A group of Haitian and Salvadoran immigrants sued the Trump administration on Thursday in a federal court in Boston, arguing that the decision to end special protections that shielded them from deportation was motivated by racism against blacks and Latinos. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil and Economic Justice, a Boston-based legal non-profit, filed the suit on…
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–Francesca Menes is a rising star in Florida politics.
-She was recently named as the Treasurer for the Florida Democratic Party and has long been an immigration rights activist.
-Her well run campaign for Florida House District 108 has some wondering what her political future is, but she hasn’t figured that out yet.
A nine-year career and numerous accolades including the Miami Herald’s “20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders in South Florida” award, already follow 32-year-old Haitian-American activist Francesca Menes.
And after a strong but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for State Representative in District 108 last year, many in local political circles are wondering what the future is for the millennial leader.
Born to Haitian immigrants in Miami, Menes saw from a young age what public involvement can do for the causes that she cared about.
“One of the first protests that my mother took me to that I can remember was when the coup happened in Haiti for Aristide,” Menes said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Fifty-Fourth street was shut down with hundreds and thousands of Haitians, who were basically singing in the street ‘democracy, democracy for Haiti.’”
Growing up in Miami, though, Menes remembers not interacting with other groups besides her fellow Haitian-Americans.
She said that Miami, despite being a melting pot of many cultures, is still segregated — Cuban-Americans are in Little Havana and Haitian-Americans are in Little Haiti.
That’s something she has always tried to change.
First at Edison Senior High School in Miami, and after her family moved to Kansas City, the Central Classical Greek and Computers Unlimited Magnet High School, Menes was involved in debate and remembers learning about and debating many different issues.
“That is what helped solidified me in many ways was seeing how we can debate both sides of an issue, and actually try to push something for our communities,” Menes said.
That appreciation for debate continued at Florida International University where Menes became involved in on-campus progressive groups.
The child of Haitian immigrants, Menes views the issue as a calling for herself.
“Being in college, I was part of that radical feminist group that just wanted to shut everything down,” Menes said. “We weren’t happy with the way FIU was operating, how they were completely out of loop, and how conservative the university was.”
After graduating from FIU in 2008 with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies with a minor in philosophy, Menes served two years through AmeriCorps in the Public Allies program at Catalyst Miami, which according to Menes’ website “focuses on developing the next generation of leaders who are committed to long-term social change.”
Immigration law and enforcement is now an issue at the forefront of American public discourse, and President Donald Trump has made it one of his priorities.
The Trump Administration recently announced that it would be ending Temporary Protected Status for nearly 60,000 Haitians who currently live in the United States.
That means that those people will either have to fix their immigration status by July 2019 or risk deportation.
The child of Haitian immigrants, Menes views the issue as a calling for herself.
She has worked as the Policy and Advocacy Director for the Florida Immigration Coalition for multiple years. In that role, she helped push the state legislature to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Menes has certainly caught the eye of more established members of the Haitian-American political firmament.
“It is always amazing to me because, and I saw this working in Tallahassee, there is this conservative wing that is like ‘small government is better.’ And the more power that is at the local level the better,” Menes said. “What I learned over time is that it benefits them. If you are going to protect your communities and we [the Trump Administration] don’t like the way you are going to protect them, we are going to take away the ways to protect them, and that is basically what Trump attempted to do even though it was challenged over and over in the courts.”
While she may sound like a candidate, Menes is currently not considering running for office.
Menes said that it was members of her community who pushed her to run in 2016 for the Florida House of Representatives in District 108 (an area that includes Little Haiti, Liberty City, Miami Shores, and large parts of North Miami).
She ultimately lost to Roy Hardemon in the seven-way Democratic primary.
In the aftermath of her strong electoral showing and the decimation of the Florida Democratic Party in 2016, Menes was picked to be the Treasurer for the state party.
“At the moment I do not have a yes or no answer [whether or not I am going to run for office again] because when I decided to run it wasn’t me it was a community that asked me to run, and I had that support system behind me to know that I wasn’t going into this alone,” Menes said.
But Menes has certainly caught the eye of more established members of the Haitian-American political firmament.
Marleine Bastien, the executive director of FANM, whose mission, according to their website is to “empower Haitian women and their families socially, politically and facilitate their adjustments to South Florida,” recommended Menes for the Miami Herald’s “20 Under 40 Emerging Leaders in South Florida” because of her hard work and dedication to helping all immigrants.
“Her work has benefited immigrants in general, especially what she had done at FLIC,” Bastien said in a piece published by the Herald. “Anti-immigration laws have been defeated in Tallahassee because of her no nonsense leadership, and hard work. ”
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By Nate Nkumbu
Housing discrimination is an issue that is being faced by many cities across the United States.
In South Florida, housing discrimination is nothing new.
In a place where real estate is such an important part of the local economy, tales of housing discrimination are prevalent within minority communities.
Morgan Williams is the Director of Enforcement & Investigations for the National Fair Housing Alliance in Washington D.C. Williams explained in an email the history that housing discrimination has had the U.S.
According to Williams, in the 1930’s, a phenomenon known as redlining became a common practice in areas where minority people lived.
Redlining was a federal housing policy that explicit denying housing services to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic makeups of those areas.
Williams said that the practice is still in effect today with banks often at the front.
“Today, some lenders structure their loan products, restrict broker services, site branch locations, and/or target their marketing on the bases of race, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, or other protected class,” Williams told RISE NEWS.
“In restricting lending services in a discriminatory manner—whether limits services in communities of color or that isolated prospective female borrowers on parental leave—the more subtle contemporary redlining practices have the same practical effect of limited credit access on a geographic basis.”
One such case that Williams talked about is Providence v. Santander Bank.
According to the Providence Journal, the city’s lawsuit alleged that Santander Bank had reduced lending in minority neighborhoods over a multiyear period while expanding its business dealings in “predominantly white neighborhoods.”
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Santander Bank bought Sovereign Bank in 2009 and as a result occupied a large share of the overall mortgage market in the city, meaning that people had few options outside of Santander.
This case saw the city of Providence settle with Santander Bank for $1.3 million in grants for lower income houses in return for dropping the housing discrimination case.
In South Florida, there are organizations that fight housing discrimination.
Each one has different experience with the issue.
Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence or HOPE is an organization that operates in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Daniel Howe, an expert for HOPE said that that the most common cases that HOPE deals with are REO house.
REO houses are bank owned houses that are maintained and kept during foreclosure or unsuccessful sales.
Howe said that the REOs in richer, more white communities are maintained and well kept better that their Latin American or African American community, leaving areas of Miami looking dilapidated in stark contrast to the richer areas only a few blocks or miles away.
Another organization up in Palm Beach County has a different take on the housing discrimination in South Florida.
Vince Larkins is the CEO of Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches.
His organization recently took the city of Boca Raton to court accusing the city of discrimination towards families with children.
During an interview, Larkins said that housing discrimination cases are prevalent in the Haitian Community.
“The level of discrimination towards Haitians is disproportionate to the number of cases we get at the the office,” Larkins said in an interview with RISE NEWS.
This assessment is followed by Marleine Bastien, executive director of Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami, a organization based in Miami that helps Haitian families.
Bastien said in an email that the Haitian community often gets short shrift when it comes to housing.
“Most affordable housing seems to go to more politically connected and empowered immigrant groups like Cuban-Americans,” Bastien said.
“Those Haitian families that finally gotten through after long waiting periods often find themselves uprooted from their neighborhoods to Homestead, Florida City ….far away from their milieu ambient, extended families and friends.”
Just recently, Bastien’s organization fought to officially define the border for Little Haiti, an area that is the center of Haitian-American cultural and economic life in the city of Miami.
Last week, the city of Miami commission voted to make official the borders of Little Haiti.
Bastien said that there are plans for improvements across the area.
“Now we’re on a plan to revitalize the area and [create] a community land trust, to recoup spaces and land in the district/area and redevelop them for affordable housing,” Bastien said. “The second part of the plan is beautification and a CRA to bring resources to Little Haiti that strengthen businesses and spur growth.”
Florida is home to nearly two thirds of the Haitian American population. According to the 2009 census, Haitians Americans numbered at 830,000 people.
This community while growing in clout, is also at the heart of housing discrimination fights around the country.
Larkin pointed towards one case in particular with a Haitian family trying to buy a condominium. The family was flat out rejected by the condo’s owners, saying that they had a policy of “not allowing any colored people inside the community.”
“In the end, we were able to get the family into the house and won a settlement, but that family reached out to us first and were able to get their case heard,” Larkin said.
For Bastien, the work in Miami is not completely over.
She said that affordable housing isn’t much of reality anymore because the prices prohibited large sections of the population.
“It has been very difficult for folks to have access due to very limited resources,” Bastien said.
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