White House pulls protected status for 50,000 Haitians

"Those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist," a Department of Homeland Security statement read in part.

Children hold signs in support of renewing TPS for immigrants from Central America and Haiti now living in the United States, during a news conference, Nov. 6, 2017, in Miami. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Children hold signs in support of renewing TPS for immigrants from Central America and Haiti now living in the United States, during a news conference, Nov. 6, 2017, in Miami. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Trump administration will terminate a provisional program that has granted work authorization to roughly 50,000 Haitians since a devastating earthquake leveled parts of their country in 2010, according to a press release on Monday night.

The TPS program for Haitians will end on July 22, 2019, because the government said conditions on the ground have improved sufficiently and the country has made “considerable progress” and nationals can return. Haitians TPS holders will now have 18 months to return or find another way to adjust their immigration status. If they do not adjust their status, they will risk becoming undocumented.

“Those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist,” a Department of Homeland Security statement read in part, explaining that officials from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have done “extensive outreach to the Haitian community” as well as Haitian officials to come to the conclusion. It also justified its rationale by claiming that the number of displaced people in Haiti decreased by 97 percent.

“Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens,” the statement continued.

Since the 1990s, the TPS program has allowed more than 320,000 from ten countries ravaged by war or natural disasters to legally work and live in the United States until those conditions improved. Various presidential administrations have renewed those statuses in part because conditions on the ground have not improved, thus extending the length of time that these individuals have now lived in the United States. The status does not provide a direct pathway to legalization.

Advocates and Haitian TPS holders were dismayed by the Trump administration’s announcement, disagreeing with the conclusion that the situation in Haiti has improved. Since the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, the country has had to deal with cholera brought by UN peacekeepers, and the aftermath of Hurricanes Matthew, Irma, and Maria. As one American journalist, who was on the ground in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake, told ThinkProgress in May, the country is unable to support an influx of so many returnees because people there are already living “day to day” and the country has “degraded infrastructure.”

“Only six months ago, the Department of Homeland Security under Gen. John Kelly concluded that conditions on the ground warranted an extension of TPS for Haiti,” Tom Jawetz, vice president for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement (ThinkProgress is an editorially-independent news site housed within CAP). “In the intervening months, conditions have only worsened, as Haiti experienced additional flooding and devastation due to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”

Advocates also say that TPS beneficiaries have contributed to the United States in a way that would hurt local economies if they were taken out of the labor force. Anywhere between 81 and 88 percent of the TPS population from just three nations — El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti– are gainfully employed, with many working in industries related to construction, restaurant and food services, landscaping, child day care services, and grocery stores, according to a Center for Migration Studies report.

“Haitian TPS recipients are deep-rooted in our communities and integral parts of our daily lives —in the service industry, the hospitality industry, and healthcare,” Jocelyn McCalla, Advocacy Coordinator, Haitian Americans United for Progress (HUAP) and also representing Alianza Americas, said in a statement. “They have made the United States their home, and they should be allowed to pursue their dreams. We hope that these next 18 months will provide us with an opportunity to convince Congress to work towards a permanent solution.”

The White House’s decision is set to affect many Haitians in a variety of ways, such as creating professional setbacks and forcing parents to make difficult decisions to move away from their U.S. citizen children. Farah Larrieux, a Haitian TPS recipient who has been in the country since 2005, told ThinkProgress last week that rebuilding her life in Haiti won’t just be difficult, but impossible because of the lack of resources. Since she arrived in the United States, she has worked hard as an entrepreneur and television host. Yolnick Jeune, another Haitian TPS recipient, told ThinkProgress last month that she would have to bring her U.S. citizen children with her if she has to leave for Haiti despite the fact that they are excelling in school.

“America will not be greater or safer by ending this program and attempting to deport those who have made their lives here and are part of the state’s economic and social fabric,” Steven Choi, Executive Director for The New York Immigration Coalition, said in a statement.