The Department of Homeland Security Monday announced a six month extension of humanitarian protections for about 55,000 Haitians living in the United States with working permits. For weeks, Haitians and their advocates have rallied for an eighteen-month extension, fearful that the Trump Administration would revoke Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for their country in July, making it difficult for them to continue living in the United States.
More than 20,000 Haitian TPS recipients live in NYC alone, according to 1199SEIU, a service workers union that represents thousands of health aides, many of them Haitian. According to the Mayor's Office, about 125,000 New Yorkers are part of the Haitian diaspora.
The partial TPS extension will go into effect on July 23rd, according to DHS, and will be valid through next January 22nd. Before then, DHS Secretary John Kelly will reassess the conditions in Haiti, which was awarded TPS after a massive earthquake struck near the capital city of Port-au-Prince in 2010. The status is assigned to non-citizens who face danger in their countries of origin, from war to natural disasters and epidemics.
"This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients," Kelly stated Monday.
While DHS has pointed to indicators that conditions in Haiti have improved since 2010, including the closure of refugee camps in the island nation, advocates and legal service providers have refuted this position. A recent cholera outbreak in Haiti had killed 9,300 people and sickened 790,840 more as of last August.
Secretary Kelly's Statement on the Limited Extension of Haiti's Designation for Temporary Protected Status → https://t.co/zFYjKUDtT8
— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) May 22, 2017
"We welcome this decision as a first step, but a first step only," said Irina Matiychenko, director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. "Haiti continues to struggle with a wave of setbacks, including the earthquake that hit the nation in October, and ongoing concerns about infrastructure, disease, and the country's ability to feed its people."
"We strongly urge DHS to grant an 18-month extension to give the nation a fighting chance at making the kind of significant improvements needed before people can return safely home," she added.
"Haiti is still struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Mathew and will need more time to recover," echoed 32BJ SEIU president Héctor Figueroa in a statement.
The Mayor's Office did not immediately comment on the TPS extension. Mayor de Blasio recently cosigned a letter to Secretary Kelly, calling on DHS to renew TPS for Haitians. The letter is signed by fourteen mayors who represent large Haitian populations, from Boston and Philadelphia to Miami.
"Our Haitian immigrant residents work, pay taxes, and contribute to our cities every day," the letter states. "They are ingrained in every aspect of our cities as they own small businesses, serve in our governments, and work in our hospitals and schools."
Speaking with Gothamist last week, Matiychenko predicted that the revocation of TPS would not result in a mass exodus back to Haiti. After two years in the US, Haitians have due process rights.
"If TPS is terminated it means that these people are losing their status and they will lose employment authorization," she said. "But it doesn't mean that all of these folks the next day would go home to Haiti. Of course they don't want to do it. In order to force them to go Immigration Enforcement has to bring them all to immigration court. It would be very expensive."
[Update 4:45 p.m.]: Mayor de Blasio issued a statement on the TPS extension on Monday.
"While this extension is welcome, it falls far short of what is needed," he said. "Haitians seeking refuge in our country deserve certainty, and to be free of the fear that their family could be needlessly torn apart. It would be immoral to force them back to Haiti while their country is still recovering from a series of devastating natural disasters."
"Renewing Temporary Protected Status is the right thing to do, but I call on the President to provide a full, 18-month extension," he added.