Editorial: Acting DHS chief should extend protections for Haitians

The Trump administration is once again twisting itself in knots over what to do about the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to some 58,000 Haitians, and their 27,000 U.S.-born offspring, currently living here.

White House hard-liners — led by chief of staff John F. Kelly — continue to press for revoking TPS for the Haitians, having already done so for immigrants from several other nations, including some who had lived in the United States even longer. Kelly and others argue that extending TPS sends the wrong message about the administration’s stance on immigration, and distorts the meaning of the word “temporary.”

But acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke — Kelly’s replacement — has managed to at least blur that vision with her recent decision to extend TPS for 57,000 Hondurans for six months while she gathers more information. Duke did end TPS for 2,500 Nicaraguans, giving them until January 2019 to leave the United States or change their immigration status.

And therein lies hope for those Haitian immigrants — the majority of whom call Florida home — also awaiting a decision. Their current status expires in January; a decision from the DHS on granting them an extension is expected by Thanksgiving.

RELATED: Editorial: Extend protected status for eligible Haitians

This time, rather than the paltry and callous six months given them by Kelly on May 22, Duke should continue down her own road and extend their status by 18 months — as was done repeatedly by the Obama administration in the wake of the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed some 300,000 people.

Why? Because precious little has changed in Haiti since Kelly’s decision.

The hemisphere’s poorest nation, where nearly 60 percent of the people live on less than $2.42 a day, in many ways is still reeling from the 2010 earthquake and its aftermath. More than 46,000 quake victims still live in tents and caves due to a housing shortage, and the world’s worst cholera epidemic ravages the population. And after last fall’s Hurricane Matthew caused an estimated $2.8 billion in damage, there is scant medical care and rampant food insecurity.

Common sense would tell us that introducing 58,000 people into a country struggling to take care of the 10.4 million already there would only compound the problem. Worse, if these immigrants are sent back, they could no longer send life-sustaining remittances to up to 500,000 of their loved ones in Haiti — about $1.3 billion in 2015.

These Haitian immigrants have lived and labored here for years. They’ve attended school here. Many have children here — children who stand to lose both parents.

How is any of this better for the U.S. or Haiti?

Perhaps that is why since its inception, Haitians’ TPS has consistently garnered bipartisan support: from Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Frederica Wilson to Gov. Rick Scott and the Palm Beach County Commission.

RELATED: A new bill would allow all TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency

All have urged the White House to honor then-candidate Donald Trump’s words to the Haitian community in September 2016: “Whether you vote for me or not, I really want to be your biggest champion.”

Duke appears willing to risk the wrath of Kelly and Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, to do just that. On Nov. 6, as DHS prepared to extend TPS for Hondurans living in the U.S., both Kelly (from Asia) and Bossert called to pressure her to expel them, according to The Washington Post. With the extension of the Hondurans’ residency permits, Kelly told her that the TPS decision “keeps getting kicked down the road” and that the additional delay “prevents our wider strategic goal” on immigration.

An angry Duke obviously refused, The Washington Post reported. But the administration has sought to play down any apparent rift.

“As with many issues, there were a variety of views inside the administration on a policy. The acting secretary took those views and advice on the path forward for TPS and made her decision based on the law,” DHS spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. He added that it was also “perfectly normal for them to discuss the issue before she had reached a decision.”

Duke should reach a similar decision on an 18-month TPS extension for Haitians. It is not only humane but right.

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