Haitians Get Six Months of Protection From Deportation

  • Posted on: 23 May 2017
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Miami Herald


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. “There’s just no way that in six months the nation of Haiti could absorb 60,000 of its people back,” Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said from the Senate floor Monday as he called on Haitians to be patient. “It would be like trying to swallow a bite of food that is way too big, in order to do it.” Nelson said he had spoken to Kelly — who plans to travel to Haiti to meet with Haitian government officials — and urged him to reconsider an 18-month extension. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also promised to continue working with DHS and the White House on the issue. “Last week, I asked the White House to extend the TPS deadline for Haitians until at least Jan. 18, and I’m glad to see that the administration agreed,” Rubio said. Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted a similar statement.

But to many Haitian activists and others, the reprieve isn’t a victory and doesn’t ease the anxiety of TPS recipients who now have to reauthorize their work authorizations. "We are leaving people hanging. It’s cruel and inhumane. Six months, and then what?” said Marleine Bastien, a leading voice in the push to renew TPS. “The conditions in Haiti are horrible enough for them to renew TPS for 18 months to 24 months. It’s not a win to us, and certainly not to the families.” 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. For months, Haiti TPS supporters have argued that the country continues to suffer from the effects of the earthquake, a deadly cholera epidemic, a hurricane that struck in October and a food crisis prompted by a three-year drought. “There are still tent cities from the earthquake,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who wants Kelly to travel with her to Haiti to see the “unconscionable” conditions. “They will take you and you will never see the tent cities. I want someone to go with me. I will be sure to take them to the places to see, so that they will be more inclined to extend it even further.” And state Sen. Daphne Campbell called the decision “a slap in our face.”

“What is six months?” Campbell asked. “As soon as you put your head down to sleep, it’s six months. After six months, what is next? The TPS people are invested in this country. They have businesses. They have homes here. Immigrants built America.” 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. Both Haitian officials recognized that TPS was temporary, Altidor said. But he and Rodrigue also noted that Haiti has been plagued by other issues: Hurricane Matthew created nearly $3 billion in damage. Foreign donors failed to make good on $10 billion in pledges after the earthquake. Non-governmental organizations that flooded Haiti after the disaster allowed resources to go to waste. Despite all that, Altidor said he and Rodrigue told DHS Kelly and McCament that the new Haitian government was moving forward — but needed time.

“The idea that TPS would not be renewed... would actually create a major issues for Haiti to be able to move forward in terms of putting it back on track to rebuilding itself,” Altidor said. Kelly insisted that Haiti has made substantial progress since the quake left 300,000 dead. “The Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96 percent of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps. Even more encouraging is that over 98 percent of these camps have closed,” he said in a statement Monday. He also cited Haiti’s plans “to rebuild the Haitian president’s residence at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince and the withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.” The World Bank is predicting that Haiti’s economy will decline by 0.6 percent this year. Haiti’s government recently raised gas prices to $3.31 a gallon in a country where most of the population lives on less than $2.42 a day.

On Monday, some TPS recipients welcomed even six months more in the U.S. Jimmy Parfait, a North Miami Beach resident who left Haiti 15 years ago with his mother, Marie, and four siblings — all TPS recipients — remained optimistic. “You never know. They will probably extend it for another six months,” he said. “Hopefully something good comes out of it.” The call for extension garnered bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers and state officials in Florida, New York and Massachusetts. Over the weekend artists from hip hop star Wyclef Jean to several Haitian konpa musicians called on Kelly and President Donald Trump to extend TPS. Concert attendees during the two-day Haitian Compas Festival were also provided with phone numbers for DHS and the White House. And on Monday, a Tweet up was started to “#SayYestoTPS” and to “#SaveTPS.”

Before Monday’s announcement, activists had criticized reports that Homeland Security has been conducting a probe to determine if Haitian TPS holders had criminal histories, and whether they were obtaining public benefits, which they are not eligible to receive. The Associated Press published portions of leaked internal emails from USCIS policy chief Kathy Nuebel Kovarik telling staff members to look for stories about rebuilding in Haiti and reports of criminal activity by those with TPS. On Monday’s press conference in Little Haiti, members of the Haitian community said they worry that the end of deportation protection will mean breaking up homes. A 10-year-old girl, also at the press conference, who gave her name as Vanessa, said she sometimes searches facts about the humanitarian crisis in Haiti because she’s worried about her parents leaving her. I’d be scared because without my parents, I would be nothing,” she said, fighting back tears. She appealed to President Donald Trump. “I believe that you’re gonna help us because you’re a father and the president of the United States,” she said.

Miami Herald reporter Martin Vassolo contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Miami Herald




Haiti’s government has written to the Trump administration to formally ask for an 18-month extension of temporary protection from deportation for thousands of Haitians living in the United States. The request, delivered Friday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was written by the country’s ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, on behalf of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse. It includes an invitation to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke to visit Haiti before the decision next month on whether to extend the designation, called Temporary Protected Status or TPS, for nearly 60,000 Haitians.

TPS for Haitians is set to expire Jan. 22. A decision on extension is expected in November, possibly along with a decision on TPS for some Central Americans, who are also up for renewal. “A visit to Haiti would offer you insight on the challenges that we continue to face,” Altidor wrote. The country, he said, has faced several devastating blows — including flooding from Hurricanes Irma and Maria — since the initial designation in 2010 after Haiti’s deadly earthquake.

“The detrimental impacts of the recent hurricanes have complicated our ability to recover from the 2010 earthquake,” he said. Cholera and Hurricane Matthew...have exacerbated the situation on the ground, resulting in major disruptions of living conditions in the short term.”  In May, DHS extended Haiti’s TPS designation for just six months, arguing that conditions in the country had improved since the quake left 300,000 dead and 1.5 million homeless. Then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, who is now President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, said DHS would re-evaluate the designation ahead of the January expiration date but said he had warned Moïse to prepare to bring his people back from the U.S.

Fears over the program’s end and a subsequent return to Haiti have caused panic for some in the Haitian community. Earlier this summer, thousands of Haitian TPS recipients and others with temporary work authorizations fled illegally to Canada across the New York state border, overwhelming Canadian authorities.

Concerned about the illegal migration, Altidor ramped up the government’s outreach. He’s had discussions with DHS, the State Department, White House and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle about the need for an extension. In recent weeks, Haiti has been engulfed in protests over tax hikes, with massive and sometimes violent street demonstrations. Some protesters are even demand that Moïse step down. He was inaugurated in February.

On Thursday, during the confirmation hearing for Trump’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Michele J. Sison, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Sison what the implications for the Haitian government would be if TPS is not be extended. Sison didn’t really answer, focusing her response more on the process of TPS designation and the U.S. helping to build resilience with its Haiti programs. “I think it would be difficult for them to absorb it,” Rubio said. “But if that’s the decision, the administration makes, — which I hope they do not — if they did, my view is that the embassy will have a lot of work on its hands and the government of Haiti will require a lot of assistance.”



Miami Herald


A bipartisan group of South Florida lawmakers introduced a bill on Tuesday that provides a path to permanent residency for thousands of foreign citizens who participate in a temporary program that allows them to work and live in the United States. Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced the Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act, which provides a pathway to permanent legal status for certain Haitians, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans who arrived in the United States before Jan. 13, 2011.

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings also signed on to the legislation, which applies to participants in the Temporary Protected Status program, along with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.


“While hoping and waiting they would be able to return to their native countries for years, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian migrants have become essential parts of the South Florida community by contributing to our local economy and our culture,” Curbelo said in a statement. “While I will continue to support extensions for Temporary Protected Status, this bipartisan legislation would give these migrants the peace of mind to continue giving back to their communities, contributing to our economy and supporting their families.”

Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras are the three countries with the most participants in the program, which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security. About 300,000 people from those three countries participate in TPS, and the bulk of Haiti’s 50,000 TPS recipients live in South Florida.

“I am proud to be part of this bipartisan effort to provide a permanent solution for families living in the United States with temporary protected status,” Wilson said in a statement. “It is in the meantime imperative that we not forget the economic, cultural and other contributions that people living and working in the United States thanks to this measure are making to both to our nation and their native countries.”

The Trump administration faces multiple looming deadlines for extending the Temporary Protected Status program in Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Haiti’s status is set to expire in January 2018 after then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for six months instead of the usual 18 in May.

Extending TPS for Haitians is a source of bipartisan agreement among Florida lawmakers, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. But the Trump administration terminated Sudan’s TPS status in September, an indication that it could decide to end other countries’ TPS status. Currently, citizens from nine countries are eligible for TPS. The bill to provide a path to permanent residency does not apply to TPS recipients from Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria or Yemen.

The bill sponsored by Democrats and Republicans also differs from a proposal by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., that would extend TPS to Haitians who entered the country before Nov. 4, 2016 after Hurricane Matthew hit the island in October 2016. Only Haitians who arrived before January 2011 are currently eligible for TPS. “So many in our community who arrived under Temporary Protected Status years ago have made South Florida their home,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “These neighbors have become an integral part of our society and contribute to every sector of our economy.”

'We Want To Stay': Haitian Immigrants In U.S. Fear End Of Temporary Protected Status

November 5, 2017


Citing improved conditions in Haiti, the Trump administration signaled in May that it no longer would extend Temporary Protected Status visas. It warned Haitians to prepare to go home in January when the program expires. For decades, the United States has provided immigrants from 10 countries, mostly in Central America, what's known as Temporary Protected Status. Under this status, temporary visas allow them to stay and work in the U.S. and prevent them from being forced to return to home countries at war or devastated by natural disasters.

The Trump administration says it plans to end the special status. For 50,000 or so Haitians in the U.S. under the program, that means their Temporary Protected Status would expire Jan. 22. Joana Desir is one of those Haitians. On a recent day in Manhattan, the 32-year-old home health care provider is racing between patient visits. By midday, she already has helped transport one of her regular patients, a young girl with a severe respiratory disease, to school, and visited two senior patients in their homes. Soon she'll head back to the girl's school and make sure she gets home safely.

Joana Desir came to the U.S. in 2008 to help out her parents, both legal residents. "It's a hard job, but rewarding," says Desir. On weekends she picks up a few extra patients — just for fun, she says with a laugh. The Trump administration is considering shutting down the special visa program, which allows some immigrants from countries affected by war or natural disaster to stay in the United States. Here's who would be affected.

"Most of immigrants that I know, they have a busy life like me," she says. "I leave home like 5:45 [a.m.] and sometimes I get home by like 9 p.m." Desir came to the U.S. in 2008 to help out her aging parents, both legal residents. She overstayed her visa and was still in the U.S. when a powerful earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Hundreds of thousands were killed, and the Obama administration granted Haitians temporary protected status. They were shielded from deportation and given work permits.

Critics say the temporary program for Haiti and for others from countries where disasters and wars took place decades ago has become permanent and amounts to a backdoor immigration policy. During her years in the U.S., Desir put herself through nursing school, got a job and rose to supervisor. But she hasn't forgotten those back home, who she says are still hurting. "We have that connection in Haitian families," she says. "Since you succeed, you have to help others — it is a must."

The Altes family in Port-au-Prince worries that they won't be able to survive without help from Desir. It's estimated by the think tank Inter-American Dialogue that all Haitians abroad this year will send home $2 billion. That's nearly equal to Haiti's annual operating budget. In May, citing improved conditions in Haiti, the Trump administration signaled it no longer would extend the temporary visas. It warned Haitians to prepare to go home in January, when the program expires. Desir is devastated — and as the news gets back to Haiti, concern is growing there too. Desir has 19 relatives who depend on her for financial support.

In a hillside neighborhood above downtown Port-au-Prince, Desir's cousin Daniele Joseph lives in a three-room house. Her husband, son and four of her sisters, all Desir's relatives, live in the home.

In a hillside neighborhood above downtown Port-au-Prince, Desir's cousin Daniele Joseph shows me around her three-room home. Seven people live here, including her husband, son and four of her sisters — all Desir's relatives. Joseph says all but the youngest cousin remember Desir. Last month, Desir paid for the young cousin's First Communion.

As two of the girls cook dinner — spaghetti with a few onions and chiles — Joseph ticks off everything Desir helps with. After the earthquake, there was money sent to rebuild their home, preschool tuition for Joseph's two-year-old son, multiple shipments of clothes — and the list goes on.

Joseph says it will very difficult if Desir is sent home. In the same neighborhood Desir's godmother, Margaret Estefan Altas, paints a much more dire prediction of what will happen to her family without assistance from abroad. Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, tells NPR he is worried about economic stability in the region if 50,000 Haitians are sent home. "I call Joana and tell her I have a problem, we have no food — and she'll say, 'I'll do what I can,' " says Altas. "She always comes through."

Her husband, who hasn't worked since the earthquake and now has cancer, says it's clear to him the family would starve without Desir's help. Desir pays their annual rent, about $1,300 dollars, and tuition for the youngest son's high school. Altas says she helped raise Desir and considers her a daughter. "These days, I feel more like she is the mother and father," says Altas.

Haitian officials have appealed to the Department of Homeland Security to extend TPS. Several U.S. lawmakers, including a bipartisan group from south Florida, have introduced legislation that would let the immigrants stay permanently. Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, told NPR in an interview that he is worried about stability in the region if 50,000 Haitians are sent home.

"If they have to return, we have no other choice — they are our brothers and sister and we will receive them," says Moise — but he is concerned about the loss of U.S. remittance dollars sent to families in Haiti, and the effect of that on the stability of the economy. He said that 25 percent of Haiti's GDP comes from those remittances.

Back in New York, Joana Desir says she can't imagine giving up the life she's built there. "I will always be grateful for America," she says, "but please, we are professional — we want to stay." For now, Desir has been giving away most of her possessions and reducing her belongings to what will fit in two big suitcases. She says she doesn't want to leave — and if the U.S. tells her to go, then they'll have to come get her and drive her to the airport.

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