Keeping their bags packed

Haitians get short deportation delay


Haitian nationals who have been protected from deportation from the U.S. for more than seven years since an earthquake struck their homeland won another temporary reprieve Monday: The Department of Homeland Security announced that it will extend the benefit, which expires on July 22, for six more months.

A woman walks along a debris-filled street in Roche a Bateau, Haiti after Hurricane Matthew hit the island in October 2016.

But even though Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly did not terminate the program as one of his top officials had recommended, the 58,706 Haitians enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program should begin to get their affairs for their eventual return to Haiti, officials said Monday.

Reasonable extension
“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,” Kelly said.

“We plan to continue to work closely with the Haitian government, including assisting the government in proactively providing travel documents for its citizens.”

Kelly said he decided to offer the extension after careful review of the current conditions in Haiti and conversations with the Haitian government.

“Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake in 2010,” he said.

“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.

“Also indicative of Haiti’s success in recovering from the earthquake seven years ago is the Haitian government’s stated 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.”

Mixed reaction
While some lawmakers such as Rep. Frederica Wilson, R-Fla., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., viewed it as an opportunity to keep fighting, Democratic Florida state Sen. Daphne Campbell and activist Marleine Bastien said they were disappointed.

“I’m very, very disappointed. This is a slap in our face,” Campbell said. “What is six months? 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.”

Bastien said she expects thousands of Haitians to lose their jobs in the coming weeks even as the government says they should begin reapplying for work authorizations up until July 23.

“And then what? This is not a win for us,” Bastien said. This is gravely disappointing. We are urging everyone to call our lawmakers, (Sens.) Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and others in the Trump administration. We are leaving people hanging. It’s cruel and inhumane. The conditions in Haiti are horrible enough for them to renew TPS for 18 months to 24 months.”

Termination coming?
With other Democratic and Republican lawmakers, plus Haitian and immigration advocates, Wilson had been fighting for an 18-month extension. The acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recommended the six-month extension, with termination of the program in January.

Conditions still bad
Wilson said she is inviting Kelly to travel with her to Haiti in the coming months so that he can see in person why sending 58,000 Haitians back is “unconscionable.”

“We just can’t deport people back to those conditions. Tent cities still remain from the earthquake,” she said. “I want them to go with me because … They will take you and you will never see the tent cities.”

Activists have argued that Haiti’s recovery from the earthquake was set back by Hurricane Matthew in October. The country was already struggling with a food crisis prompted by a three-year drought, and recent rains have caused flooding, making an already desperate situation worse.

Others sought protection
Haitians aren’t the only group granted TPS. More than 200,000 Hondurans, El Salvadorans and Nicaraguans have been allowed to live and work freely in the United States since Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1995.

While the protection had been set to expire July 22 for Haitians, it expires in January 2018 for Hondurans and Nicaraguans and in March 2018 for Salvadorans.


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