Géralde Gabeau, an advocate for Haitian immigrants, vowed Tuesday to wage an 18-month battle to keep federally protected Haitians safely in the United States.
State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry, who is of Haitian heritage, declared at a State House luncheon that her advocacy will not waver.
And the Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, who leads a largely Haitian immigrant congregation in Mattapan, said he is taking an optimistic approach to the Trump administration’s announcement Monday night that it will end a humanitarian program that gives refuge to 59,000 Haitians left destitute after the horrific 2010 earthquake.
“I know that God has many ways to intervene,’’ said Fleurissaint, of the Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle Church in Mattapan. “I don’t see this as a blow. I don’t see this as an end. I see this as the beginning of a big battle to advocate for a permanent fix’’ for Haitians with protected status.
Affected Haitians have until July 2019 to get their affairs in order. Their Temporary Protected Status, a federal program established to shelter immigrants who could not safely return to their homeland because of natural disasters and strife, was slated to expire in January.
Monday’s announcement, while expected, sent waves through homes and community centers in heavily populated Haitian immigrant communities in across the country, in places like South Florida and New York.
In Boston, the news was met with a mix of condemnation, optimism, and deep resolve to spend the next 18 months expanding support, pressing congressional leaders, and taking on President Trump and his administration. Many argued that conditions in Haiti are still not suitable to re-transplant tens of thousands people in the country.
“If you have never been to Haiti, you do not know what you are talking about,” Marie-Judith Dupuy, a nun from Haiti, told immigrants and refugees at the annual Thanksgiving luncheon at the State House Tuesday.
The Haitians in the room included new arrivals seeking asylum, people learning English, and those waiting for their Social Security cards to be able to start working.
Dupuy shared her story of leaving Haiti in 1989 due to severe civil unrest following the rebellion against the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. She received temporary protected status and eventually became a US citizen.
Dorcena-Forry, who also attended the luncheon held by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition, said 18 months will be a time to fight.
Sharing the resolve of her own family, she told the story of her Haitian immigrant parents who encouraged her and her siblings to study hard; of her scholarship to Boston College; and of her rising stature in the Legislature.
Haitians with protected status are hard working, taxpaying people, “doing all the right things,’’ she said, and deserving of their opportunity to thrive.
“This is neither a defeat or a victory,” she said of Monday’s decision. “I think this now tells us that we have to continue to do the work and to talk about the importance to TPS to the families.”
State Attorney General Maura Healey called the decision a “cruel, reckless, illegal, unconstitutional and un-American act by our president.”
And Eva Millona, executive director of coalition, said that Haiti is not ready to take back tens of thousands who fled. Children born to affected Haitians may be forced to stay while their parents are sent back, she and others said.
“We know what conditions are like in Haiti,’’ she said. “They’re still rebuilding basic infrastructure. They’ve just recently contained a major cholera epidemic. And the economy is in tatters. There is simply no way that Haiti can absorb [59,000] people and their families if they are expelled from the US.”
That message continued Tuesday evening at a press conference in Dorchester, where more than 30 Haitian immigrants and their supporters gathered to denounce the decision and pledge to keep up the fight.
“We are very concerned about breaking families apart,” Gabeau, executive director of the nonprofit Immigrant Family Services Institute in Roslindale, said at the Kay Pam Center.
Holden Pierre, 24, a TPS holder, called the 18-month extension a “minor victory that gave us time so we can push for a permanent solution.”
Roughly 5,000 Haitians, 6,000 Salvadorans and nearly 1,000 Hondurans have temporary protected status in Massachusetts, according to Governor Charlie Baker.
Non-Haitian foreigners with protected status are also bracing for the possibility that their protections may not be extended.
In explaining its decision, the Homeland Security Department said that acting Secretary Elaine Duke determined that the “extraordinary” conditions in Haiti that had initially justified the program “had sufficiently improved.”
Haiti, still struggling to recover from the quake, remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Gabeau said many Haitians who arrived in Massachusetts after the quake came with nothing and have no relatives there.
“They lost not only their household, but also members of their family,’’ she said. “They are here [now]. They started to rebuild their lives and they don’t have anything to go back to.”
Gabeau said she plans to rally every supporter, from the governor to congressional leaders, to find some resolution for the Haitians whose future in the United States hangs in the balance. “We don’t want people to say that it’s 18 months left and they have time, because before we know it, 18 months will go by,” she said. “So, our position is that this is the time for us to fight for a permanent fix and that is where the fight will continue.”
Over the past several weeks, supporters in and out of the Haitian community have held rallies and written letters in support of the protected Haitians.
Last week Baker sent a letter to Duke, urging the federal government to “explore all reasonable alternatives’’ for people with the protection.
“It is not consistent with the traditions and values of the United States to order the return of large numbers of foreign nationals who have been following our laws and contributing to our economy and culture to countries that are dangerous, politically unstable, and incapable of providing basic services and protections for their citizens,’’ Baker’s letter, dated Nov. 14, said.Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed. Meghan Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Meghan Irons