U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was noncommittal about whether he would extend temporary immigration relief to thousands of Haitians living in the United States beyond January during a visit to Haiti Wednesday.
But the retired Marine Corps general and former commander of United States Southern Command seemed to leave the door open for discussions.
“I have committed to the president and the government that we can work together as we go forward on any future extensions,” Kelly said during a press conference at the National Palace after meeting with Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, senior government officials, Head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) Sandra Honoré and MINUSTAH Military Commander Brazilian Lt. Gen. Ajax Porto Pinheiro.
Kelly reminded Haitians that it’s been seven years since the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, which triggered the use of the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program for Haiti.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“What I am dealing with in the United States relative to TPS is U.S. law and how to execute U.S. law,” Kelly said. “The operative word in the law is ‘temporary.’ It’s not meant to be an open-ended law, but a temporary law and I elected to extend TPS for the country of Haiti by six months, which makes it terminate eight months from now.”
Last week, Kelly authorized the program for Haitians for an additional six months after it expires on July 22. Any decision on future extensions or termination, DHS said, would come at a future date, but the nearly 60,000 Haitians enrolled in the program were warned to begin making preparations to return to Haiti.
On Wednesday, during the discussions with Moïse and senior government officials, Kelly discussed TPS and U.S. migration concerns involving Haiti. Haitian officials were also told during the closed-door discussions that despite pressure by advocates for Haiti to keep the TPS program, there was a proposal by congressional Republicans in Washington that would functionally kill TPS if it is approved.
Asked whether Kelly’s visit would change the extension from six months to 18 months as many U.S. lawmakers and Haitian and immigration advocates have urged, Moïse responded: “We had very good discussions.”
The talks, Moïse said, lasted for more than an hour and weren’t solely about TPS.
“It was about the collaboration between the United States of America and Haiti,” he said, adding, “We need to attract U.S. private investments.” Also cutting Haiti’s dependency on development aid is critical, Moïse said.
Kelly had come under fire from some U.S. lawmakers and development and humanitarian aid groups for only visiting the presidential palace during a visit to Haiti that was set to last about four hours.
On Wednesday, New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, D-Brooklyn, said she doubted that such a “cursory trip” would provide Secretary Kelly with the “substantive knowledge” needed to make a decision about TPS beyond the six months he ordered.
“I instead invite him to travel with me and other members of Congress to spend several days in Haiti touring resettlement locations and learning from Haiti advocates about why this extension is so vital,” she said.
Kelly said those criticizing his visit didn’t know enough about his background.
“In my 39 months in the command of Southern Command in Miami, I came to Haiti certainly no less than 10 times, maybe 15 times. I toured this country with the former president [Michel Martelly] a number of times...,” he said. “I have visited the North Coast, the cruise ship area, the industrial areas. I’ve visited the camps where displaced people are living. I’ve walked through the streets of Port-au-Prince, talked to people, seen the results of the earthquake. So I guess generally speaking, I would say the individuals who made those statements about me don’t know what they are talking about.”