For many in Brockton’s thriving Haitian community, the place to find a taste of home is Jeano’s restaurant. Dieulifaite Jean — Jeano as he’s called — and his wife Berlange have been serving specialties from their native country for 31 years.
“When I left, Haiti wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. Both my parents were working. It wasn’t like now,” said Berlange Jean.
Widespread hunger, added her husband, was not common, as it is today.
The plight of their native country is the one thing that pulls Berlange Jean away from the restaurant. She makes frequent trips to Haiti, where the couple runs an orphanage. Almost eight years after the earthquake, they say, in Haiti, it’s still about basic survival.
“Sometimes we carry clothes here, box them up, send them over there,” said Jeano. “Shoes, paper goods, everything we know they need."
In Brockton, home to one of the state’s largest Haitian populations, fear of being sent back to Haiti is widespread. After the earthquake, tens of thousands of Haitians were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). However, the Trump Administration recently ruled to expire that program in 18 months. When the program ends, Haitians living in the U.S. under TPS will have to leave. That includes an estimated 5,000 Haitians in Massachusetts.
“Every morning when I go to school, we say [the] pledge of allegiance, before games, we say [the] pledge of allegiance. I feel like an American citizen,” said a 16-year-old Brockton High junior.
The student and his mother asked WGBH News to conceal their identities because they’re here under TPS and worry about attracting the attention of immigration officials. They came to Massachusetts shortly after the 2010 earthquake. The 16-year-old remembers sleeping in the streets because their home was destroyed.
“Think about going back is crazy, especially the situation with my little brother,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen to him.”
His youngest brother, now in third grade, was born in the U.S. He’s the only U.S. citizen in the family.
“It’s tough,” said the boys’ mother. “It’s very hard. When you try to explain to him what’s happened, he’s always crying.”
The mother said she wants to keep her family together, but must also consider if her only U.S.-born son would be better off staying in this country rather than in Haiti.
It’s a common predicament. The Center for American Progress estimates more than half of the country’s 50,000 Haitians holding TPS have a U.S.-born child. Most TPS families are working, nearly a quarter have a mortgage, and more than a third hold a college degree, according to the Center for Migration studies.
“Forcing you to leave, it’s not easy,” said Dieulifaite Jean. He gestured toward the heavens, saying only God knows what will happen to Haitians here under TPS.
There is another power that could help: Congress. Democrats have drafted legislation that would enable TPS holders from Haiti and other countries to remain in the U.S. Given the climate around immigration, it's unclear if there's enough Republican support to turn those proposals into law.