Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald, May 22, 2017
Tens of thousands of Haitians who have been protected from deportation since an earthquake hit their disaster-prone homeland won one more temporary reprieve Monday: the Department of Homeland Security is extending the benefit, which expires on July 22, for six months.
But the end is coming, DHS officials warned, telling the 58,706 Haitians enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program, or TPS, to use the time “to handle their affairs.”
“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,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced.
Kelly’s decision, which had become the focus of an unprecedented social media and letter-writing campaign in communities across the United States, was received with mixed emotions. While some breathed a sigh of relief at the prospect of six more months in the United States, others panicked at the new Jan. 22 deadline.
The announcement came on the same day the State Department issued an updated warning on travel to Haiti, and a day before the House Judiciary Committee is set to consider a bill, H.R. 2431, that seeks to put limits on TPS extensions. It would require congressional and presidential action.
“Essentially, congressional Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee are proposing to functionally kill TPS,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. “That’s the mindset that we are beginning with in this issue, and that’s the background I have when I look at the outcome of today’s announcement and think, ‘We live to fight another day.’”
Haiti, which was granted TPS days after the earthquake by the Obama administration, is currently among 10 countries with the designation, senior DHS officials said Monday afternoon in a call with reporters. Others countries coming up for renewal are Sudan and South Sudan in November, and Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador in early 2018. The Central American nations won the designation after Hurricane Mitch barreled through Central America in 1995.
While some fear that Haiti will now get caught up in a larger debate about TPS or immigration policy, Jawetz sees it as an opportunity for Haiti supporters to join with the more than 200,000 Central Americans.
DHS officials said that Kelly is re-evaluating all immigration programs and benefits. He will decide on each country individually, they said.
Last month, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director James McCament sent a memo to Kelly recommending termination of TPS for Haiti. McCament said TPS for Haitians should end in January — six months after the program’s current July 22 expiration day.
On Monday’s conference call with reporters, DHS officials said Kelly based his decision on conversations with Haitian government officials and conditions in Haiti, which “have substantially improved since the earthquake in 2010.” The officials added that Kelly had received “commitments and statements from the Haitian government that they actually do in fact want their TPS recipients living in the United States to return to Haiti to help rebuild their country.”
“They are precisely the type of people who have an entrepreneurial spirit, jobs skills… even some additional English-language skills that would help really facilitate the development of Haiti, its economy, and provide jobs and additional vital services that are needed to help bring Haiti to the next level.”
But Haiti’s ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor disputes that. He and Haiti’s Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue met with Kelly and McCament on May 15. DHS’ assessment of the conversation, Altidor said, contradicts the tenor of the discussions and the letter that he sent on behalf of Haiti’s government.
“There was no ambiguity as to what we asked for. … At least 18 months was a key part of the conversation,” Altidor said, noting that even that amount of time would be insufficient.
WHAT IS TPS?
Designated by the Department of Homeland Security, Temporary Protected Status or TPS is provided to nationals of countries when the conditions in the country make return dangerous or impossible. This is usually devastating natural disasters or civil strife. In certain circumstances, it is also designated when the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. The designation is given by the Department of Homeland Security.
What does it allow?
Protection from deportation. An individual with TPS can live and work legally in the United States as long as they have renewed their status. They can also obtain travel authorization.
How many countries currently receive TPS designation?
There are 10 countries including Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Liberia’s designation, due to Ebola, recently expired.
WHAT TPS RECIPIENTS SHOULD DO IN NEXT SIX MONTHS
If you have Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, lawyers say you should consider:
A one-on-one meeting with an immigration lawyer to review immigration history and options.
Honest conversations with neighbors and relatives about custody arrangements.
Getting a Power of Attorney document.
Come up with a contingency plan regardless of whether the status is extended for six months, or 18 months as advocates have requested.