The Trump administration appears determined to follow through on a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recommendation to deport more than 50,000 Haitians now living in the United States.
That would be both shortsighted and inhumane.
These Haitian immigrants — some of them our Palm Beach County neighbors — were given Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000, injured another 1.5 million and left an equal number homeless.
According to a December report from the same immigration agency that now wants them deported, the hemisphere’s poorest nation still hasn’t recovered from that 7-year-old disaster, for a variety of natural and man-made reasons.
Yet Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly continues to mull whether to revoke these hardworking immigrants’ enrollment in the TPS program, which expires on July 22, and show them the door in January.
Haiti, 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 damaged the country even more, there is scant medical care and rampant food insecurity.
Then-President Barack Obama routinely extended TPS for 18 months each time it was up for renewal. Common sense would tell us that introducing 50,000 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, TPS has consistently garnered bipartisan support. This time is no exception. Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have led the call for the administration to extend the Haitian nationals’ TPS for at least another 18 months — and do it soon. They’ve been joined not only by such South Florida representatives as Alcee Hastings and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, but senators from other states such as Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, of New York.
“Haiti is ill-equipped to handle the return of the roughly 50,000 Haitian nationals currently receiving TPS,” Nelson and 15 other senators wrote in an April 26 letter to Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “We welcomed the previous extension of TPS for Haitian nationals, and we believe the reports of widespread damage and destruction in Haiti make an extended TPS designation appropriate.”
But the Trump administration appears to be focused on the fact that “Temporary Protected Status” is intended to be just that, temporary. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that, in an unorthodox move, the administration is hunting for evidence of crimes committed by Haitian immigrants.
Internal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services emails show the agency’s newly appointed policy chief also wanted to know how many of the roughly 50,000 Haitians enrolled in the TPS program were taking advantage of public benefits, which they are not eligible to receive.
The emails don’t make clear if Haitian misdeeds will be used to determine whether they can remain in the United States. But the request fits in with Trump’s broader, tough-on-immigration focus that is a core demand of his political supporters.
“Please dig for any stories (successful or otherwise) that would show how things are in Haiti — i.e. rebuilding stories, work of nonprofits, how the U.S. is helping certain industries,” Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, the USCIS head of policy and strategy, wrote on April 28. “We should also find any reports of criminal activity by any individual with TPS. Even though it’s only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than ‘Haiti is really poor’ stories.”
But, according to Politico on Tuesday, Homeland Security Department spokesman David Lapan attempted to tamp down the idea that data on criminality could be used to decide whether to renew humanitarian protections for Haitians in the U.S. “The secretary’s decision on TPS for Haiti will hinge upon the conditions in that country,” Lapan said in response to a question about the data-gathering. “Separate and distinct from that, the secretary has asked questions of his staff about how the program operates.”
Targeting a specific community in this way is shameful. The TPS is a humanitarian policy, and we should not craft a humanitarian policy based on a few anecdotes.
As The Post’s Jeff Ostrowski reported on Saturday, on the campaign trail then-candidate Trump vowed to be the “biggest champion” of South Florida’s Haitian community.
We shall see.
These Haitian immigrants have lived and labored here for years. They’ve attended school here. Many have children here.