The Trump administration says it will end the temporary status that shelters nearly 60,000 Haitians from deportation, saying the island nation has sufficiently recovered from devastating disasters to take its citizens back.
The so-called temporary protected status for Haitians will expire in 18 months, in July 2019, officials with the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday night. The unusually long lead time will give Haitians currently under protection an opportunity to seek some other kind of legal status if they qualify — or to make arrangements to leave.
By far the largest group of Haitians covered by the order live in Florida, with another large community in New York.
For months, administration officials have signaled their intention to end special designations that have allowed immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally from Haiti and other troubled nations to stay on and work in the U.S. The existing protections were intended to provide temporary respites for citizens of hard-hit countries, not permanent legal status in the U.S., officials note.
In Haiti’s case, temporary status was granted after a huge earthquake hit the island in 2010, killing more than 200,000 people, according to government estimates. The quake displaced about 1.5 million people and reduced much of the country to rubble. More disasters followed, including a post-quake cholera epidemic that killed more than 9,000 people. A little over a year ago, the southern part of the island was hammered by Hurricane Matthew, damaging about 80% of the homes there.
Seven years after the initial designation and after study of the situation, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine C. Duke concluded that “those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist,” said a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. Haiti has made “significant progress,” the official added.
Two weeks ago, the department announced it would end the protected status for Nicaraguans effective January 2019. At the same time, Duke put off making a decision on the fate of 86,000 Hondurans, saying she needed another six months to gather information about conditions there.
As they did in announcing the Nicaragua decision, officials once again invited Congress to pass a law that would create a permanent solution for the people who have received temporary status — many of whom have been in the country for a decade or more.
“The acting secretary has repeatedly said that no one should live their lives 18 months at a time, and a permanent solution should be found,” said the senior administration official. “The proper avenue for affecting a change is Congress,” the official added.
In May, then-Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly said that he would extend the protections for Haitians for six months, but warned Haitians in the program they should get travel documents and start preparing to leave.
“The Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96% of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps,” Kelly said then.
Officials said Monday that the political climate in Haiti had stabilized. A United Nations military force has left, though an international police force remains. A State Department official said the U.S. had spent about $100 million to combat the cholera epidemic alone.
Immigration advocates have said it is wrong and unfair to consider sending large numbers of immigrants back to troubled countries, particularly Haiti. A report by the United Nations in January said the country is still mired in poverty and struggling to recover from a legacy of political upheaval and serial disasters, with about 2.5 million people still needing help.
The decision will upend the lives of thousands of Haitians in the U.S., many of whom have taken advantage of their legal status to put down roots, building careers and raising children, many of whom are American citizens.
“This administration has no plan in place for the children who are U.S. citizens but may now lose their parents and caregivers to deportation,” said Amanda Baran of the Washington office of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a advocacy group for immigrants.
The group called on Congress to change the law to allow immigrants currently covered by temporary status to stay.
Immigrants affected by the order said they worried for their future.
“I wanted to come here for a better life. There, they kill people for nothing; they kidnap people for nothing,” said Fabiola Silias of New York, who says she fled unrest in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2006. Silias, 41, who now works as a home health worker, says she has an application for political asylum.
In South Florida, many Haitians work in the healthcare industry. Doing away with the current protections and the work authorizations that go along with them would create an instant labor shortage in that industry, along with construction, hospitality and food processing, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In granting another 18 months of protected status for Haitians, Duke apparently responded to requests by advocates and members of South Florida's congressional delegation, who signed a letter in September saying that statistics showing progress in Haiti masked serious problems.