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Brooklyn pols express alarm about Puerto Rican referendum, Haitian protected status

Puerto Rican referendum illegitimate; Haitian protection status extension a ‘half measure at best.’

June 12, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Rep. Nydia Velázquez, left, and Borough President Eric Adams. Photos by Mary Frost
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Brooklyn officials expressed alarm on Sunday about events affecting Puerto Rico and Haiti, the birthplaces of thousands of Brooklyn residents.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez had harsh words for the referendum on statehood held Sunday in Puerto Rico. Less than a quarter of eligible voters participated in the plebiscite, with two major parties urging a boycott.

 “This plebiscite failed to live up to that standard and the deck was stacked throughout the process,” Velázquez said in a statement. “With members of two of the three major political parties in Puerto Rico boycotting the vote, we can safely assume the results do not even remotely reflect public sentiment on the island. I believe there should be a democratic mechanism for the Puerto Rican people to determine their destiny, but to have any degree of legitimacy, such a process must follow the rules and not be haphazardly rushed.”

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Velázquez said that the referendum actually harmed the island’s residents, since the process was too rushed to be paid for with federal funds.

 “At a time when the education system is being shuttered, more than half the children of Puerto Rico live below the poverty line, public hospitals are running out of doctors and antibiotics and local emergency response services are being scaled back, spending funds on a misguided, ‘dog-and-pony-show’ plebiscite is unacceptable,” she said.

Also on Sunday, a coalition of elected officials, community groups and religious leaders called for an 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. New York City has the largest concentration of Haitians in the U.S., with the largest communities in Brooklyn.

On May 22, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced the extension of TPS for Haiti for an additional six months, effective July 23.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams called the six-month extension of TPS “a half-measure” at best.

“The Trump Administration needs to appreciate the struggle of tens of thousands of families in Brooklyn and across America who have lost everything,” Adams said in a statement. “The threat of losing TPS in six months presents a public safety risk to both of our nations. Our focus ought to be on supporting relief organizations working on the ground to rebuild Haitian communities, and in the meantime providing an 18-month extension, at minimum.”

“The people of Haiti have been resilient, fighting to restore their civil society. But the situation remains precarious,” U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke said, adding that she has been working with her colleagues in the Caribbean Caucus and with groups like the New York Immigration Coalition to urge Homeland Security to extend TPS.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called the six-month extension “a common-sense and humane action that will help remove a burden of worry from Haitian nationals as their home country continues to recover,” and said he would continue to fight for future extensions.

Other Brooklyn officials supporting an extension of TPS include state Sen. Kevin Parker, state Senator Jesse Hamilton, Assemblymember Nick Perry, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, Councilmember Jumaane Williams and Councilmember Mathieu Eugene.

Haitians with concerns about their status can call 311 and ask for “ActionNYC” to schedule an appointment. Online, immigrants an look through iAmerica’s databases to access immigration legal services as well as other important information.

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