President Donald Trump’s administration has extended an immigration designation that benefits about 50,000 Haitians in the United States.
Trump’s Department of Homeland Security will extend the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) offered to Haitian nationals as a result of the 7 magnitude earthquake that devastated the Caribbean nation on Jan. 12, 2010.
Haiti’s current TPS was designated through July 22, 2017.
On May 22, DHS Secretary John Kelly announced he would extend the designation for six more months, from July 23, 2017, though Jan. 22, 2018. Whether TPS will be extended once again in 2018 is uncertain.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers appealed to the Trump administration to extend TPS for Haiti, contending that the nation had not fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake and subsequent natural disasters, that Haiti is not ready to take in thousands of TPS beneficiaries, and that recipients are contributing to the U.S. economy.
Following the decision, here’s an overview of what the designation means for Haiti and whether it is in line with what Trump told Haitian immigrants during the presidential campaign.
DHS may designate a country for TPS when conditions in the foreign country (such as civil war, environmental disasters and epidemics) prevent its nationals from returning safely or when the country cannot handle the return of its nationals. The designation is reviewed periodically, and DHS decides to extend or terminate it based on the country’s progress and conditions.
Individuals who have TPS cannot be deported and can get a work permit and travel authorization. The temporary benefit does not lead to lawful permanent residence. However, beneficiaries can apply for status adjustment based on an immigrant petition, for nonimmigrant status and other immigrant benefits and protections.
Immigrants convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors committed in the United States are not eligible for TPS, according to USCIS.
Three days after the Haiti earthquake, former President Barack Obama’s administration announced TPS designation for Haitian nationals who had been in the United States as of Jan. 12, 2010. (TPS was later re-designated to apply to Haitians who continuously resided in the United States since Jan. 12, 2011.)
Haiti — the poorest nation in the Americas and one of the poorest in the world, according to the World Bank — has since been hit with a cholera outbreak. Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 is estimated to have killed at least 1,000 people.
"Given the continued difficult conditions in Haiti, we urge your administration to extend the TPS designation, within all applicable rules and regulations, for Haitian nationals who are currently living in, and contributing to, our great country," said a March 24 letter to Kelly, signed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.
Florida has the greatest concentration of Haitian immigrants in the United States.
"Haiti is ill-equipped to handle the return of the roughly 50,000 Haitian nationals currently receiving TPS," said an April 26 letter to Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, signed by 16 Democratic senators.
TPS for Haiti will be re-evaluated before its six-month extension expires in early 2018, Kelly said.
In the meantime, Haitians should get travel documents and "make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States," Kelly said in the statement. The six-month period should also give the Haitian government time to "prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients," he said.
Kelly said that 96 percent of people displaced by the 2010 earthquake have left internally displaced person camps in Haiti. Also, more than 98 percent of those camps have closed, he said.
"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," Kelly said. "TPS as enacted in law is inherently temporary in nature, and beneficiaries should plan accordingly that this status may finally end after the extension announced today."
Trump during the campaign visited Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood and told Haitians he wanted to be their "biggest champion."
Trump reiterated his support for Haitians weeks later in Ocala, Fla.
"As Haiti's death toll from Hurricane Matthew is on the rise, we should never forget how Bill and Hillary Clinton handled Haiti the last time," Trump said Oct. 12, 2016. "To all our friends in Little Haiti they're great people. ... these are people that are incredible. They have the warmest feeling, the warmest heart. But to all of our friends in Little Haiti, your day of justice is coming, believe me. And it arrives on Nov. 8."
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Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, March 24 letter to DHS Secretary John Kelly, signed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers
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