Given President Donald Trump’s hard line on illegal immigration, Haitians are afraid that a special status that allowed some 58,000 Haitians to stay in the United States as their nation recovered from a devastating 2010 earthquake may not be renewed.
Former President Barack Obama approved Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the wake of the earthquake. It is up for renewal on July 22, but many Haitians who took advantage of the program fear it won’t be extended, sending them back to an impoverished country where efforts to rebuild housing are lagging and 750,000 people still don’t have safe water for drinking and cooking.
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“Over 6 1/2 years later, Haiti is still trying to recover. Over 6 1/2 years later, we still have people living under tents. Imagine sending 58,000 people to a country in turmoil,” said Marleine Bastien, executive director of FANM (Haitian Women of Miami), one of about a dozen community groups that came together Thursday in Little Haiti to call for the immediate extension of TPS.
“We are here to ask our partners in the Trump administration to pay attention to Haiti,” Bastien said. “People are anxious, they are concerned, they are scared to death” that they will be sent back.
The 7.0-magnitude quake, which struck on Jan. 12, 2010, killed an estimated 300,000 Haitians and left large swaths of Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities in rubble. Haiti also is still trying to recuperate from Hurricane Matthew, which tore through southern Haiti last October and left more than 900 people dead and $2.8 billion in damages.
Since the earthquake, Haiti also has suffered a cholera outbreak that has killed 9,000 Haitians.
Those representing the Haitian community and labor, immigration and religious groups said that TPS should be extended for at least another 18 months. Sending back the tens of thousands of Haitians who benefit from the special status at this point would destabilize the country and also cut off the remittances they send home to help their families stay afloat, they said at the news conference.
“Every day, I’m asking myself what I will do in the next few months,” said Farrah Larrieux, a TV personality and entrepreneur who is living in South Florida under TPS. “We started building our lives here in the United States. Now what is the future?
“I remember during the campaign [Trump] came here to Little Haiti and he made a promise to Haitians that if he became president, Haiti would not be forgotten,” she said. “President Trump, we are asking you only to not forget Haiti and not forget these Haitians who have been contributing to the economy of the United States.”
Although TPS for Haitians doesn’t expire until July, speakers stressed the urgency of acting soon on its renewal.
In order to work in the United States, those with TPS must request an employment authorization document, said Georges Francis, managing attorney with Catholic Charities Legal Services of Miami. With fingerprinting, background checks and paperwork, that process can take about 90 days, he said.
“Employers get nervous. Even if someone has the ability to renew TPS, if they don’t have a valid work permit in their pocket or in their possession, their employers are going to go ahead and release them,” Francis said. “That’s why it’s important to extend TPS as soon as possible.”
He said many Haitians with TPS are doing highway and other construction work. “The construction industry may suffer” if TPS isn’t renewed, Francis said.
In late March, 10 members of the South Florida congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly urging the administration to extend TPS “given the continued difficult conditions in Haiti.”
“Through TPS, our country has committed to providing a safe haven to individuals unable to securely return to their home country due to ongoing environmental disasters and violence,” the letter said.
A spokesman for South Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who was among those who signed the letter, said Thursday the lawmakers still haven’t received a response.
A community delegation headed by Ira Kurzban, an immigration attorney, is currently in Washington urging the extension of TPS, Bastien said.