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Trump administration limits protected status for Haitians to 6 months

In six months, Haitian immigrants may be sent back to a country that’s still reeling from earthquake damage.

A do not enter sign stands by the earthquake damaged National Palace during its demolition in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery
A do not enter sign stands by the earthquake damaged National Palace during its demolition in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. CREDIT: AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery

Haitian immigrants who are temporarily protected from deportation under a federal program for victims of disaster relief will receive a six-month extension to legally reside in the United States, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Monday.

But after that, the Trump administration may opt to yank the program’s protections, sending Haitians back to a country that is still reeling from the damage resulting from a major earthquake in 2010 and subsequent disasters.

Created by Congress in 1990, the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program gives temporary protection for immigrants who are unable to return to their home countries because of war, natural disasters, or other extraordinary circumstances. The designation grants beneficiaries the ability to legally work in the United States and apply for travel authorization abroad. The status itself is not permanent and can be revoked at any time that DHS determines conditions are safe enough for return.

There are currently 58,706 Haitian beneficiaries of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, according to government statistics, all of whom were granted this status after a 2010 earthquake leveled parts of Haiti in 2010 and killed upwards of 250,000 people. Their TPS status was set to expire on June 22, worrying immigration advocates that they would be deported back to Haiti.

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On Monday, DHS Secretary John Kelly pushed that deadline back another six months, to January 22, 2018. More details regarding the TPS extension for Haiti will become available in a Federal Register notice later this week.

Applicants will be expected to re-register through the government to receive an extension to their work authorization for up to 180 days, or through January 2018.

The Trump administration has up to 60 days before the January 2018 deadline to announce whether it will again extend the designation. But DHS senior officials are making it clear they expect current Haitian TPS holders to obtain travel documents for a permanent move back to Haiti.

“We are strongly encouraging current TPS recipients to take advantage of this six-month period to resolve their affairs, to obtain travel documentation,” a senior DHS official, speaking on background on a press call, said Monday. “By the name of ‘temporary protected status,’ it’s not supposed to be permanent…It can’t continue in perpetuity.”

It can’t continue in perpetuity.

In a press statement, Kelly added that the U.S. government officials plans to “work closely with the Haitian government” to help Haitians obtain the travel documents they need to move back.

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The decision not to extend the TPS designation for additional time was made in part because DHS senior officials consider conditions in Haiti to be “relatively stable.” They cited factors like the rebuilding of the presidential palace and the United Nations deciding to end its peacekeeping mission in Haiti, which officials pointed as a sign of a “stable government that’s capable of governing its citizenry.”

Senior officials said they based their decision by looking at the conditions that led to the initial TPS designation, not other factors that transpired after that event. Although officials didn’t cite more recent catastrophic events by name, Haiti has been overwhelmed by major events since 2010, including a cholera epidemic that has killed at least 9,500 people; Hurricane Matthew; and food insecurity issues.

That’s why some experts and Haitian officials worry that cutting off the designation may have ramifications beyond the immediate repatriation of tens of thousands of Haitians. Paul Altidor, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S. — who called on Kelly to extend TPS by 18 months — cautioned that sending so many Haitians back could cause “an immediate increase in poverty in Haiti.”

“Haitian nationals with TPS inject hundreds of millions of dollars into our economy every year,” Altidor wrote in a letter addressed to Kelly earlier this month. “By our estimates, a Haitian national with TPS impacts the economic livelihood of as many as five (5) Haitian households.”

The Congressional Black Caucus similarly wrote a letter last month urging the United States to extend TPS because of food insecurity issues. Dr. Paul Farmer, an American physician renowned for his humanitarian work in Haiti, pointed out that the country was ill-equipped to handle an influx of people citing the lack of infrastructure and electricity at crucial places of businesses like hospitals.

Immigrants from South Sudan and Sudan are expected to know more about the designation of their TPS in November 2017.

TPS was renewed three times in 18-month increments under the Obama administration.