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For Haitian immigrants, an uneasy Thanksgiving after protected status set to end

State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry (pictured last month) spoke at Tuesday’s luncheon about her parents, who immigrated from Haiti.
State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry (pictured last month) spoke at Tuesday’s luncheon about her parents, who immigrated from Haiti.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy stood inside the State House Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, and delivered a strong condemnation of the Trump administration’s decision to end temporary protected status for nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the United States.

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security decided that Haitian nationals, thousands of whom received protected status in the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, will have 18 months to settle their affairs and leave the country.

“There is no place in Haiti to receive any Haitian people,” Dupuy, a nun, told hundreds of immigrants and refugees at the State House. “Even though they were not born here, this is their homeland. It has become their homeland.”

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The crowd assembled just before noon to share a holiday meal with politicians and advocates at the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon.

Dupuy, a Sister of Saint Anne, left Haiti in 1989 amid severe civil unrest following a rebellion against Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Dupuy received temporary protected status and eventually became a US citizen.

TPS is a federal classification established decades ago to protect immigrants who could not safely return to their countries because of natural disasters, civil disruptions, or epidemics. With the status, certain immigrant groups have been able to live and work in the United States for many years. Many have children who are US citizens.

“This is neither a defeat nor a victory,” state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry said at the event. “I think this now tells us that we have to continue to do the work and to talk about the importance of TPS to the families. These are people that are here legally through TPS, that are paying taxes, that are contributing to Social Security, that are doing all the right things.”

She spoke of her parents immigrating from Haiti, how they encouraged her and her siblings to study hard. She received a scholarship to Boston College and worked her way into the state Legislature. These next 18 months will be a time to fight, Dorcena Forry said.

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“This is going to impact so many families,” said Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union. “I think for some families this Thanksgiving is going to feel extra heavy because this might be the last time we’re together as a family and next year there’s no telling [whether] we’ll be together.”

There were a number of Haitians in the room, new arrivals seeking asylum, learning English and waiting to be able to start working. If any were in the country on TPS, they would not admit it out of fear, according to Pastor Dieufort Fleurissaint, pastor at Voice of the Gospel Tabernacle in Mattapan and president of the nonprofit Haitian-Americans United.

He knows of people in the community who received TPS status after the 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. Those individuals don’t have anyone left in Haiti as practically everyone they knew died in the disaster, he said.

The 18-month extension alleviated some pressure. Some Haitians covered by TPS had worried they would be forced to leave the country immediately.

“Hearing that there is an additional 18 months, that gives them some hope,” Fleurissaint said. “It’s a mix of hope and despair. The 18 months could fly by so rapidly, so quickly, and if nothing is done they could be facing deportation to a country where they will not find any employment opportunities.”

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Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.