Haitians in Brockton fire back at Trump’s controversial comments

By Marc Larocque
The Enterprise

BROCKTON – After Jean Bradley Derenoncourt read comments reportedly made by President Trump disparaging Haiti and other countries, during a discussion about immigration policy at the White House on Thursday, the Brockton city official was shocked and offended.

But then the newly elected member of the Brockton City Council decided to speak out, challenging the president to learn about the rich, proud history of his home country, as a land of resilient, hard-working people. Derenoncourt, who made history of his own at age 27 last year, when he was the first Haitian-American elected in Brockton, said he wants to give President Trump a wake-up call about Haiti.

“To the President: You need a history lesson,” said Derenoncourt, in a statement he sent to The Enterprise on Friday morning. “Reach out to me. I’ll provide it.”

In blunt and vulgar language, President Donald Trump questioned Thursday why the U.S. should accept more immigrants from Haiti and “s***hole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway, as he rejected a bipartisan immigration deal, according to people briefed on the extraordinary Oval Office conversation. Trump crudely questioned the rationale of lawmakers who want to reinstate residency protections for people from Haiti, El Salvador, and other countries, who came to the U.S. for humanitarian relief following disasters under the Temporary Protected Status program.

Derenoncourt, one of four councilors at-large on the Brockton City Council, said Trump’s comments were unacceptable and unfitting for the office of the presidency.

“The president’s comments about Haiti, El Salvador, and countries in Africa are about more than ignorance,” Derenoncourt said. “They are false, offensive, and demonstrate a mindset far below the standards of any elected office.”

Many members of the Haitian community in Brockton, where they make up a large portion of the immigrant population, reacted to the reports of Trump’s comments with outrage on Friday. The number of people of Haitian descent in Brockton has increased from 4,720 in 2000 to 5,237 in 2013, according to A Blueprint for Brockton, a comprehensive city planning document. And behind Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian-Creole is the second most commonly used foreign language in the city, according to the planning document.

The head of the Brockton-based Haitian Community Partners, which works to promote the social advancement of Haitians and the underprivileged, strongly rebuked the president for being “racist” about people from Haiti and other countries.

“The president is ignorant for saying that,” said Marline Amedee, the president of Haitian Community Partners, which was founded about five years ago. “We contribute to this country in as many ways as we can. For him to say that, it’s totally ignorant. ... We know that’s who he is. When someone shows you who they are, we know he is racist.”

Amedee said people shouldn’t tolerate such comments from Trump, or excuse them by saying the president is just defying political correctness.

“You have to call someone for who he is,” she said. “His agenda that he is promoting is racially divisive. We as a community and as a people cannot continue to stand for that anymore.”

Derenoncourt said he is an example of immigrants from Haiti coming here in the wake of disaster, and then contributing to the community and the country. Since arriving in the U.S. in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed at least 100,000 people and destroyed buildings across the country, Derenoncourt learned English, became a U.S. citizen, earned an associate’s degree, earned a bachelor’s degree, worked for a state senator and was elected to an important citywide leadership position in Brockton.

“We as Haitians continue to exist in the most extraordinary ways, as productive members of our global communities,” Derenoncourt said. “I took the oath of citizenship in the U.S. nearly five years after I arrived from Haiti, in the wake of the devastating earthquake in 2010. The community that embraced me, like so many communities across the country, is lifted by and progresses through its diversity. My hope is that we can continue to recognize this, regardless of whatever individual sits in the Oval Office.”

Trump later tried to clarify his comments about Haiti, putting out a tweet the following morning. Trump said he has a strong bond with the Haitians, never said “take them out,” and didn’t mean to disparage the people of Haiti.

While Trump said that Haiti is a “very poor and troubled country,” Derenoncourt put it a different way.

“I come from Haiti, the first black republic, its independence won from France in 1804,” Derenoncourt said. “Since then, debt-based foreign policies have overwhelmed us, natural disasters have left us largely dependent on NGO’s (non-government organizations), and foreign military occupations have resulted in fluid, often-unstable government institutions.”

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter also released a statement about Trump’s controversial immigration comments.

“There is no place in our country for the offensive and ignorant statement the President reportedly made Thursday,” Carpenter said. “As an American and mayor of the city of Brockton, I find the comments divisive and hurtful. The comments about Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations fly in the face of what we believe in our city.”

Amedee said there will still be some people in the Haitian community that support President Trump. But she said the vast majority oppose him.

“He will still have some people supporting him in the Haitian community,” Amedee said. “He should be the president of every American, not the 35 percent of American people.”

Amedee also said she didn’t believe President Trump’s denial of the comments disparaging of Haitians.

“He will continue to deny every little thing he says,” she said. “He denied the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape. He denied saying that Nigerians need to go back to their ‘huts.’ He denies, denies, denies. It’s a pattern with this president.”

Despite the president’s statements, immigrants from Haiti and other countries will continue to work hard and strive to contribute to the community and the country, Amedee said.

“This great country was built on the back of immigrants,” she said. “If we are talking seriously about immigration, at the end of the day, we all have a path to contribute to this country. Therefore, all of us need to work together to make sure this is a place that’s welcoming toward immigrants, not what the president is doing.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.