South Florida Haitian nationals who have been temporarily protected from deportation on Monday received what appeared to be good news. But in fact, it’s very bad news.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Director John Kelly announced that the United States will extend Temporary Protected Status of 58,706 Haitians, many of them residents of Miami-Dade and Broward, for another six months, not the hoped-for 18 months. The benefit was set to expire in July.
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The bad news: As the government handed them the reprieve, in the same breath it advised them to get their personal and travel papers in order.
This is the government’s way of saying these Haitians will likely lose their status by year’s end – and be required to return to their homeland, which is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew in October, the 2010 killer earthquake that won them TPS status, and a series of other recent political and national maladies.
For our fellow Haitian residents, who have built lives here like all of us, this is chilling news. This likely gives them three choices in six months: return to a troubled country that is no longer home, be detained and deported, or slip away and become part of the legions of undocumented immigrants struggling to live invisible lives in South Florida.
These are hard times for South Florida’s long-standing immigrant communities from Haiti, Cuba and Mexico. This year, Cubans lost their wet-foot, dry foot status. And Mexicans without immigration papers in South Miami-Dade have been laying low since President Trump’s election.
Several local politicians pleaded with Homeland Security to help the Haitians with a more substantial TPS extension, among them U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, (D-Fl), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl) U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson (D-Fl) and Alcee Hastingsm (D-Fl) and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl).
They made the same and best argument: Haiti cannot assimilate 58,000 deportees overnight. Haiti’s stability remains fragile. Not to mention the cruelty of ripping people from the lives they have built here in the last seven years.
By denying the 18-month extension, DHS has now introduced a new debate about immigration policy and TPS. Instead of deciding on Haiti’s fate on a case-by-case basis as senior officials said Monday, Haiti will now get lumped in with other countries whose citizens have their own unique stories and arguments for seeking TPS special protection.
Unfortunately, this was Haiti and Haitians best chance, and it was DHS’ opportunity to do the right thing by granting extension for 18 months. But cracking down on immigrants is the Trump administration’s motto.
Never mind that in October, Hurricane Matthew upended the lives of 2 million people, left hundreds of thousands without food or drinking water, destroyed crops and livestock. Seven months later, there are still devastating reports of death due to malnutrition.
And the cholera epidemic introduced by U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal in October 2010, who arrived after the quake, has killed at least 9,500 and sickened at least 800,000.
All of that misery, heaped on a country that had not fully recovered from the 2010 killer earthquake.
In the past, the Editorial Board has pleaded with DHS for the TPS extension for eligible Haitians in South Florida and across the country.
This inadequate six month extension, served up with a threat of eventual deportation, is a bitter disappointment — a poisoned apple.