Haitian American voters targeted in new ad highlighting Trump's attacks on community

©Miami Herald

MIAMI — A pro-immigrant group that is lambasting President Donald Trump in battleground states for what it says is racist anti-Asian rhetoric is now turning its attention to the Haitian American community in Florida.

Created by Immigrants List Civic Action Inc., the 54-second radio and TV ad in English and Haitian-Creole is called the “Greatest Threat” and attempts to use Trump’s own words against him. It starts airing Wednesday in Haitian American communities throughout Florida ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The spot follows a similar release, “Words Matter,” targeting Asian American voters in Florida, Michigan and other battleground states. That ad was released in August.

“The whole point is Immigrants List Civic Action Inc. is trying to get new Americans out to vote basically in different immigrant communities,” said Ira Kurzban, an immigration lawyer and the founder and chairman of the organization.

The group plans to release similar ads targeting Puerto Rican, Cuban American, Venezuelan American and Arab American voters in the coming days, he said.

“The idea obviously is, we believe if these people come out to vote and vote in their own interest, they are going to stop Trump and vote him out of office,” Kurzban said. “I honestly believe that the Haitian American vote is critical in Florida because the election in Florida is going to be very close. There is some ambivalence, that’s inexplicable, in the Hispanic community because why would they want to substitute one authoritarian for another? That’s why I think the Haitian vote is more and more important.”

Despite that recognition, Haitian community organizers and radio hosts have expressed frustration with the Democratic Party and Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, which they accuse of ignoring the community and not doing enough to reach voters, including spending money on media buys.

Last week, Karine Jean-Pierre, the chief of staff to Biden’s vice presidential pick, Sen. Kamala Harris, called into several Haitian community radio stations in Miami to talk about the campaign. While the call was welcomed, critics noted that two particular stations with a large reach, Radio Mega 1700 AM, which extends all the way to Central Florida, and Radio Piman Bouk were not among the line-up.

“If you want me to fight for you, I have to know what I am fighting for,” said Nelson Voltaire, who runs Radio Piman Bouk, which is one of the popular stations in the Haitian community and has a loyal following.

Voltaire, who owns WQVN 1360 AM and said he recently bought WKAT 1450 AM, said he hasn’t received any ad buys from the Biden campaign and has no intention of mobilizing his listeners on behalf of the party, even though he’s a Democrat.

“All of them are the same, Democrats, Republicans. All they do is blah, blah,” Voltaire said. “They spend money with their own and they do whatever they want.”

If there is an indication of the challenges the party faces with Haitian American voters, it came across Monday when Haitian Americans from across the U.S. called into a Port-au-Prince, Haiti, radio station during an interview with former American diplomat and Biden supporter Peter Kujawinski, who was visiting Port-au-Prince.

Speaking in Creole on Radio Kiskeya with host Marvel Dandin, Kujawinski tried to draw the contrast between U.S.-Haiti relations under Trump versus President Barack Obama, when Biden was vice president. But some callers, still not convinced, voiced their discontent about the Democrats, leading Kujawinski at one point to say he was not there to debate the past.

The frustration with the lack of outreach among Haitian voters has led to politically active individuals trying to step in to do their own outreach to get out the vote.

Because Immigrants List Civic Action is a 501(c)(4) educational organization, the ads cannot directly tell voters to vote Trump out. All the ads can do is encourage people to go vote.

In the ads targeting Haitian voters, the group tries to explain why President Trump, who as a candidate in 2016 against Hillary Clinton promised Haitians he would be their “greatest champion,” is not on their side. Trump made the promise while visiting Little Haiti, a visit that sought to capitalize on Haitians’ anger and disappointment in Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, over their involvement in Haiti after the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

However, after taking office Trump ended several immigration-related programs, like the H-2A and H-2B guest worker program that directly benefited Haitians, and has pushed for an end to Temporary Protected Status. The designation was granted to Haitians after the earthquake by the Obama administration and allows upwards of 50,000 Haitians to work and live legally in the United States. Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court in California overturned a lower court’s temporary injunction barring the president from terminating TPS.

The ad is built around these decisions and features both a woman speaking with a Creole accent in English, and a man speaking in Creole.

In the English ad, there is a newspaper headline of Trump telling Haitians he wants to be their “greatest champion” followed by the allegations of him referring to Haiti and several other nations as “shithole countries” and saying Haitians “all have AIDS.”

The ads then proceed to highlight decisions Trump has made against the interests of the Haitian community since winning the presidency: the cancellation of the temporary, seasonal workers visa; the ongoing deportations of Haitians with COVID-19 who were in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody; the end of the Haitian Family reunification program that expedited entry into the U.S. for Haitians eligible for green cards, and his push to end TPS.

“Haitians. Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out,” a slide quoting the president said, his photo in the background.

“Donald Trump isn’t our greatest champion,” the voice over then said. “He is our greatest threat.”

Despite the attempts to cast Trump as anti-Haitian, the Republican Party continues to try to make inroads with Haitian American voters, including a recent meeting with a group in South Florida and outreach to pastors and radio hosts. Some are wondering if Trump himself will once again try to meet with the community as he did in 2016 in Little Haiti.

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(Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.)

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