Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians
Demonstrators at a 2017 rally calling for temporary protected status (TPS) to be renewed for Haitians. File photo.

By Jonathan Greig

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians
Demonstrators at a 2017 rally calling for temporary protected status (TPS) to be renewed for Haitians. File photo.

Rose Tilus has spent months working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic as a nurse in Rhode Island. Last week, when the TPS holder saw news of the federal court ruling that could potentially end temporary protected status for nearly 400,000 people, she felt terrified. 

“The [decision] once again raises fear and anxiety that are always in the background, that I might suddenly have to leave my home,” said Tilus, who has lived in the United States for 20 years. “TPS allowed me to get my undergraduate and master’s degree in nursing. I love my work, I love serving the community in Rhode Island.”

Tilus is among roughly 55,000 Haitians who have received TPS, the federal program that allows immigrants from 10 countries to live and work in the U.S. because their countries are recovering from natural disasters or war. But the United States Court of Appeals panel sided with the Trump administration in saying that people from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan no longer need TPS.

If President Donald Trump is reelected, Tilus and others from those countries will be forced to leave the United States by March 5, according to The New York Times. Those from El Salvador have until November to leave the U.S. 

Lawyers for the defendants said they plan to keep fighting the ruling, even to the Supreme Court potentially. Meanwhile, immigrant advocates and TPS holders are decrying the decision, adding to the intensity of an election year already laden with issues of concern for immigrants. Democratic nominee Joe Biden said if he wins, he would extend the TPS program.

Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Miami-based Family Action Network Movement, told The Haitian Times that the court decision could lead to “one of the biggest mass deportations in our country’s history.”

“These hardworking taxpayers [could] be forced to return during a global pandemic to vulnerable nations still struggling from political turmoil, violence, and unrest,” Bastien said. 

About 10,000 Haitian TPS holders live in New York, more than 16,000 live in Miami and almost 5,000 live in Boston, according to the National Immigration Forum. Across all states, about 55,300 TPS holders are Haitian, the group estimates. Many have been in the United States for a decade and have children who are American citizens. 

Election implications

The election in November will now prove even more pivotal for Haitians because if Democrats win, they would have the power to extend TPS. Two of the three judges who voted in favor of the White House are Republican appointees. 

President Donald Trump’s efforts to end TPS were “wrongheaded” and “senseless,” said Jennifer Molina, a Biden for President spokesperson, in a statement.

“The Trump Administration is ignoring the facts on the ground in these countries as well as the reality that TPS holders contribute deeply to our economy and our communities,” Molina said. “Joe Biden has committed to protecting TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders from being returned to countries that are unsafe.” 

Nearly 275,000 U.S. citizen children might have to be faced with the decision to leave their homes or be separated from their families. In New York alone, 22,000 U.S. born children of TPS holders live in the state, the New York Immigration Coalition reports. The state could lose $1.5 billion in GDP if TPS holders from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras are removed. 

“Backdoor residents” versus essential workers

White House officials have long sought to end the TPS program that has allowed more than 400,000 people from the four countries named in the ruling to live in the United States. They have argued that the events that brought Haitians to the United States have been resolved and said the program should not be used as a “backdoor to permanent residency.”

The legal case to protect TPS residents centers around dozens of comments Trump made about Haitian immigrants and his desire for the country to only allow immigrants from European countries. In 2018, the president called Haiti a “shithole” country. He later said Haitian immigrants “all have AIDS,” during a meeting in the Oval office. 

Lawmakers must pass the “The Dream and Promise Act” to legally protect TPS recipients that made it through the House of Representatives in 2019, Bastien said.

Guerline Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, echoed Bastien’s remarks, calling on the U.S. Senate to act. 

“The failure to do so will be catastrophic and will dismantle the very fabric of our communities,” Jozef said. “[The] decision shows the continued disregard for immigrants’ lives and has exacerbated that uncertainty by siding with the Trump Administration’s xenophobia, racism, and exclusion.”

Numerous immigration advocates also have questioned the latest ruling considering how instrumental TPS holders were in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of Haitians worked as nurses at elderly care homes in New York and more worked in food factories throughout the height of the pandemic. 

The Center for American Progress told The New York Times that more than 100,000 essential workers are TPS holders, with over 10,000 working specifically in healthcare. 

“They’ve created families, businesses, and in the middle of a pandemic, nearly 130,000 of essential TPS working in the frontlines across the country have kept us safe,” said Maria Rodriguez, Executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Now, more than ever, we need to stand with our immigrant communities.”

Jonathan Greig is a journalist based in New York City working as a contributing writer for CBS Interactive. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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