Florida senator seeks TPS extension for Haitians

Seeking to calm the fears of tens of thousands of Haitians who could soon be targeted for deportation to Haiti, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has filed legislation in the U.S. Senate to extend temporary protection to thousands of Haitians living in the United States who are currently enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program.

The Senate bill was introduced by Rubio on Thursday and would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, benefits to Haitians for 18 months.

An estimated 50,000 Haitians who currently have temporary permission to legally live and work in the United States are set to lose that benefit on Jan. 2, 2020. A new extension was given by DHS in February of this year as a result of one of several TPS-related lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS for Haitians and Central Americans.

Although there’s an ongoing injunction in the courts, Rubio said he firmly believes that Haitians currently residing in the U.S. should not lose TPS status.

“I am working with the administration and my colleagues in the Senate to extend TPS for eligible Haitians by 18 months,” Rubio said. “Ultimately, I would like to see a permanent solution, but we have received some positive feedback from the administration on a temporary solution.”

Publicly the Trump administration has not seemed in favor of the time-limited program, and has announced its end for a number of Central American and African nations in addition to Haiti. In February 2019 the administration said it would extend TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Sudanese in the United States by an additional six months while it continued its fights in the courts to end the program.

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Rubio’s push on behalf of Haitians comes after Venezuelans this week failed to get the designation despite lobbying by the senator and other lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In March, Rubio was among several senators who introduced the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019. He also signed a letter to the president on the issue.

Last week, Kenneth Cuccinelli II, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services responded, rejecting the Venezuelan TPS request. He said “the U.S. government continues to monitor the situation in Venezuela.”

With time running out for Haitians, who were initially set to lose their status on Monday before it was extended for six months earlier this year by the Trump administration due to a pending lawsuit in court, they face what has been called a “potentially explosive” situation if forced to return to Haiti.

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The country, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres told the U.N. Security Council in a report this week, remains embroiled in a persistent climate of crisis that began last July. The country’s political instability has been worsening, and has been aggravated by the worsening of the socioeconomic and security situation, and armed gang activity that has spread from the capital to the rural countryside. Protracted negotiations on the composition of a new cabinet, Guterres said, have paralyzed Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s administration, and is preventing the passage of critical legislation and a budget, Guterres noted.

“Concurrently, the economic outlook has further deteriorated, creating a dangerous mix of factors that is potentially explosive,” he said as he appealed to Haitians to overcome their differences to enable the formation of a new government that could service the population.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.