From its beginning, the history of Haiti Temporary Protected Status has resembled a political roller coaster ride.
The stability which TPS was created to provide a community during a crisis has been deficient and unsteady throughout the program’s nine-year existence.
As a result, the 2017 announcement that the program would be terminated on July 22, 2019 did not surprise Haitian community leaders. Many believe Haiti TPS has been a disfavored programs since its inception.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, conditions in Haiti have improved enough for Haitians to return home. Further TPS protection is no longer needed.
Immigration and community activists dispute the government’s contentions. Based on studies by various international organizations, they assert that recovery is ongoing and sending Haitians back is not safe yet.
In their view, the TPS termination decision is simply another attempt to close America’s doors to immigrants from Haiti.
They’re not alone.
To fight back, two lawsuits were filed on behalf of TPS beneficiaries. Both courts enjoined the termination of TPS for Haiti, pending a final decision on the merits of their claims.
This means the TPS designation for Haiti remains in effect. When and if Haiti TPS benefits will be shut off is unclear.
Haiti Temporary Protected Status Update
Most Recent Registration Period: January 18, 2018 – March 19, 2018
Termination Date: July 22, 2019
The two lawsuits:
Saget v. Trump
On Monday, January 7, 2019, a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Haitian Temporary Protected Status holders began in Brooklyn, New York. The decision is still pending.
The lawsuit, which was filed on March 15, 2018, alleges the Trump administration violated the Constitution when it ended the TPS protections for thousands of Haitian immigrants, and based its decision on racism and its political agenda more than actual evidence which were deleted to hide the facts about the real conditions in Haiti’s earthquake recovery.
Ramos v. Nielsen
On Oct. 3, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in Ramos v. Nielsen, enjoined the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the decisions to terminate TPS for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, and El Salvador.
The case was filed on March 12, 2018, a few days before the New York case.
On September 14, 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Califiornia, issued an order that the administration’s plans to end the TPS program could move forward. Even though this allows the government to terminate TPS for the other three countries, the lawsuit in the New York case prevents the government from issuing a termination order pertaining to Haitians.
The Ninth Circuit decision is not the final word. More appeals in the Ramos case are expected.
There are approximately 50,000 Haitian TPS beneficiaries and their families who will be greately affected by the outcome of these cases.
To understand the intensity of their grievances, a brief glance at the history of Haiti TPS and the public engagement of Haitians in America today is instructive.
Early Haiti TPS History
TPS for Haitians began with a devastating January 2010 earthquake that left their home country in ruins. The immense damage led the United States government to designate Haiti for Temporary Protective Status for a period of 18 months.
The original registration period ran from January 21, 2010 to July 20, 2010. In July, the Haitian TPS registration period was extended for another six months. This was based on the government’s realization many Haitians had not yet applied.
In many cases, the failure to register was due to difficulty in trying to obtain official identification documents from their homeland as a result of the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake.
As expected, immigration opponents blasted the extended registration date. They asserted the new deadline would allow Haitians to sneak into the U.S. and claim TPS benefits.
Since only Haitians who were in the U.S. on January 12, 2010 were legally eligible to qualify for TPS, they claimed the extension would open the door to fraud.
Despite the distance and chaos in Haiti, opponents argued Haitians would have time and resources to enter the United States, pretending they were here all along.
The government dismissed these concerns as unfounded.
Rightly so. Fabricating evidence is not easy. The government has a series of checks and balances which must be passed before TPS benefits are granted.
Moreover, temporary protected status is a special immigration program, and the needs in Haiti clearly met the TPS program’s humanitarian purpose..
According to early government estimates, approximately 230,000 Haitians lost their lives as a result of the earthquake. Damages were calculated at $14 billion.
Shortly after the earthquake, Haiti suffered an outbreak of cholera. By the end of the year, the World Health Organization reported the outbreak had caused 2,500 deaths and infected close to 250,000 individuals.
Early Efforts To Deport Haitians
When immigrants are granted temporary protected status, they are given “deferred action” in cases where they are facing deportation or removal from the United States.
Thus, shortly after TPS for Haiti was announced, Haitian immigrants were released from detention centers across the country, and given temporary permission to live and work.
Nonetheless, in early January 2011, on the same day that the U.S. issued a travel warning advising citizens to avoid Haiti due to the cholera outbreak, immigration officials disclosed they were resuming deportations of Haitians.
That same day, 26 individuals were deported. Wildrick Guerrier, a Haitian immigrant who had been a lawful permant resident for 17 years, was among them.
The removal policy timing was misplaced.
Upon his arrival in Haiti, Guerrier was incarcerated at a detention center. Although he had no pre-existing health problems, he became severely ill.
Nine days after his deportation, he died of cholera-like symptoms.
Although the DHS announcement said the focus was on those with criminal convictions, fear spread quickly that its scope was much wider.
Reports surfaced that Haitians with non-violent and minor criemes, closed family ties in the U.S., and serious medical conditions were among those deported.
Immigration officials acknowledged there were no procedures in place to determine which cases should be deprioritized or for detainees to seek judicial review of DHS deportation decisions.
For Haitian community leaders, these actions hinted at a deeper symptom: a hostile and negative prejudice towards immigrants from Haiti.
After the initial designation, Hatian temporary protected status was extended to January 22, 2013. This was followed by extensions to July 22, 2014, then to January 22, 2016, to July 22, 2017.
In May 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced a six-month extension for Haiti’s TPS. Officials stated there were indications if Haiti’s from the 2010 earthquake continued at pace, TPS extensions past January 2018 would no longer be warranted.
The extension was provided to give TPS recipients enough time to attain travel documents and make arrangements for their departure from the United States, as well as to allow the Haitian government sufficient notice to prepare for the repatriations.
The proposed closure announcement did nothing to lessen community concerns about the U.S. government’s jaundiced approach to helping Haitians, here and abroad, still in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Physical Devastation To Haiti
In fact, as recent as March 2014, DHS had provided updated and expanded information on the vastness of Haiti losses.
The Department of Homeland Security leader at that time, Jeh Johnson, explained:
“While the government of Haiti has made considerable progress in improving security and quality of life of its citizens following the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti continues to lack the adequate infrastructure, employment and educational opportunities, and basic services to absorb the approximately 58,000 Haitian nationals living in the United States under TPS.”
In particular, the DHS Federal Register noted:
- Haitian government officials now estimate the death toll caused by the earthquake between 230,000 to 316,000.
- 964 schools were damaged by the earthquake, affecting more than 200,000 children. Since then, many schools have been reconstructed, but a vast shortage still exists.
- Unemployment in Haiti was at 40% percent as of July 2013. More than 78% are living on less than $2 per day, and over 50% live on less than $1 per day..
- In rural areas, 88 percent of individuals now live below the poverty line and basic services are practically nonexistent.
- There have been 693,875 cumulative cholera cases and 8,482 deaths as of November 30, 2013. Meanwhile, resources for the cholera response, which includes, funding and staff, has been in steady decline since 2012.
- Following the January 2010 earthquake, approximately 1.5 million Haitians were left homeless and placed in temporary camps. As of September 2013, 172,000 individuals still live in temporary camps.
- The displacement led to increased risks for Haiti’s populace. Many displaced to camps and other marginalized areas have been subjected to a high risk of crime, gender-based violence, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and forced child labor.
- Kidnappings, death threats, murders, armed robberies, home break-ins, and carjacking continue to occur in large urban centers of Haiti. Over 16,000 households have been victims of forced evictions, several by police officers. A few months ago, the United Nations Security Council extended the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti until mid-October 2014.
Acknowledging the enormity of Haiti’s rebuilding efforts, in November 2017, DHS revised its deadline and delayed the termination date for TPS to July 22, 2019.
The currently pending lawsuits were filed shortly afterwards.
Community Roots Of Haiti Temporary Protected Status Recipients
A report by The Center for Migration Studies illustrates the deep community, work, and familiy roots established by Haitian TPS beneficiaries. If the temporary protected status program is terminated, these ties will be severed.
Haiti TPS Demographic Profile
- 9% are married to a legal resident
- They have resided in the United States an average of 13 years
- 53% of TPS beneificiaries are male, 47% are female
- 81% are employed
- 6,200 have mortgages
- 57% have health insurance
Haiti TPS Residency Profile
The states with the largest TPS populations from Honduras are:
- Florida (32,500)
- New York (5,200)
- New Jersey (3,400)
- Massachusettes (2,700)
- Pennsylvania (1,400)
- Connecticut (1,200)
- North Carolina (1,000)
Given such strong family and community roots, Haitian immigrants should be granted a path to legal residency even if TPS is eliminated.
A Flickering Light Of Hope: Roads To Permanent Residence For Haiti TPS
The policy behind Temporary Protected Status, created in 1990, is to provide immigrants with a temporary safe harbor while they are not capable of returning safely to their home country due to armed conflict, an environmental disaster, and other extraordinarly severe conditions.
As a green card lawyer, I’ve seen how TPS helps immigrants rebuild their lives after their homes have been destroyed or families have perished as part of a national disaster.
However, in the view of the current administration, helping your neighbor, even when your neighbor desperately needs your support, is not a worthy political ideal – not even for the leader of free nations across the globe.
But there is still hope for many Haitians living in the U.S.
Rather than just give up, Haitians, who have been granted TPS status at any time, may have options to seek permanent residency, in light of recent court decisions.
Perhaps the goverment will reverse direction and continue TPS protections for Haitians living in the U.S.
Maybe a court decision will compel such actions.
On the other hand, if neither of these scenarios materialize, family-based permanent residency options for Haitians might be expanded to all states.
In any event, Haitians, who have been granted TPS status at any time, should not just give up.
There are at least eight possible roads to legalization for TPS beneficiaries. Each should be explored.
Others may be opened in the future.
Racial animosity is an evil. It has no place in the annals of immigration law.
Those of use who are defenders of immigrants have a moral, political, and legl duty to dismantle and defeat such sickness.
Are you in?