Inquiries being made as government considers future of TPS program
BY JACQUELINE CHARLES
MIAMI – Haitian immigrant advocates say they can’t believe that the Trump administration has launched a “witch hunt” for Haitians with criminal records as it decides whether or not to keep allowing thousands of them to remain in the United States under a special immigration humanitarian program.
“It’s a big show,” Randy McGrorty, an attorney and director of Catholic Legal Services in Miami, said about the inquiries being made by the Department of Homeland Security as it decides whether to continue with the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program for Haitians.
“I can’t believe that this is the focus of the decision on whether or not to extend TPS. TPS is a form of humanitarian relief; it makes no sense.”
According to The Associated Press, internal emails it obtained show that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has made inquiries into the Haitian community’s criminal history.
The emails also reveal that the agency wants to know how many of the 58,000 Haitians enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program are taking advantage of public benefits, which they are not eligible to receive.
The revelation comes just weeks after DHS announced the creation of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office to help victims of crimes by immigrants, and on the heels of a recommendation by James McCament, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to terminate Temporary Protected Status for Haitians as of January.
McCament made the recommendation to Department of Homeland Secretary John Kelly in an April 10 memo. Kelly has until May 23 — 60 days before the program’s July 22 expiration date — to render a decision.
The AP says that while the move is considered to be unorthodox, it suggests that Kelly may be looking at other criteria in deciding whether the United States should continue to shield the 58,000 Haitians enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program from deportation.
“It is disheartening to hear that instead of renewing TPS for theses hardworking families who are at risk of losing their jobs, Secretary Kelly has decided to go on a witch hunt for criminals,” said Marleine Bastien, a leading Haitian advocate and head of the Haitian Women of Miami. “Haitian nationals with criminal records to do not qualify for TPS or benefits.”
Their best champion?
Bastien, recalling the olive branch that President Donald Trump extended to the Haitian community during a presidential campaign stop in Little Haiti, said “President Trump promised to be Haitians’ best champion. It is time for him to show it.”
Steven Forester, the immigration policy coordinator with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, says the “criminal” inquiries are “a red herring” and may be the government’s way of trying to demonize Haitians.
“The bipartisan support and merits of the argument for TPS —Hurricane Matthew’s devastation last October; the unchecked cholera epidemic; incomplete earthquake recovery; Haiti’s inability to safely assimilate 50,000 new deportees or replace their remittances, which support as many as 500,000 relatives in Haiti; the destabilizing consequences to Haiti — may mean that those who oppose any immigration at all may be grasping at straws,” he said.
“This is a complete non-issue unless the government is trying to demonize Haitians.”
TPS since earthquake
Temporary Protected Status was first provided to Haitians under the Obama administration following Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. It has been renewed every 18 months since.
Recipients are required to be fingerprinted and they are filed and re-checked when the status is extended, immigration attorneys say.
McGrorty, whose office represents Haitians and other immigrants seeking immigration relief, said he doesn’t believe that it’s a coincidence the request for criminal histories is being made just weeks after the administration launched the VOICE office and hotline.
Homeland Security officials said the purpose of the office is to answer questions about immigration enforcement, and give updates to registered victims about the custody status of immigrants who have committed crimes.
“If you have two misdemeanors no matter how minor or one felony, you’re not eligible for TPS, so that the people in the TPS programs have relatively clean criminal records and they have to demonstrate that every 18 months to the U.S. government,” McGrorty said.
Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said sending Haitians back to their homeland is not the right move.
“USCIS may be twisting itself into a pretzel to find a way to get to ‘no,’ but the decision lies with Secretary Kelly,” he said. “Haiti’s recovery from the 2010 earthquake and 2016 hurricane remains incomplete and very fragile and sending 50,000 people back now is short-sighted and dangerous.”