By Vania Andre
Nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will face deportation within the next 18 months, the Trump administration announced Monday. Haitians with TPS designation will have until July 22, 2019 to voluntarily leave the country or change their legal status.
“The decision to terminate TPS for Haiti was made after a review of the conditions upon which the country’s original designation were based and whether those extraordinary but temporary conditions prevented Haiti from adequately handling the return of their nationals, as required by statute,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a statement. “Based on all available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, Acting Secretary Duke determined that those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”
However immigration advocates argue the opposite is true and in fact, Haiti is no more equipped to repatriate thousands of people now than they were seven years ago. Following the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has dealt with two catastrophic hurricanes that caused millions in damage and displaced thousands of people. Simultaneously, the small island nation has been grappling with political and economic instability, protests and an influx of Haitian Dominicans who lost their immigration status in the Dominican Republic.
“The current Haitian administration will not be prepared to take these people in,” said Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul, a political sociologist and founding director of CUNY’s Haitian Studies Institute. “We have a clear example with the Haitians living in Dominican Republic. Every week the Dominican Republic deports Haitians and the Haitian government has no capacity to receive them.”
On Nov. 2, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke indicating that conditions in Haiti were suitable enough to no longer warrant protected status.
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.
Thousands of Hondurans and Nicaraguans with TPS designation are likely to face deportation in the next 18 months. On Nov. 6, DHS terminated TPS designation for Nicaraguans with a 12-month delay. The move was a foreboding sign of what was to come for Haitians, however, there were some who speculated that the Trump administration would be lenient with Haitian TPS holders considering it’s only been eight years since they’ve been in the country under this legal status, while for Hondurans and Nicaraguans, it’s been nearly 20 years.
“In the case of Hondurans and Nicaraguans, we’re not hearing that they can’t go back to their country because Nicaragua and Honduras have not recovered [ from 1999’s Hurricane Mitch],” said Ritha Pierre, president of the Haitian Americans Lawyer Association of New York. “The argument for them to stay is that they’ve been here so long and created roots in the U.S.
“With Haiti the situation is very different,” she said. “There are still people living in tents. For many of these people they may very well be homeless once they return to Haiti.”
According to DHS, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent, signalling that significant progress has occurred to “improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens” and thus able to “safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.”
“In Haiti, we don’t have citizenship,” said Saint Paul. “There’s a fragmented citizenship in the country. To be a citizen you have to live in a context where you have rights and access to shelter, education, food and infrastructure, all which was named in the 1987 constitution as rights to Haitians.”
“All of the political regimes who have governed Haiti following the 1987 constitution have shown an inability to provide these provisions to the people.”
“For anyone that has been to Haiti in recent months, it is clear that the Administration’s decision does not coincide with the dangerous reality on the ground,” said Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte. “The return of tens of thousands of people is only going to make conditions worse.”
“There’s a mixed feeling about the decision,” Saint Paul said. “Some think it’s an extension of 18 months, but it’s not. What DHS is saying is that you have 18 months to prepare and if you’re lucky you can apply for a better status.”
A “victory” for immigration advocates is one where during recipients’ stay in the U.S., options for permanent residency are put in place without having to leave the country and reapply while living abroad.
This is certainly “not a victory,” Pierre said. DHS is telling TPS recipients “you have 18 months to get your stuff together. It wasn’t a victory in the sense that there’s a pathway to citizenship.”
For Pierre, the next 18 months is about hiring the “dire situation in Haiti” to keep pressure on the administration, organizing know your rights forums “to get ahead of fraud” and developing coalitions to help with an exit strategy.
“Right now, we as a community need to help with that transition because I don’t believe the Haitian government has a plan in place to receive these people,” she said. “They probably weren’t even expecting these people to come back.”
Over the next 18 months, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will work with the State Department, other DHS components and the Haitian government to facilitate an orderly transition, DHS said.
TPS recipients will be required to reapply for working papers in order to legally work in the U.S. until July 22, 2019.
“The current extension is valuable but those who might be affected and the wider Haitian-American community need to use this time to engage in our communities,” Madgie Nicolas, an advisor for the National Diversity Coalition for Trump said. “We need politicians of both parties to recognize how important we are. We need citizens to run and gain public office.”
The next 18 months should be about creating jobs and developing systems in Haiti that would help Haiti to “retool to a sustainable economy,” Nicolas said.
“We need to create jobs in Haiti in this next 18 months to emphasize to political authorities that having those in America remain in America creates a bridge to aid development in Haiti.
“Now, it’s time to organize rallies and meetings in front of every congressional member to give the recipients of TPS permanent status. President Trump does not introduce legislation. He can only sign bills that both houses put on his desk. I know how considerate Mr Trump is, he has a great heart no matter what people said; I am confident if the Bills pass Congress and get to his desk he will face this challenge with conviction, with unity, and with a commitment to love and support our Haitians in times of dire need.”