Time is running out for Haitian women and girls in U.S. as refugees

“I’m a fighter,” Mona Pompilus says, sitting at her dining table in her comfortable two-bedroom apartment, 3 miles from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Fresh faced with her hair tied back, she wears a black tank top that bares her long arms. “I fight silently, take you by surprise.”

The 43-year-old single mother never saw herself leaving Haiti, but says, “Struggle is my name.”

She spent seven years building her dream house in Haiti before the 2010 earthquake shook it apart. For two months, she cooked, showered, and slept in her backyard alongside 25 people, many of whom she barely knew.

“I had my job, but I didn’t have my house.” Her employer supplied gasoline for her to get to and from work, but the roads were almost unusable, she says. Living amid the rubble were displaced people, many severely injured but with nowhere to turn for help. The constant aftershocks kept everyone on guard, Pompilus says. “You had to keep your kids inside.” But there was a risk being trapped inside of what remained of her house if she made the wrong move.

Nights were cold and days brought inescapable heat. Pompilus worried about the rashes her 7-year-old son developed from the extreme weather changes, rashes she had arranged treatment for years ago. After a few months, when a friend offered them shelter in the U.S., she says, she had no choice but to accept.

That decision may have saved her and her son’s life but also left her in what is now a precarious situation. Along with about 59,000 other Haitian refugees, she is in the United States on temporary protected status, which the Trump administration plans to terminate for Haiti on July 22, 2019. Unless she can navigate an increasingly hostile immigration system to win permanent residency, or the administration offers to extend the deadline for the program, she will be sent back to a country still recovering from multiple disasters and that is dangerously unsafe for women, especially single women.

When she arrived in Boston, Pompilus and her son shared a twin bed in a walk-in closet in her friend’s apartment before Pompilus had enough money saved to get her own place. Within months of her arrival, she began seeing a psychologist for posttraumatic stress disorder. Every night for two years, she slept with her bedroom door wide open and awoke around 2 a.m., shaking. Pompilus says her therapist was not too concerned about her mental health. “‘You just need time,’” she said her doctor advised.

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