The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday announced it has extended Haitian immigrants’ access to a program of humanitarian protection for six months.
At least 50,000 Haitian immigrants are registered for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which permits them to live and work in the United States. TPS, offered in the wake of a deadly 2010 earthquake in Haiti, was set to expire July 23. It has been extended through January 22 – though some U.S. lawmakers, Haitian authorities and immigration advocates who'd sought a longer term expressed disappointment.
"Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake," DHS Secretary John Kelly said in a statement, adding that he was "proud of the role the United States has played during this time in helping Haitian friends."
Kelly said the extension "should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients."
Haiti sought 1-year minimum
Haiti’s government had urged the United States to extend TPS "for at least another year," its ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, told VOA earlier this month.
Altidor said the Caribbean country, while glad to welcome back "our brothers and sisters," was not ready to absorb tens of thousands of returnees "overnight."
Haiti "has not recovered entirely from the earthquake," the ambassador said, noting that not all of the financial aid pledged by "many friends and countries around the world" had materialized. He also pointed out that his country had endured additional setbacks, such as a cholera epidemic and a crippling hurricane last October.
Ambassador Altidor said some people in his country, displaced by the quake and subsequent hurricanes, still are living in camps. He said the administration of President Jovenel Moise, who took office in February, is just beginning to put together reconstruction and development plans.
The ambassador also noted that some Haitian nationals have given birth to children while in the United States, and those children are U.S. citizens. Mixed-status families could be torn apart. Altidor added that those living in the United States "for the most part ... have been quite productive members of society for the past few years."
Haitian immigrant communities primarily are in South Florida, New York, New Jersey and eastern Massachusetts.
U.S. Representative Mario Rafael Diaz-Balart, a Republican whose district includes Miami, issued a statement Monday thanking "President [Donald] Trump and DHS Secretary Kelly for this TPS extension and I support the people of Haiti as they continue to rebuild."
Some other U.S. lawmakers and immigration advocates had urged DHS to extend Haiti's TPS status for 18 months.
"We will inevitably need a longer and more traditional extension of TPS to give Haiti sufficient breathing room to implement reforms, grow their economy, and recover from the series of natural disasters," U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said in a statement Monday.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, ranking member of a subcommittee on immigration, refugees and border security, promised in a Twitter post to "fight for extensions until Haiti is fully recovered."
U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson, whose South Florida district includes Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood, encouraged DHS officials "to join me on a trip to Haiti so they can view firsthand exactly what Haitian natives living in the U.S. with Temporary Protected Status would be returning to.
"It is one thing to read facts and figures about the effects of a series of natural disasters that have wreaked havoc there," the Democrat said in a statement, "but it is impossible to accurately assess the tumultuous conditions without actually seeing it up close and in person."
Ninaj Raoul, executive director of New York-based Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, noted that last October's hurricane "wiped out" crops in southwestern Haiti, "where a lot of the food for the entire country comes from."
Tiffany Wheatland-Disu, community outreach manager at the New York Immigration Coalition, said an assessment of conditions in December supports “a full 18-month extension." She added, "Anything less would be irresponsible and reckless."
Emails raised questions
Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported it had obtained internal emails from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services showing the agency sought information on criminal activity by Haitians temporarily in the United States. Immigration advocates had worried that DHS might be treating Haitian nationals unfairly and perhaps even trying to set new TPS criteria.
DHS denied that, telling VOA in an email at the time that "the secretary's decision will be based on a thorough assessment of the conditions in the country."
TPS is designated for countries caught up in war, environmental disasters or other "extraordinary and temporary conditions," according to the DHS website, which lists 13 foreign countries. They include Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, hardest hit by an Ebola crisis several years ago. The trio’s status expired Sunday.
VOA's Ramon Taylor, Serge Rodriguez and Jean-Pierre Leroy contributed to this report.