NEW YORK - “Turmoil for all of us” is how Myriam describes her situation and that of other Haitians who stand to lose their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in July.
Myriam, who did not want her last name used, works with children with disabilities in New York City. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago from St. Martin’s on a long-since-expired tourist visa. In recent years, TPS has allowed her, as a person of Haitian descent, to study and work legally. About 20,000 Haitians in New York have TPS.
The United States granted TPS to Haitian nationals living in the country in 2010 after Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake and has extended it every 18 months. But now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recommended that TPS be ended for Haiti in July on the grounds that the country has adequately recovered. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has until Tuesday to decide.
Watch: Haitian Diaspora Fears Possible End to Temporary Protected Status
Without TPS, Myriam says she would no longer be able to work or drive.
“Our drivers’ licenses, there is a temporary visitor stamp on it,” she said. “It has an expiration date.”
Earlier this month, internal emails obtained by the Associated Press revealed an intent by USCIS to seek those with criminal offenses or who have misused public services specifically among the Haitian community. The report deepened the gloom.
“It hurt to hear that,” said Myriam, adding that it’s a “smack in the face” because “you cannot apply for TPS if you have a criminal record.”
In an email to VOA, DHS said, "Secretary [John] Kelly hasn't yet made a decision on TPS for Haiti. The secretary's decision will be based on a thorough assessment of the conditions in the country; separately, he has asked the staff for detailed information to increase his understanding of how the program operates. The two actions are separate and distinct."
Cry, pray, get back up
In the days since USCIS’ emails surfaced, Herold Dasque, former director at Haitian-Americans United for Progress, says his organization has begun to prepare the community psychologically.
“We tell them, ‘Don’t let your blood pressure affect you,’ because people are getting sick, your emotion can get you sick,” Dasque said.
But the advice is easier given than followed.
Johanne came to the U.S. on a temporary visa nearly 20 years ago to attend her mother’s funeral and never left. She was a teenager at the time, and only her dad, who has since died, remained in Haiti. So she paid her way through early childhood education and social work studies, and became eligible for TPS in 2010.
Now that she has spent more than half of her life in the country, Johanne says the idea of being forced to go back has put her in turmoil. She often finds herself in need of the same support she provides to others.
“Knowing that you are in that same situation as the people who are coming to you and asking for information, you don’t have a choice but to give them the right information,” Johanne said, eyes widening. “But at the same time, in my heart, my brain is crying, ‘What about me?’ Because I have my own issues, I’m thinking about my future just like they are.”
To cope, Johanne goes home, closes her door, cries, prays, and gets back up. She, like many Catholics, turns to her faith for support when no other answer seems to suffice.
“God has never forsaken us before,” added Rolddy, another TPS beneficiary and history student at York College. “Whenever something happens, there’s always a reason.”
Rolddy, like Johanne, feels he has no choice but to live in the shadows if his status is revoked. Going back, unless forcibly removed, is not an option.
“I don’t think I have any place to go,” Rolddy said. “After this earthquake, things have changed. People are not who they used to be anymore.”
Haiti has not recovered
TPS beneficiaries are not the only Haitians asking for an extension.
In an interview with VOA, Paul G. Altidor, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., insists the island has not recovered and is not ready for a sudden influx. There are more than 50,000 Haitian TPS holders.
“The day after the earthquake … many friends and countries around the world got together to pledge and commit support to Haiti,” Altidor said. “Unfortunately, many of those pledges never came to fruition, so the resources that Haiti had relied on to actually rebuild itself, some of them didn’t come through, and some of them quite frankly got wasted,” he added.
Haiti suffered from a cholera epidemic in the earthquake’s wake, and the country was hit last year by its strongest hurricane since 1964, causing widespread housing and food shortages and more than $2 billion in damage.
“Haiti might be ready to open for business,” Dasque said, “but not ready to accept its citizens that left.”
Thirteen countries have TPS status. The fate of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which were most heavily affected by the 2013-2015 Ebola epidemic, has been decided. Their beneficiary status expires May 21.