Fanor Massolas is a Haitian immigrant who lives in South Los Angeles, plays drums in a jazz band and works as a baggage handler at LAX. He stands to soon lose his work permit and his job — unless the Trump administration extends the temporary legal protection granted to Haitians after an earthquake devastated their country in 2010.
Massolas, 53, is from the town of Aquin, about 90 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. He is one of an estimated 1,000 Haitians in Los Angeles County shielded from deportation under the program known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.
In the magnitude 7.0 earthquake — the strongest to strike Haiti in more than 200 years — Massolas lost uncles and cousins, and the homes of several of his family members were destroyed. He sends money to his brothers and sisters to help them recover and rebuild, but he says it isn’t easy.
“I tell them, just because I’m in America doesn’t mean I have money,” he says. “I’m struggling.”
His struggles might only be beginning.
The Trump administration has until Nov. 22 to decide if the 46,000 Haitians living with Temporary Protected Status in the United States qualify for an extension or must leave the country in January. The Department of Homeland Security has urged Haitians to use the time before Jan. 22 to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.
Then–DHS Secretary John Kelly said in a statement in May: “I believe there are indications that Haiti — if its recovery from the 2010 earthquake continues at pace — may not warrant further TPS extension past January 2018.”
"Everybody start getting panicked,” Massolas says of Haitian TPS holders in Southern California. “If we don’t help our family members there, they can’t survive. They are dependent on us.”
The Haitians in Los Angeles are spread around the county, with the largest concentrations in Inglewood, Hawthorne and Pasadena.
“They’re very fearful of what’s happening, not knowing what tomorrow will bring,” says Guerline Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a nonprofit that aids Hatian migrants and asylum seekers in Southern California. “Some of them are getting ready. Most of them have nothing to get ready for.”
Some, like Massolas, already were living here before the temporary status was granted. Others arrived after. Massolas came to the United States in 2002, with the dream of a career in music. “I’ll be honest,” he says. “I came here in a boat.”
Nearly all of the Haitians here lost at least one relative in the quake; the death toll is estimated at 200,000, and 895,000 were left homeless. An estimated 3 million people — nearly one-third of the Haiti's population — were affected by the quake.
U.N. humanitarian coordinator Mourad Wahba said in January 2017 — seven years after the earthquake — that 55,000 displaced Haitians were still living in camps. “Many are still living in unsanitary conditions,” he told World Post. “We have a very long way to go.”
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Three members of Congress are preparing legislation that would allow all Temporary Protected Status recipients, including Haitians, to apply for permanent residency by proving to a judge that they would face extreme hardship if forced to return home. The bill, known as the ASPIRE Act, would also allow recipients to renew after six years, rather than every 18 months under the current rules.
Massolas says the TPS program has been a lifeline to Haiti and that, despite the Trump administration's statements to the contrary, the conditions there have not gotten better — at least not to the extent that it's safe to go back.
“There is no improve, there is no rebuild," he says. "Nothing is rebuilt in Haiti. We have the same devastation in Haiti. Things even became worse.
“It’s one of the worst crimes to do to us not to renew TPS," he continues. "If the program doesn’t survive, I don’t know. I really don’t know what I’m going to do."