Members of the Congressional Black Caucus joined a growing chorus of voices calling on the Trump administration to show compassion for tens of thousands of Haitians who are at risk of being deported back to Haiti under a federal agency recommendation.
In a letter sent to Department of Homeland Secretary John Kelly Tuesday, the bipartisan House caucus asks the administration to “show compassion” and extend Haiti’s Temporary Protected Status designation for another 18 months.
The plea comes on the heels of a recommendation by acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, James McCament, that the special immigration status, often referred to as TPS, be extended for only six months past the current July 22 expiration date. Under that recommendation, TPS for Haitians would end Jan. 22.
McCament issued the recommendation to Kelly in an April 10 memo. Kelly has until May 23 to decide. If no decision is made, TPS will be automatically extended for six months, according to federal law. Haitians received TPS after the devastating 2010 earthquake in the Caribbean country. A recommendation for its extension after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016 was never acted upon.
The recommendation to end TPS has fueled at least two petitions from Haitian activists, letters from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and 416 faith-based leaders and organizations, and editorials in publications including the Miami Herald, Washington Post and New York Times.
“Failing to reissue TPS at this critical juncture would be a grave mistake that would mean sending tens of thousands of Haitians back to a country that is struggling with disease, nutritional insecurity, and possible natural disaster,” the black congressional lawmakers wrote. “Instead of undertaking this drastic and irreversible action, we call upon you to show compassion for this struggling community and allow them to remain here for an additional 18 months as Haiti continues to rebuild.”
In his recommendation, McCament notes that while Hurricane Matthew in October “contributed to suffering in Haiti,” the suffering was only confined to three of the country’s 10 geographical regions and “the damage did not halt Haiti’s overall recovery trajectory.”
“Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and it had enormous problems long before the 2010 earthquake,” the McCament memo states. “Even before the earthquake, the Haitian government could not or would not deliver core functions to the majority of its people.”
Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, who spearheaded the black caucus letter, disagrees with McCament’s analysis.
“This is a reckless, shortsighted, and simply unacceptable decision on his part,” Clarke said during a call Tuesday sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, an immigration advocacy group that has been monitoring the issue. “[Haitian nationals] depend on TPS to avoid returning to extremely dangerous conditions in their home country.”
The TPS designation requires analysis by agencies including the Office of Policy and Strategy within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which looks at whether a country can absorb the return of its nationals.
Leon Rodriguez, a former director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, was in charge during two of Haiti’s designation periods.
“Often what we find in countries that get designated for Temporary Protected Status is you have a breakdown of government institutions. You have housing shortages, ongoing food shortages, a weakness of public safety... and a variety of other conditions that make it difficult for people to return to those countries,” Rodriguez said during the call.
Rodriguez said countries ending up with TPS were often already pretty fragile prior to the triggering event for the designation.
“I think that is to some degree true in the case of Haiti,” Rodriguez said. “The inability of the country to satisfactorily reabsorb its nationals is one that in fact persists for quite a long time so in the case of Haiti that’s a relatively short length of TPS. The country’s only been designated for roughly seven years. There are a handful of countries that in fact have had TPS for much longer.”
The decision on Haiti, Rodriguez added, will likely set an important precedent for the Trump administration as it considers what will happen with other TPS-designated nations, such as El Salvador and Honduras, set to come up for renewal next year.
Dr. Paul Farmer, who served as United Nations deputy special envoy to former U.S. President Bill Clinton after the earthquake, said he believes Haiti meets all the criteria for the designation.
While Haiti, with the help of the international community, managed to remove the rubble after the quake and build a new state-of-the-art hospital in the Central Plateau with Farmer’s charity organization, Partners In Health, conditions have not improved widely across the country, Farmer said.
There has been a “tardiness in the rebuilding” of facilities, he said, and a cholera epidemic that has not been brought under control. “Resources that have been pledged have not been delivered.”
A renowned physician, Farmer has spent the last 30 years moving between Haiti and Harvard University, where he is an attending physician at its teaching hospital. There are about 5,000 Haitians employed at the hospital, he said.
“I would just ask people who are thinking about U.S. interests to imagine running a hospital in Boston, New York or Miami without Haitians who also send home remittances, which increases the stability of their families,” he said. “This would be disruptive not only for families involved but also I believe for a number of institutions including hospitals.”