They came by the busloads from Miami and Orlando.
Husbands, wives, children. Housekeepers from Disney World. Cooks from some of Miami’s most luxurious hotels. They were maintenance workers, dishwashers, waiters and farmers. Many own homes, pay taxes and volunteer in their communities.
Waving flags and hoisting signs while chanting “Shut it down!” hundreds of hospitality union workers from across Florida marched in the searing sun on a bridge overlooking Mar-a-Lago Tuesday afternoon. The protesters, immigrants who work in the state’s $90 billion tourism industry, were there in advance of President Trump, who was scheduled to arrive Tuesday to spend the Thanksgiving holiday at his coastal resort.
Most of the demonstrators have had special protections from deportation, after fleeing hurricane- and disaster-prone countries; some of them have lived in Florida for decades. Now that will all end, as President Trump moves ahead with ending the protections, known as TPS, or Temporary Protected Status.
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The administration says the effects of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake — as well as upheavals in El Salvador — have subsided, and that TPS was always meant to be temporary, as its name indicates. Supporters of the Trump also argue that voters expressed their desire for curbing immigration when they elected him president.
In Florida, the move will affect tens of thousands of Haitians, Hondurans and Salvadorans, many of whom have worked in hotels, theme parks and restaurants.
“We are very scared. We don’t know what will happen. I will have to leave in the middle of the night so I won’t get arrested,” said Belinda Osorio, who came to Florida in 1991 from Honduras, one of the world's most violent countries. She earns $10.50 an hour as a housekeeper in a resort in Orlando. She has an American-born husband, two young children and owns a home.
“After working so many years, and working so hard, they want to tear us apart. We aren’t living off the government. We pay taxes. What we have, we worked for,” she said.
The protest was organized by “Unite Here,” a union representing hospitality workers across the nation. Most of them are immigrants who have held deportation protections for almost two decades, said Rachel Gumpert, a union spokeswoman.
“It's taking 50,000 Haitians who are legal workers and criminalizing them overnight,”' Gumpert said.
“They own homes, have American-born children, work jobs that are little more than minimum wage and yet they volunteer in their communities.”
The Department of Homeland Security announced the termination of TPS for Haitians on Monday, giving them 18 months to return to their ravaged country, but the protections have also been lifted for working immigrants from other struggling nations.
“A lot of families are being torn apart. They’ve been deporting them and sending them home to countries where they no longer have family,” said Mara Martinez, an outreach worker with The Guatemalan Elaya Center in Palm Beach.
The marchers also wanted to send a message to the president: If you deport us, many of the resorts, theme parks and hotels, including yours, won’t be able to operate.
They said their chant “Shut it down!” refers to how deportations will affect Florida’s hospitality industry, which is the engine for its tourism economy.
Marie Partait, who came from Haiti 15 years ago, says she has no family to return to if she is forced to return to her struggling country. She earns $9 an hour as a dishwasher at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
“I have six children. My mom and dad were killed in the earthquake. My country is nothing now,” she said.