Last week, Haitian Americans nationwide contacted the White House and their representatives in Congress urging President Obama to act on three goals within his control and moral purview.
When a natural catastrophe in a country makes it unsafe to deport nationals there, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can designate it for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Haiti was so designated after the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010. Nationals who had arrived in the U.S. on or before that date were protected from deportation and, for a significant fee, allowed to apply for a work permit.
TPS for Haiti needs to be updated — “redesignated.” In early October, Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti’s southern peninsula. The Category 4 hurricane’s 230-mile-per-hour winds and over 10 inches of rain inundated vast areas, killing, injuring, rendering homeless and displacing hundreds of thousands. It left 1,250,000 Haitians, including 500,000 children, without safe water, and more than 800,000 Haitians living in extreme food insecurity because almost 100 percent crop destruction and half of the livestock destroyed. It caused cases of cholera, the water-borne disease introduced to Haiti by negligent United Nations practices.
Haiti’s already severely challenged people and fragile governing structures — the cholera epidemic alone has killed 10,000 and sickened 900,000 — were overwhelmed, and remain so. Matthew is precisely the kind of catastrophic event for which the TPS authority was contemplated and designed.
It should be invoked now because deportations to a still-reeling Haiti are definitely unsafe. Redesignating Haiti for TPS would enable those protected here to apply for work permits and then aid recovery through the remittances they would send back to their families. It’s something Obama can order DHS to do now, and he should do so.
Second, Obama should order DHS to expand its successful but too-limited Haitian Family Reunification Program (HFRP), under which Haitian Americans with DHS-approved immigrant visa petitions may apply at significant financial cost to have the process expedited, but only if their beneficiary is within three years of getting their immigrant visa anyway. As of June 30, 1,952 beneficiaries had succeeded under HFRP after 15 months of its operation. The president should build on this success by expanding the program’s coverage to beneficiaries further back on the wait list. Obama can and should expand HFRP to help Haiti and these separated families.
These initiatives — redesignating Haiti for TPS because of Hurricane Matthew’s vast destruction and expanding the successful HFRP so that it may more completely fulfill the goals for which it was created are what Haitian Americans nationwide and their allies on Monday were urging upon President Obama, in addition to halting the unsafe deportations which DHS inappropriately resumed in early November and releasing non-criminal Haitians from detention. Congressional leaders of both parties here and nationally support these fair goals. We fervently hope that President Obama will hear their pleas.
Marleine Bastien is executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. Steven Forester is immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.