomacy to the utmost and get the people behind that movement in order to get rid of the Castro government,” said Diaz-Arguelles, 74.

For South Florida Haitians, the hope is that Trump will deliver on his campaign promise during a stop here last year to be their “greatest champion,” regardless of whether they voted for him.

Generally regarded as Democrats, Trump had little support from the Haitian-American community. Smith’s voter analysis shows Trump enjoyed some support — up to 16 percent of the vote in some South Florida neighborhoods densely populated with Haitian-born voters.

Faustaine Antoine lives in one of those north Miami areas. He switched from Democrat to Republican to vote for Trump because he believed the Clinton Foundation’s work in Haiti after the earthquake was corrupt and hopes Trump will investigate the matter.

Trump’s final decision on the temporary protective status Haitian immigrants have received since the 2010 earthquake in their country could force the deportation of Antoine’s girlfriend.

“She was talking about that, but I said, ‘If you don’t ever do anything wrong, you don’t have to be worried about anything,” said Antoine, 52, an airport security guard.

But some Haitian leaders disagree with Antoine’s perspective on Trump’s plans for temporary status granted to Haitians. Metellus, who runs the north Miami resource center for Haitians and other immigrants, argues Trump likely will take aim at other temporary status programs for immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Metellus, who came to the U.S. from Haiti when she was 12, said such actions could amount to a new era of immigrant discrimination that would be “unchartered territory.”

The U.S. once discriminated against groups like the Irish, Italians and Polish, Metellus said, but she fears Trump’s policies could target minorities.

“They were white,” said Metellus, 57. Discrimination “is going to look very differently for them than it would for us.”

Marie Farah Larrieux, a Haitian who has lived here under temporary status since 2010, said she believed she was on her way to permanent residency because Obama promised immigration reform. Now she worries Trump’s actions will force her return to Haiti after fighting to build a life in the United States.

“It takes a lot of energy for me every day to wake up and then say, ‘Okay, I’m going to work like it’s a normal life,” said Larrieux, a 38-year-old entrepreneur and former television personality. “Because I still have to produce. I still have to accomplish. I still have to push for my dreams.”

Racial tensions have long divided Miami’s Haitians from their Cuban neighbors.

Haitian community leaders say comprehensive immigration reform more directly affects their community because undocumented Cubans had a direct path to citizenship before Obama ended the special status in the final days of his presidency. They are hopeful the Cuban community will use its influence to push through reform after Obama failed to deliver.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a key advocate for immigration reform, said his community will champion the cause.

“Despite the fact that those issues haven’t affected Cubans, the Cuban-American community and its representatives have been on the forefront of fighting for immigration reform,” said Diaz-Balart, 55, a Cuban-American Republican born in Fort Lauderdale.

 

 

 

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