March 12, 2019 saw two developments— one legislative and one judicial—toward blocking Trump’s order to end TPS. But for those whose lives are in limbo, is it enough?

Little Haiti, Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Garry Pierre-Pierre

Update: On April 11, U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz of the Eastern District of New York issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing DHS from terminating Temporary Protected Starus, TPS, for Haitians.Kuntz said 50,000 to 60,000 Haitians and their U.S.-born children would suffer “irreparable harm” if the legal protection ended and they were forced to return to a country that is not safe. Read more

By Claire Savage

A path to permanent residency via new legislation and a progressing Baltimore lawsuit against Haitian Temporary Protection Status (TPS) rescission are positive developments for the Haitian community, but may be too little too late for some TPS holders.

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) and Congresswomen Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), and Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) co-sponsored a bill that would offer a path to permanent residency for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Deferred Enforced Departure and TPS immigrants. On the same day, a Maryland court denied the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit arguing that TPS removal was racially motivated, and moved to proceed with the case— a significant win for the Haitian community and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who filed the original suit.

In November 2017, Homeland Security announced its intention to remove TPS protection for Haitian immigrants and more— a move met with outcry in the immigrant community. Several organizations, including the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on grounds of unconstitutional racial discrimination.

The California lawsuit succeeded in securing a temporary delay of TPS removal for Salvadorans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Sudanese. For Haitians, the expiration date was originally scheduled for July 2019, but now, barring certain criminal convictions or gaps in continuous presence in the US, all TPS holders of these groups will have their TPS and work authorization automatically renewed, said Jessica Karp Bansal, an attorney with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, which also represents the TPS holders in the California case.

Under the most recently announced automatic extension, renewal lasts until January 2020, but Bansal explained, “It’s very likely gonna be longer than that.”

The government is appealing the lower court’s decision to extend TPS, but worst-case scenario for holders— if plaintiffs lose the appeal—TPS will end six months after the decision. It is impossible to know for sure when that decision will come out, but it will most likely be in August or later, Bansal said.

“It’s not as if every day you need to wake up and check whether the appeal has been decided,” she explained. “Once the appeal is decided, the government has agreed that it…would wait at least six months from the day the Ninth Circuit publishes its decision before it would try to terminate TPS.”

TPS holders from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Sudan will have their status automatically renewed as long as the appeal is ongoing, Bansal said.

The NAACP LDF lawsuit in Baltimore, filed in January 2018, is the only TPS case to sue solely on racial grounds, according to Senior Counsel Raymond Audain, one of the attorneys on the case.

“The government moved to dismiss the case, so they tried to get it kicked out of federal court,” Audain explained.

“According to the government, there’s no way to file these lawsuits in federal court,” Audain said. “They’ve made that argument in all of the cases, and all of the cases have rejected that argument, most recently the case that we’re dealing with in Baltimore.”

Opposing counsel Adam Kirschner of the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment, and DOJ spokesman Steven Stafford did not offer a comment at this time.

The next step for the Baltimore lawsuit is an April 24 conference scheduled with the court to discuss how to move forward, according to Audain.

The California case, Ramos v. Nielsen, set an important precedent for the progressing Baltimore case by acknowledging the legitimacy of a racial discrimination claim, Audain said.

Guerline jozef. Photo Credit: Naeisha Rose

Guerline Jozef, immigration rights advocate and president of Haitian Bridge Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit Haitian organizations, said she has long recognized the reality of racism in U.S. immigration proceedings.

“Back when [the order] first came out, I was the first person who said it was racially-based,” Jozef said. “At the time people thought that I was crazy.”

Jozef said she and her team have been advocating for the Dream and Promise Act for months, and are excited about its introduction.

“Fortunately, we never gave up. We pushed, we pushed and we went to Congress, and knock on doors and was able to get this new bill out,” she said.

Although the bill could offer a permanent solution for TPS, DACA and DED holders, it faces many obstacles, primarily a majority-Republican Senate, Jozef said.

“We are hearing a lot of talks about the wall, so I think there might have to be some compromises there,” she admitted.

Jozef acknowledged a divide between Haitians Americans with permanent residency and those without, and called for the community to stand with TPS holders.

“Understand that we are all in this together,” Jozef said. “Whatever happens to me, it affects the other person.” Without unity, she said, “we are not able to leverage the power that we hold in this country.”

Farah Larrieux, a Haitian TPS holder and activist, expressed frustration at the political give-and-take for immigration policy.

“They play political games with our life by asking something else in return,” Larrieux said. “We’re talking about people’s lives. People’s lives should not be a politics issue.”

Larrieux said tries to deal with the uncertainty as positively as she can. “It takes a lot of courage, energy and strength to wake up every day, to go forward with your daily life, your routine,” she said. “You live with the stress every day.”

Positive as she is, Larrieux said some days are worse than others. “Sometimes you wake up with hope,” she said, but other days, “you get up…you see everything in a negative light…you feel something heavy on you. You feel like your life is falling apart.”

Regardless, Larrieux said, “you have to get up.”

Larrieux said she has become more connected to the immigrant community as her immigration status became threatened, and it has made her more sympathetic and humble.

“I feel like I’m blessed, too,” she said. “But it doesn’t take away the stress…the emotion…effect on me and my life.”

For one Haitian TPS holder, the Dream bill and the lawsuits provide little comfort. A mother of three, her name is withheld due to the sensitive nature of her immigration status and testimony.

She moved to the United States in 2010 after the earthquake, and received TPS in 2011. Her oldest child, then four years old, was at school in Haiti and became trapped under a collapsed building for more than eight hours. Now thirteen and terrified to return, he tells his mother: “I don’t know anything about Haiti. The only thing I know was that earthquake, and I don’t want to go back.”

The California case, which extended her TPS protection, offered a Band-Aid for a bullet hole, according to the Haitian TPS holder.

“It’s just like 18 months,” she said, referring to the time between the Oct. 2018 court decision and her possible status expiration in 2020. “Quick, fast. Just before thinking about it, it’s already finished,” she said.

“I can’t sleep now,” she admitted tearfully. “Sometimes I realize I didn’t eat or even drink water.”

Because of the stress, she now suffers from depression, anxiety and hypertension, she said. She has many family members in Haiti, but they could not afford to take her in if she and her family were to be deported. “I am the one helping to pay them,” she explained.

But cost of living has become so expensive she has not been able to help lately.

Her husband is detained, and she has to work 16 to 20 hour days to provide for her children, she said. “Everything is on me,” she said, voice breaking.

“I’ve been here almost ten years,” she said. “America is my home.”

Claire Savage

Claire Savage is a freelance journalist who specializes in covering international news. She earned her bachelor's degree in Spanish and International Business at Washington University in St. Louis and her master's degree in journalism at American University in Washington, D.C.

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