BOSTON (AP) — Haitian immigrants and their supporters marched and rallied in downtown Boston on Friday to decry President Donald Trump's recent comments and policies concerning Haitians.
Roughly 200 people came out to City Hall Plaza waving Haitian flags and holding signs critical of the president before marching silently next door to the John F. Kennedy Federal Building that houses many federal agencies.
The gathering was meant as a rebuke of a vulgar comment Trump made about Haiti and African nations during negotiations with congressional leaders over immigration policy, organizers said.
"We can stand in the cold because we are fighting for what is right," said Geralde Gabeau, a rally organizer. "We are not going to repeat the words of the president because we are a people of character, grace and dignity."
Organizers also called on the Trump administration to re-examine its decision to terminate temporary protected status for tens of thousands of Haitians. The special status allows foreign nationals to live and work in the United State temporarily when natural disasters or civil wars prevent them from returning to their home countries safely.
Haitians were granted the status following a devastating earthquake that struck the Caribbean island nation in 2010.
It's been renewed a number of times, to the consternation of opponents who say the humanitarian measure was never intended to allow immigrants to establish permanent roots in the U.S.
The status was slated to expire Jan. 19 for Haitians, but the Trump administration automatically extended it through July 2019, after which those on the special status must return to Haiti.
The Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, chairman of Haitian Americans United and another rally organizer, said delays in re-registering Haitians for the remainder of the special status already are causing employment problems.
He said many companies are telling Haitian workers this week that they can't return to work until they have updated work permits in hand, a process that federal officials say could take about three months.
"It's a nightmare," Fleurissaint said. "There's a lot of confusion."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Joanne Talbot said the agency wasn't aware of any major problems.
It so far has received "less than 10" queries from business owners about the renewal process, but didn't immediately have an estimate for how many it questions or complaints it has fielded from Haitian immigrants, Talbot said.
The agency last week outlined the process for Haitians seeking to re-register for temporary protected status and receive updated documents.
It said that Haitians could simply provide their employers with a copy of the official re-registration announcement as proof their work status remains valid until their new papers arrive.
Dozens of the protesters also criticized Trump for pushing policies they see as a threat to family ties.
Trump has offered to protect young people brought into the country illegally as children in exchange for major changes to legal immigration. He also would eliminate hundreds of thousands of family-related visas. Immigrants would only be allowed to sponsor their spouses and underage children to join them in the U.S., and not their parents, adult children or siblings.
Trump also proposed to end the visa lottery program that benefits people from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.