On May 22, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would extend the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for some 50,000 Haitians living in the United States for only six months rather than the usual, appropriate 18 months.
The wording of DHS Secretary John F. Kelly’s announcement sent very mixed signals and omitted extremely significant facts. It stressed that this is likely the last extension and that TPS holders should “attain travel documents” for return to Haiti. Very inaccurately, it also asserted that conditions in Haiti have greatly improved.
DHS’s announcement ignores the vast destruction last October of Hurricane Matthew – the worst to hit Haiti in 52 years – and the unchecked cholera epidemic which has killed and sickened at least 9,500 and 800,000 respectively. Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti’s bread basket, exacerbating the current food insecurity crisis, and spiked cholera cases too.
The DHS statement also misleadingly states: “96% of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps. Even more encouraging is that over 98% of these camps have closed.”
This is misleading because many camps were forcibly closed due to regular, unchallenged, large-scale evictions by landowners, not because other housing had been found nor because residents had any other place to go. This has been a huge problem in Haiti. Even more significantly, several of the larger camps were reclassified by the Haitian government as “permanent housing,” simply because the residents had attached so much salvaged building material to their makeshift shanties. An estimated 50,000 still live in tents seven years after the earthquake.
Perhaps never has there been a clearer case for TPS extension than Haiti’s case now, due to the overwhelming triple calamities of earthquake, Matthew, and cholera.
In fact, perhaps never has there been a clearer case for TPS extension than Haiti’s case now, due to the overwhelming triple calamities of earthquake, Matthew, and cholera. Haiti can’t safely assimilate 50,000 deportees nor, crucially, replace their remittances to hundreds of thousands of families back home.
For all these reasons, Haiti’s government was joined by the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, New York Daily News, Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post, and Orlando Sentinel editorial boards, the Republican governors of Florida and Massachusetts, 100 bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate and House, 14 big city mayors, 550 U.S. doctors, 416 faith leaders, 330 organizations and leaders, and a host of others in urging an 18-month TPS extension.
Support was unprecedented because the justifying facts on the ground are that conditions warranting TPS persist in Haiti, as evidenced by an 8-page single-spaced December assessment by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and then-Secretary of State Kerry’s recommendation that it be extended. But last month, USCIS under President Trump reversed itself, urging termination, and recently leaked DHS emails revealed efforts to demonize Haitians as criminals and welfare cheats as a means of justifying termination. These maneuvers were reprehensible and inherently racist. Such considerations are also irrelevant: since TPS is a humanitarian program, TPS recipients are ineligible for welfare, and criminals are ineligible for TPS!
Finally, there is this ominous conclusion to Kelly’s statement: “This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients… I believe there are indications that Haiti – if its recovery from the 2010 earthquake continues at pace – may not warrant further TPS extension past January 2018.” This statement strongly suggests that this partial TPS renewal for Haitians will be the last.
So this reprieve is temporary and short. Although the Trump administration’s DHS may have been angling for a cut-off, the facts and overwhelming support for Haitians’ TPS renewal were too strong to ignore. We must make sure that they remain so in the months ahead.
Steven Forester is the Immigration Policy Coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).