On Jan. 28 President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigration into America from seven Muslim countries, including those with green cards and visas, those already living and working in the United States and those already vetted through the rigorous screening process to seek refuge here in America. That executive order has currently been placed on hold by a federal judge.
However, hearing the news of the travel ban brought back memories for one family who immigrated to the United States in 2009 from Haiti. Although Haiti is currently not on the list of banned countries, it did not lessen the feeling of sadness the Germain family experienced last week, as they reflected on their decision to leave their home country, their journey to America and the opportunities they have had since, to live a safe and happy life.
Aniece and Norly Germain and their three sons, Oliver (6), Kyle (5) and Nolan (1), now make their home in Cranston, but the memories from 2009 remain fresh in their memory, and Aniece emphasized that making the decision to immigrate is not one takes lightly, and she shared her personal story.
"When I came to the United States in 2009, it was not an easy choice for me," she said. "I came across a situation of life or death. At that time, I flew Haiti to escape from life-threatening insecurity and injustice. It was a tough decision to make, leaving behind my family, my professional life, my journalism career and my friends. Indeed, it was a frightening situation and a difficult decision to make. Emotionally, I felt so unstable and I was having all kinds of thoughts that this could be disastrous for my family and me."
Aniece was kidnapped but was able to escape her captors.
Aniece feels that many, including the new president, do not realize the stories behind the reasons that people make the difficult choice to leave their country of origin.
"There is something the president needs to know about immigrants coming into America," she said. "It is not only people who want to live the American dream who come here; among them are lots who have a great life in their home country and did not even think about abandoning their lifestyle. Different circumstances have brought people and will continue to bring people to the U.S. because America always cares about human beings and human rights." Aniece was happy with her life in Haiti, but had to make a difficult choice to leave when things became unsafe.
"I had a great life, despite the fact that I was living in a developing country," she said. "My fiancé at that time was pursuing his Ph.D. degree in France. He traveled to Haiti for our wedding that was scheduled to take place on July 25, 2009. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to get married in Haiti. I had to give up all my plans."
Less than a month from what should have been her wedding day, Aniece left for the United States.
"I lost faith in the authority of my country to guarantee my security and to protect me from those who pledged to destroy my life," she said. "For my survival, I had to flee the country to avoid being a victim of the politicians' hangman. It was really hard for me to give up everything, the person I was, to come here. Nevertheless, I remembered that I came to the land where all dreams are possible."
In 2015 Aniece became an American citizen, and to this day she believes that immigrating to the United States of America saved her life and that America is still the land where dreams are possible, despite the recent ban on immigration, which has started with the predominantly Muslim countries.
"Eight years later, I do believe America is still the same," she said. "American people helped me to overcome the difficulties. I was lost and heartbroken when I landed here. America gave me my smile back. I was a stranger and they welcomed me. I felt safe. I found a new family and new friends here. I was lucky enough to be warmly welcomed in this great nation, I received unconditional love and support from my church congregation at St. David's on the Hill, to help me understand the culture and to settle down."
It is Aniece’s hope that the America she knows and loves will continue to stand true to its values, in spite of what President Trump is attempting to do through his immigration ban.
"My hope is to see America keep the values for which it stands for and continues to save lives. We all come from different walks of life. Our diversity makes us who we are," she said. "It saddened me to see how our current president tends to jeopardize what the United States of America stands for as the land of liberty, freedom and opportunities for all, regardless of where you come from. Our ancestors have fought to settle those values that shape our society and make us who we are as a nation of immigrants. When I heard that our president took this extreme executive order to ban immigrants from coming to America, it broke my heart. It makes me realize how America, that has welcomed me as an immigrant and gave me hope to start a new life here, is currently taking a dangerous curve. I do not wish, through some radical executive orders, for the values of human beings that bond us as a nation to be taken away."
The Germain family works hard to help those who still remain in Haiti, and to that end Aniece and her husband, Norly, now an adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island and Johnson & Wales University, along with other friends, have started a nonprofit organization, "Hope and Change for Haiti."
"Our purpose aims to raise awareness about the hardships Haitian people endure in their daily lives," she said. "We work jointly with the natural disasters' victims to help them recover from their loss through sustainable projects we implement. Through networks, friends see our organization "Hope and Change for Haiti," seeks resources for the benefit of Haiti and its people, which includes donations, training, exchange, research and support services to help enhance the cohesiveness and well-being of the community."
One such project the Germain family and their organization has embarked on is "Homes for Haiti," which consists of building permanent houses anti-earthquake and hurricane resistant in some small villages located in the municipality of Paillant (Miragoane). A cistern of 15,000 gallons of water will be built alongside the new houses. To learn more about the work of the organization or to make a donation visit www.hncforhaiti.org.
As Aniece reflects on the past, she can't help but look ahead as well, to reflect on where she came from and to continue to dream about her future and that of her family.
"The United States of America has been known for the land of optimism and opportunities, once someone arrives here, he or she cherishes the dream and thinks anything is achievable," she said. "This belief inspired me and gave me hope, and today I am living the dream. America is giving me the opportunity to start a new life. Even though I am not there yet where I want to be, I think I am on the right track. My dream is to be a lawyer, and I am confident that will become true, and in the meantime, I am doing my best to give back to my community.”