By Sergio Bustos
May 17, 2017
MIAMI — With a decision deadline looming next week for the Trump administration, Florida lawmakers and humanitarian organizations are beating the drum in support of allowing more than 50,000 Haitian immigrants — including thousands in South Florida — to live and work in the U.S. and avoid deportation under a special immigration program.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and a host of humanitarian organizations held a telephone news conference Wednesday afternoon to make the case to the Trump administration to renew Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, to Haitians. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has penned a letter to the administration in asking for a TPS extension, too.
“This is a humanitarian decision and should not be part of a broader debate about immigration policy,” said Deutch, who noted that thousands of Haitians under TPS have been in the U.S. for “years and years” and that sending them back to their country “goes against everything we stand for.”
James McCament, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has recommended to Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly that TPS end for Haitians because conditions in the country had improved since a devastating 2010 earthquake. Haiti’s TPS is set to expire July 22; the Trump administration will decide the policy’s fate by next Tuesday.
The DHS secretary can designate immigrants from a certain country as eligible for TPS based on conditions in their home country (an ongoing armed conflict, natural disaster, or other “extraordinary” event) for six to 18 months. Haiti is one of 13 countries with a TPS designation. It was originally issued in 2011 after the country’s devastating earthquake.
In his letter to Kelly, Nelson requested that TPS be extended for a full 18 months for Haitians. He said he met with Paul Altidor, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., who told him that Haiti is working on plans to recover from the 2010 earthquake and the 2016 hurricane.
“Allowing TPS to expire too soon risks disrupting the lives of nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the United States and burdening a government not ready to accept them,” wrote Nelson.
Kelly earlier this week met with Altidor and several other Haitian officials and discussed a possible TPS extension, POLITICO’s Morning Shift reported Wednesday. The meeting came after the ambassador sent Kelly a May 8 letter urging the secretary to renew TPS.
In his letter to Kelly, Altidor said an extension of at least 18 months would be “in the mutual interest” of both countries, partly because repatriating Haitians prematurely could “lead to a humanitarian and economic crisis” that would prompt more Haitians to flee to the U.S.
Kelly met Monday with Altidor and Haiti’s foreign minister, Antonio Rodrigue, according to the ambassador. DHS did not comment about the meeting.
“Obviously, we kind of wanted to get his viewpoint,” Altidor said. The pair told Kelly that Haiti needed to develop an economic development plan (President Jovenel Moise took office in February following a year during which the country was run by a transition government). “We walked out feeling OK,” the ambassador said, adding that, to their knowledge, “no decision has been made.”
Nearly three dozen national and international humanitarian groups also sent a letter to the Trump administration on Wednesday, saying that Haiti’s recovery has been undermined by additional natural disasters, including three years of drought, a cholera epidemic and last year’s Hurricane Matthew, the strongest hurricane to hit the Caribbean island nation in 50 years. The storm last October left more than 500 dead and 175,000 homeless.
“These persistent and ongoing disasters—combined with the extreme poverty of its population—mean that the country is in no position to reintegrate more than 50,000 Haitians who now have temporary protection in the United States,” say the groups in their letter.
“Recovery efforts remain incredibly fragile and complex, and this is no time to send TPS holders back to Haiti,” argue the groups. “Doing so would mean sending them to entirely avoidable risks of poverty, illness, and malnutrition, and would risk destabilizing an already fragile situation.”
Among the humanitarians groups signing the letter: HIAS, CARE USA, Refugees International and Church World Service.
Last September, during his winning presidential campaign, Trump traveled to Little Haiti in Miami and pledged he would be a “champion” for the Haitian community.
“Whether you vote for me or not, I really want to be your biggest champion,”I really want to be your greatest champion,” Trump said during the campaign stop.
During Wednesday’s telephone news conference, Jasmine Huggins, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer with Church World Service, reminded reporters of Trump’s promise.
“Trump has said he would be a champion for the Haitian community,” she said. “This is not the way to do it.”
Read Sen. Bill Nelson’s letter to Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly here.
Read the letter signed by 35 U.S.-based and international organizations to Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly here.
Read letter from Paul Altidor, Haiti’s ambassador to U.S, to Homeland Security Department Secretary John Kelly here.
UPDATED with quotes from afternoon telephone news conference from Congressman Deutch and humanitarian organizations.
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