WASHINGTON ― Tens of thousands of Haitians who had already been granted temporary reprieve to stay in the U.S. will be allowed to remain for an additional six months, but they should use that time to “get their affairs in order,” a Trump administration official said Monday.
The Department of Homeland Security had until Tuesday to decide whether to extend temporary protected status, or TPS, for roughly 58,700 Haitians, who have been approved to remain in the U.S. following a devastating 2010 earthquake in their native country.
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly chose to extend TPS for six months ― until early next year. When that deadline draws closer, he could extend it again based on conditions in Haiti, but officials suggested he wouldn’t.
“We are strongly encouraging current TPS recipients to take advantage of this six-month period to resolve their affairs, to include obtaining travel documentation,” a DHS official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters on a press call. “Congress designated the program … by the name ‘temporary protected status.’ It’s not supposed to be permanent.”
Human rights groups and lawmakers had urged the administration to extend TPS for Haitians based on ongoing problems in that country in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, which killed up to 316,000 people and displaced 1.5 million. A cholera epidemic struck the country soon after and killed thousands more. Seven years later, the country is still suffering: Some 55,000 people remain in camps and nearly 60 percent of the population lives in poverty.
TPS is currently open to Haitians who were in the U.S. on Jan. 12, 2011, the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. It allows individuals who could otherwise be deported to stay and work legally, but as the official said, it’s temporary. The program for Haitians has been extended several times already, for six to 18 months on each occasion. The current extension is effective July 23 and will last until Jan. 22, 2018. Individuals with TPS will have to leave at that point if the program is not extended or they cannot obtain other authorization to stay, such as asylum.
Kelly said in a public statement that conditions in Haiti are improving and that this may be the final extension.
“I believe there are indications that Haiti ― if its recovery from the 2010 earthquake continues at pace ― may not warrant further TPS extension past January 2018,” he said. “TPS as enacted in law is inherently temporary in nature, and beneficiaries should plan accordingly that this status may finally end after the extension announced today.”
The decision to extend TPS for only six months left some Haitians terrified about their future. Nermose Richemon, 33, has lived in the U.S. since 2005. She and her husband, who also has temporary protected status, want to remain in the U.S., where they work, pay taxes and send money back to help relatives in Haiti.
Richemon is most concerned about her health. She said a serious medical condition has left her largely unable to see out of her left eye. If she loses her job and insurance, she’s afraid she’ll be unable to continue visiting the doctor and could lose her eye entirely.
She’d like to tell the government, “Please, please do something for us, because I cannot go back home the way I am right now.”
Before Monday’s announcement, DHS officials had sought data on how many TPS recipients from Haiti have committed crimes in the U.S. ― an unusual move because the decision on whether to maintain protections is based on conditions outside the U.S., not the actions of people taking shelter here.
At the time that story broke in May and again on Monday, DHS officials insisted they were trying to collect data on criminality, employment and other factors for their information and not to malign any nationality. They also said the data would not be part of the TPS decision-making process.
Haiti is one of 13 countries whose citizens are currently eligible to receive TPS. Four nations on the list ― Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen ― were singled out by President Donald Trump in his blocked executive orders banning travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries. Trump has also spoken disparagingly about border-crossers from other countries on the list, such as El Salvador and Honduras.
DHS officials indicated some changes might be coming for those other countries as Kelly looks at TPS with “a fresh set of eyes” to ensure that the program is operating as Congress requires.
“It’s at many times easier for one to kick the can down the road with some of these extensions or redesignations than it is to make the hard decisions that Congress has asked us to do,” an official said. “That is the way that the secretary is approaching TPS designations in this administration.”