I found out that I was a different from my fellow immigrant classmates in high school, as I applied for college and scholarships. At the time I didn’t understand why I had to pay the same tuition as someone who lived in another state. And I didn’t understand why I couldn’t meet any of the scholarship requirements.
Throughout my childhood my family and I used to visit the United States frequently. But things changed when I was about 10 years old. My mother, brother and I came for what would be the last time, never returning to Haiti. My family received kidnapping threats, so we fled the island. And because we didn’t really understand the immigration process, we overstayed our visa.
That means when it came time to prove that I was a legal resident that could receive help to pay for college, I didn’t have adequate paperwork. So I didn’t know if I would be able to go to college. When I found out about the City University of New York, my anxiety settled a bit because the school was more welcoming to immigrants. I was relieved to know that I had at least one option for my education.
My first year was very difficult. At the time there wasn’t any funding or scholarships for undocumented students. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we had to take it semester by semester—scraping together enough money for courses and books. When the earthquake happened in 2010 we were devastated. But it took a such a tragedy, people losing their homes, to get some support for my family.
As I entered my sophomore year, we were able to file for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), paying over $1,000 in fees for each member of my family. This meant that my mom was able to find work as a home health aide. It meant that I was able to apply for a part-time job to help my mom pay for my tuition, food and transportation. I was also able to apply for fellowships; one enabled me to work in youth justice, the other covered part of my tuition and allowed me to create my own interdisciplinary major. I majored in cultural anthropology and international human rights because I wanted to work in my community and understand the inequalities we face as immigrants and people of color.
But the resources were never enough to completely cover for my tuition. Each year, tuition was getting higher. As a TPS recipient I still had to pay everything out-of-pocket since I didn’t qualify for financial aid. Becoming a TPS recipient is more like becoming an international student, but with less security since we don’t know what happens when it ends.
I’m sharing my story because it’s important to understand the diversity of the immigrant experience. We’re students, some of us are young and have lived here most of our lives, others are older and support their family in this country and in Haiti. We want to live; we don’t want to just survive. We want a path to citizenship. And we want to remind our neighbors and co-workers that our struggle is intertwined. I could get deported tomorrow. But as a Black woman, I could also get shot by law enforcement tomorrow.
We need action from the government that provides a humane, holistic solution for Haitians and other TPS holders. Not only do we want the Department of Homeland Security to update the Federal Register and re-start the 60-day re-registration period for Haitians, we need Congress to provide a legislative fix for all TPS holders. Congress has the power to affirm our long-term presence in and contributions to the United States by enacting legislation that provides a pathway to permanent residency. [In January, the Trump administration announced that the TPS program for Haitians would end in July 2019.]
TPS made it so that we could live, work, study, and support our families. In the time that we’ve lived in the United States, we have become a part of the fabric of this nation as workers, homeowners, and most importantly community members. This is all our fight. We have to work together to push forward.
Sarah Guillet is a Haitian New York resident, a graduate student at Hunter College studying urban planning, and a member of the UndocuBlack Network.