By Vania Andre
NEW YORK, NY — Thousands of Haitians and Central Americans are anxiously awaiting their fate in the United States, as the Trump Administration mulls over whether or not to extend their Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which was granted to them years ago because of natural disasters that took place in their native lands. On Nov. 18, a coalition of Haitian organizations will convene at Cadman Plaza to call for an extension of TPS for Haitians and Central Americans.
The rally is a joint effort between the Haitian American Caucus, Haitian Centers Council, HABNET Chamber of Commerce, Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York (HALANY), Haitian American Nurses Association and 1199 SEIU.
TPS has “allowed its recipients live openly and without fear and have allowed its recipients to be active citizens in their respective communities by affording them the opportunity to work, pay taxes, and to lead law-abiding lives,” Ritha Pierre, president of HALANY said. “We cannot allow this to happen and therefore the time to act is now.”
“The fact that Haiti still suffers from recent extraordinary and temporary conditions warranting an 18-month extension of TPS is well-documented, by academia, media, and even the Haitian government,” said Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) Executive Director Brian Concannon. “Secretary Tillerson’s State Department will not even let its employees travel to large swaths of the country. Ignoring this evidence is politics, not fact-finding.”
On Nov. 2, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Elaine Duke indicating that conditions in Haiti were suitable enough to no longer warrant protected status.
Immigration advocates at IJDH argue however that Haiti is a textbook case for an 18-month extension, citing that Hurricane Matthew, which hit the island last October, was the worst hurricane to hit Haiti in 52 years, causing an estimated $2.8 billion in damages. There are also lingering concerns over the cholera epidemic that killed roughly 10,000 people and sickened over 800,000.
While an 18-month extension would be welcomed, there are those in the Haitian community who believe the conversation shouldn’t be on advocating for an extension, but instead for reintegration into Haitian society and pathways to permanent residency in the U.S.
“We in Haiti need to think about what we can do to receive people from the Diaspora and what we can do to provide proper support for a good standard of living,” Christian Roy Fombrun, commercial director of Decameron Resort, said during a press conference at the 6th Annual National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals conference. “That’s the conversation we should be having, not one where we’re lobbying and pushing for an extension.”
Fombrun cited Haiti’s brain drain as one of the reasons for the current state of the country and argued that more needs to be done to put systems in place to receive the nearly 60,000 Haitians on TPS back to their country.
“We shouldn’t see these 58,000 people as a negative thing,” he said. “They’re going back home. Why is this bad? Let’s find a structure to properly receive them.”
For Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste, the answer is not so clear cut.
“There’s a duality in what we’re trying to do,” Jean-Baptiste said during the press conference. “When a country has suffered considerable setbacks and is unable to manage the affairs of its citizens and provide support and services, then the rules of the game on this issue of TPS is that you extend support. The reality is that we meet all of the qualifications to continue to see another 18-month extension of TPS. To terminate the designation is an invitation for chaos.”
At the same time, we’re also fighting for reintegration into Haitian society, he said in reference to calls for dual citizenship for members of the Haitian Diaspora.
“Many of us who left for economic or political difficulties seek to go back and reintegrate into Haiti. We are still fighting for reintegration, but reintegration has to be policy and process that the Haitian government puts into place.”
As the community and immigration advocates await the Trump Administration’s decision, three members of the U.S. Congress are preparing legislation that would allow TPS residents to apply for permanent residency.
The ASPIRE Act would allow TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency before Jan. 1 given they are able to prove hardship back home in Haiti. The bill, which will be introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Pramila Jayapal would also allow current TPS recipients, who have been in the U.S. for at least five years, to stay in the country for a six-year period and would revoke their eligibility for permanent residency.
Ending TPS would also be costly for the United States: a study by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center shows that rescinding TPS for Haiti and other Latin countries would result in a $45.2 billion reduction in GDP over the next decade. And in its Oct. 26 letter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged DHS Acting Secretary Duke to extend TPS for Haitians and Central Americans for detailed reasons affecting the U.S. economy.
TPS was originally granted to Haitian nationals who were displaced as a result of the 2010 earthquake. In May, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a TPS extension for 6 months. During this 6-month extension, DHS “encouraged” beneficiaries to prepare for their return to Haiti.
On Nov. 6, DHS terminated TPS designation for Nicaraguans with a 12-month delay. The move has not been a promising sign for immigration advocates in the Haitian community.
“The conditions that Tillerson has articulated, claiming the the conditions no longer exist to merit TPS is not true,” Jean-Baptiste said. “They still exist. The goal is not to be beggars, but to stand on our own two feet. However, there is another level to this.”