Community Board 17 approves resolution for TPS for volcano-stricken Vincentians

Victor Jordan, first vice chairperson of Community Board 17.
Victor Jordan

Brooklyn Community Board 17, on April 21, passed a resolution supporting a call from Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke urging the Biden administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Vincentians in the red zone of the explosive La Soufrière volcano.

Clarke — the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the predominantly Caribbean 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn — first raised the issue last weekend after visiting a volcano relief center, at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, run by the Brooklyn-based SVG Relief Committee, USA.

“I’m happy to report that a resolution to grant citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Temporary Protective Status, because of the destruction, devastation and dislocation caused by the eruption of La Soufriere volcano was approved, with no opposition,” Victor Jordan, first vice chairperson of Community Board 17 which encompasses East Flatbush and parts of Flatbush in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life on Thursday. 

Jordan, a Guyanese-born attorney and economist whose late mother was Guyanese and late father was Trinidadian, sponsored the resolution. 

He said his late grandfather, Alexander Jordan, was born in Chateaubelair, a town along the northwestern coast of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and within the red zone of La Soufrière volcano. 

Jordan said that both attorney Allen E. Kaye, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and Community Board 17 member Asshur Cunningham, a native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who was born and lived in the red zone before migrating to New York, both spoke in support of the resolution at the extraordinary community board meeting. 

The board resolution supports “the request that Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gellibrand urge the Biden administration to grant Temporary Protective Status to citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the United States who cannot return home until the social and economic dislocation caused by the La Soufrière volcano abates.” 

“The impact of COVID-19 on St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been disastrous and, with the hurricane season on the horizon, La Soufrière eruption has virtually destroyed St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ remaining economy,” the resolution stated. 

“Therefore, be it resolved that Community Board 17 supports the request that Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Sen.  Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gellibrand urge the Biden administration to grant St. Vincent and the Grenadines Temporary Protective Status to citizens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the United States who are unduly impacted by the eruption of La Soufrière volcano and cannot return to their homes on the island at this time,” it adds. 

The resolution notes that the explosive eruptions, which began on April 9, have resulted in the evacuation of 20,000 people from “the high-risk zones around the volcano, both to other parts of the island and surrounding countries.” Eruptions are ongoing, and the falling ash is causing “air quality concerns, with interruptions in electricity and water supply.”

In addition, the resolution alludes to lead volcanologist, Prof. Richard Robertson, of the Seismic Research Center, at the St. Augustin Campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago, as indicating that “breathing in volcanic ash could cause health problems, and the particles could create untenable situations if they get inside buildings.” 

On Sunday, Clarke called on the Biden administration to grant TPS to Vincentians in the red zone of the explosive volcano.

“I am calling on the US State Department to immediately allocate an appropriate level of funding to support our neighbor’s rescue, recovery and rehabilitation, and I am calling on Secretary (of Homeland Security Alejandro) Mayorkas to designate TPS status for the people of St.  Vincent and the Grenadines and neighboring islands that are located within the red zone,” Clarke, who chairs both the US Congressional Caribbean Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus Taskforce on Immigration, told Caribbean Life.

“These island-nations have direct ties with the United States, and many have familial ties within the Vincentian-American Diaspora community of my district that will prevent any temporary relocation from becoming a stress on our economy,” she added. “The US must comply with international legal obligations and allow all migrants access to the asylum system.

“As DHS (Department of Homeland Security) processes this request, I urge Secretary Mayorkas to consider the plight of our neighbors in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the neighboring islands, living through this extraordinary environmental disaster while facing a pandemic, the likes of which our global community has never seen,” Clarke continued.

TPS is a temporary status given to eligible nationals of designated countries present in the United States.

This status, afforded to residents from some countries affected by armed conflict, or natural disaster, allows persons to live and work in the United States for limited times.

Clarke said the US Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS if conditions in the country meet statutory requirements regarding ongoing armed conflict, natural disasters (including epidemics), or other extraordinary and temporary conditions in the country that temporarily prevent its nationals from returning safely.

“The Secretary of Homeland Security has the discretion to designate a country for TPS for periods of six to 18 months and can extend these periods if the country continues to meet the conditions for designation,” she said.

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