The Trump administration said Monday it will cancel special temporary protected status for Haitians, giving nearly 60,000 a deadline of mid-2019 to either find another legal status in the U.S. or risk deportation.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Haiti has recovered sufficiently from the 2010 earthquake that spawned the special status and the country will soon be ready to take back its citizens.
Her decision is a middle-ground approach, allowing a long grace period for Haiti to prepare and for its citizens to try to find other legal means, through marriage or jobs, to apply for permanent status.
But the decision falls far short for immigrant rights advocates, who had demanded that Ms. Duke renew TPS and that Congress find a way to grant the Haitians a full pathway to citizenship.
“The law makes clear that TPS for Haiti must end,” a senior administration official said in briefing reporters.
Monday’s decision marks the third major move in recent weeks, following Ms. Duke’s decision to end TPS for 5,300 Nicaraguans and to postpone a decision for six more months on 86,000 Hondurans, who have been protected since Hurricane Mitch struck in late 1998.
The Trump administration says it’s finally bringing order to TPS by making the word “temporary” mean something.
TPS is supposed to be a short-term humanitarian relief, letting people who were in the U.S. on temporary programs or even in the country illegally stay while their home countries recover from major events. Once the recovery is complete, the status is supposed to end.
But renewals have become almost automatic. The Honduran and Nicaraguan problems are nearly 20 years old.
In the case of Haiti, the 2010 earthquake that left a quarter million dead spurred the Obama administration to announce protections. The TPS grant has been renewed repeatedly, including a six-month renewal by the Trump administration under then-Secretary John F. Kelly this spring.
But Mr. Kelly at the time warned Haiti that it had done so well on recovery that TPS would likely be coming to an end soon, and Ms. Duke’s decision completed that.
“The law says if conditions on the ground do not support it, you cannot extend the TPS designation,” the senior administration official said.
The move gives Haitians protection until July 22, 2019.
Haiti had argued strenuously for a full 18-month renewal without a firm end deadline, including most recently in a meeting last week among Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue, Ambassador Paul G. Altidor and Ms. Duke.
The Haitian government said while it has made major improvement in finding housing for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the earthquake, under the U.S. law it should still qualify for TPS because it hasn’t fully recovered from the initial disaster.
In particular, a devastating cholera epidemic, brought to Haiti by U.N. troops involved in the relief effort, has left 800,000 sickened and thousands dead, and tens of thousands are expected to fall ill this year.
Some 50,000 people are still displaced — a number the Haitian government hoped would be at zero by now, but the effort was sidetracked by major hurricanes in 2016 and again this year. Adding tens of thousands more people returning from the U.S. could be overwhelming.
“Yes we’ve made a lot of progress on cholera, but if you’re looking closely at the efforts that are being made, it does not meet, in our view, according to your statute, the level of progress, condition on the ground,” Mr. Altidor told The Washington Times in an interview last week after his meeting with Ms. Duke.
He also questioned what progress the U.S. believed Haiti had made in the six months since Mr. Kelly last renewed TPS. He said the government would like to be able to take a “victory lap” back home if the country’s recovery had been completed in those short months.
“I’m hoping this is a decision that’s being made based on the statute and the facts rather than it’s purely politically motivated. Because once it’s politically motivated, you can always find a reason why you undo this program today,” he said last week.
Mr. Altidor could not be reached Monday evening.
As of early October, 58,557 Haitians had TPS protections, though Mr. Altidor said some of them probably found more permanent status and some may have left for their homes in Haiti after Mr. Kelly’s warning.
The administration was blasted for its decision.
“These individuals experienced severe loss and suffering as a result of the 2010 earthquake, and forcing them to leave the United States would be detrimental,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican. “These individuals are established, respected members of our communities who have made significant contributions, and I urge the administration to reconsider its decision regarding Haitian and Nicaraguan nationals.”
The New York Immigration Coalition called the decision “cruel and shameful.”
Combined, the three recent TPS decisions on Honduras, Haiti and Nicaragua account for about 150,000 people.
Still looming early next year is a decision on the more than 260,000 Salvadorans who have enjoyed TPS benefits since 2001.
Some members of Congress have called for the government to grant full citizenship rights to longtime TPS beneficiaries, saying they have been in the U.S. so long that uprooting them would be unfair.
The governments of Honduras and El Salvador have begged for the U.S. to keep their citizens, while Nicaragua didn’t lodge any such request.
Haiti, meanwhile, says it was seeking only another temporary extension and does eventually want its citizens back home, should they not be entitled to status in the U.S.
“We’re never making an argument [to] please find a way for these people to stay here permanently. That’s not our argument, that’s not our approach to this issue,” Mr. Altidor told The Times.
TPS beneficiaries are granted permission to remain in the U.S. and are given work permits, putting many of them in competition with American workers.
Many of them — particularly those who have been in the U.S. for nearly two decades — have had children who are American citizens.
When TPS expires, those formerly protected will return to their previous status — which in many cases means they become illegal immigrants again, losing their ability to work legally and making them subject to deportation.
As for families with U.S.-citizen children, the administration said they will have to make a decision.
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