'I feel it personally': Spring Valley leaders express horror for Haiti, seek ways to help – The Journal News

SPRING VALLEY – The ties between Haiti and this densely populated village were clear Monday as dozens of elected and community leaders gathered at Village Hall to remember assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and call for peace and healing here and in the Caribbean nation.
Calls of sympathy and prayers were offered in English and Haitian Creole. Haiti’s national anthem was sung by the many dignitaries and audience members.
The shock of last week’s assassination and its reverberations concerned the whole community.
“We are horrified by the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in Haiti,” said U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones, who grew up in Spring Valley and attended East Ramapo schools, where so many public school students are from Haitian-American families.
Village Mayor Alan Simon pointed to the three flags that hung at half-staff outside Village Hall: the American flag, the flag of the State of New York, and Haiti’s red-and-white flag that carries a coat of arms and the words “Unity is Strength.”
The bonds between Spring Valley and Haiti remain strong: Haitian leaders, including Moise, have long made the village a key stop during U.S. visits.
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Spring Valley Police Lt. Chignard Noelizaire was assigned to the 2018 detail that escorted Moise and First Lady Martine Moise, who was critically injured in the July 7 attack.
“I’m Haitian,” Noelizaire said during Monday’s ceremony, “I feel it personally.”
Simon referenced local politics – sometimes sharp-elbowed – with tension often flaring between and within diverse communities.
“I know that the Haitian people here don’t always agree,” said Simon, who is Jewish and follows two village mayors of Haitian descent. “Whatever we are and no matter what our background is, (today) we are all Haitian.”
Spring Valley has been home to a Haitian diaspora for generations now. The communities’ ties were evident after the 2010 earthquake that decimated Haiti. Relief efforts sprang up across the village and emanated throughout Rockland, from the organization of medical relief trips to clothing drives. 
Such relief trips continue.
In the quake’s aftermath, about 200 children from the Caribbean nation enrolled in the East Ramapo school district. Many had been traumatized by their experiences in the quake and had lost family.
East Ramapo Schools Superintendent Clarence Ellis said Monday that his staff was meeting to prepare for any new students who may join the district amid the continued upheaval in Haiti.
“We will make sure when our children return to school, especially students of Haitian descent, they see we are united in condemning violence,” Ellis said.
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Haiti’s ties to the U.S. stretch to the American Revolution, when Haitians joined the Colonists’ fight for independence. Haiti is the second-oldest republic (after the United States) in the Western Hemisphere and the first to abolish slavery. 
But the country, once so rich in natural resources, started its independence in 1804 saddled with the debt of “reparations” to the former enslavers who once ruled the country’s portion of Hispaniola.
Natural disasters and political strife have fed to the democracy’s precariousness.
Jones, a Democrat who represents the 17th Congressional District, said he had attended two briefings in the last week with federal officials and has encouraged more action by the Biden administration.
At Haiti’s request, the U.S. is sending investigators to look into the assassination; but the Biden administration has so far not committed troops to help quell the chaos in Haiti. 
Jones, who noted he and other elected officials have Creole-speaking staff, said he wanted to ensure people with ties to Haiti that “help is on the way.”
Jones had advocated for an extension of Temporary Protective Status for Haitians, which the Biden administration granted for 18 months in May. TPS allows many Haitians in the U.S. to stay here and legally work. 
But a rash of deportations, started in the dwindling days of the Trump presidency, continued into the beginning of President Biden’s tenure.
A Spring Valley man, Paul Pierrilus, was among those deported to Haiti by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The 40-year-old, though, is not a citizen of Haiti. Until ICE sent him there in February, he had never even been there. Pierrilus was born in Saint Martin, a French territory in the Leeward Islands. He wasn’t automatically a citizen there because his parents weren’t French nationals, but were citizens of Haiti at the time. He also didn’t automatically inherit Haitian citizenship through his parents. He had lived in Spring Valley since age 5.
Lawyers for Pierrilus and his family say he’s in hiding in Haiti, fearful of the kidnapping and extortion that many Americans face there. 
Even before the presidential assassination, the U.S. State Department had a standing “Do not travel” advisory for Haiti, citing the risk of kidnapping, crime, civil unrest and COVID-19.
Nancy Cutler writes about People & Policy. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @nancyrockland


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