U.S. to extend temporary deportation protection to Haitians

The United States will extend temporary protection against deportation to Haitian citizens already in the country, the Department of Homeland Security said on Saturday, to an extent that has been hailed by immigration advocates as “long overdue.” .

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) protects migrants from designated countries from deportation and grants them work permits in the United States on the grounds that it would be dangerous to return them to their country of origin due to a crisis, such as armed conflict or natural disaster.

The new 18-month designation will apply to Haitians who have lived in the United States since May 21 and who also meet other eligibility criteria, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorkas said in a statement. declaration.

“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security challenges, social unrest, increased human rights violations, crushing poverty and a lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas said.

“After careful consideration, we have decided that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so that they can return home safely. “

TPS was first extended to Haitians after a devastating earthquake in 2010 [File: Laura Bonilla Cal/AFP]

Former US President Donald Trump sought to overturn the TPS for Haiti in 2018, but his efforts have been blocked by the courts.

Lawmakers and immigration advocates have urged President Joe Biden, who took office in January on a promise to overturn some of Trump’s toughest anti-immigration policies, to expand the agenda. The TPS was first offered to Haitians after a 2010 earthquake that devastated the country.

Dozens of people in the US state of Florida, home to a large Haitian community in and around Miami, demonstrated this week to demand an extension of the TPS program, local media reported.

The new TPS designation “will retain approximately 150,000 [Haitian] individuals in danger, ”said Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement. declaration.

“As Haiti goes through an acute political and security crisis and faces persistent humanitarian challenges, this decision provides urgent protections to eligible Haitians in the United States,” he said.

Haiti has known months of political instability and increasing violence, and it is also struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, Haitians took to the streets to demonstrate against the contested tenure of President Jovenel Moise, whose tenure of most jurists and civil society groups ended on February 7. But the president and his supporters have insisted that his only five-year term expires in 2022.

“Today’s news is the result of countless hours of organizing, advocating and mobilizing among black immigrant leaders,” said Patrice Lawrence, co-director of the UndocuBlack network, a black advocacy group without current and old papers in the United States.

“But as we celebrate the news today, we know the work is just beginning. Other predominantly black countries, including Cameroon, Mauritania, the Bahamas and Saint Vincent, are also to receive the TPS designation immediately, ”Lawrence said in a statement. declaration.

“I am thrilled for the 150,000 families who can sleep soundly tonight knowing they are safe thanks to the re-election of TPS for Haiti. Grateful, hopeful and ecstatic, ”Guerline Jozef of the Haitian Bridge Alliance community group, tweeted.

The refugee and immigrant rights group of the Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES-Texas) also said the decision “was long overdue,” but that more work needs to be done to protect them. GST holders.

“Without the redesignation of TPS, Haitians have lived in uncertainty for several months. Going forward, this uncertainty could be addressed with a permanent solution through legislation that puts TPS holders on the path to citizenship, ”the group tweeted.

Separately, migration advocates sounded the alarm earlier this year over reports that the Biden administration was returning Haitian migrants to Haiti under Title 42, a public health directive put in place by former President Donald Trump.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance, Quixote Center and UndocuBlack said about 1,200 people were returned to Haiti after attempting to enter the United States at the country’s southern border with Mexico between February 1 and March 25.

“Haitian migrants flee the violence, instability and persecution in Haiti, then travel a long and perilous journey to the US-Mexico border in search of safety and security in the United States,” said Nicole Phillips, Legal Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, in a declaration accompanying a report on Title 42 evictions (PDF).

“Instead of safety, they are mistreated by immigration officials and – under Title 42 policy – summarily returned to the country they fled with no chance of seeking protection. As this report explains, these evictions are not only tragic, they are illegal. “

Haitian asylum seekers have also been returned to Mexico under Title 42, and they have complained about racism and harassment in Mexican border towns.

Haitian immigrants and supporters rally in New York to reject 2017 decision to end TPS for Haitians [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

But despite the challenges they face in Mexico, Haitian migrants told Al Jazeera last month that they had no choice but to stay.

“My family had nothing in Haiti, no home, no food, no money,” said Edile Eglaus, a Haitian asylum seeker who lives in a migrant shelter on the outskirts of Tijuana with his wife. and their two children. “Either way, going back to it is impossible.”

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