Immigration

Is Trump Going to Deport 59,000 Haitians Who Fled a Humanitarian Crisis?

Many of those with temporary protected status have planted deep roots in the U.S.

Photo Credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

Late Monday night, the Trump administration announced it is ending a program allowing 59,000 Haitians to live and work in the United States after fleeing the 2010 earthquake that decimated their country and its infrastructure. The announcement comes three months before their current work permits expire. Recipients of the program, known as Temporary Protected Status, can renew their permits once more, but will be expected to leave by July 2019 or face deportation. 

According to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, the situation in Haiti has improved enough since the earthquake to merit ending TPS: "Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent,” the agency said, and "significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.” 

Reactions from activists in states affected were swift. Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition called it "cruel and shameful," in a statement, adding that "America will not be greater or safer by ending this program and attempting to deport those who have made their lives here and are part of the state's economic and social fabric."

Naomi Steinberg, senior director of policy and advocacy at HIAS, told AlterNet that the decision is "unnecessary and inhumane," adding that "it forces families to make impossible decisions. It means that either families will self-deport, it means that families will be torn apart, or it means that families will stay here and will be taking on the risk of living an undocumented life." 

Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizing director for Make the Road New York, which has countless members impacted by the decision, noted that most of these refugees have planted deep roots in their communities in the seven years since the earthquake. "Despite the fact that they have children in the U.S., started businesses, purchased homes, after fleeing such horrible conditions," he explained in a phone interview, TPS recipients face abandoning homes, businesses, and cars, even children. 

Barrientos also noted that many of TPS recipients (not only from Haiti, but those who fled violence and war in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras) have used their status to contribute significant economic benefits to their communities, as well as send money back to their home countries. In Long Island, New York's Suffolk County, refugees have "[provided] more than $373,000 million in economic benefits. Removing these families makes no sense for the communities where they have come to bring contributions." Ending TPS "puts the county in crisis, with mortgages unpaid, cars left behind, businesses abandoned." 

Steinberg also disputed the Trump administration contentions that the crisis in Haiti has improved enough to remove the need for TPS. "There is a significant deficit there for medical care, for education, for work opportunities," Steinberg said, adding, "We know obviously how the country was ravaged after the earthquake in 2010, and since then there has been a cholera epidemic, and other hurricanes, other natural disasters... there is not an infrastructure in place to absorb all of these returnees."

TPS for Haitians was initially extended for six months by then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. As the New York Times notes, this was "a shorter one than is typical," and Kelly was adamant that Haitians "need to start thinking about returning." 

Haitians are the latest group under TPS to face down the barrel of deportation. Nearly 320,000 people are under the program's protection, with nearly 200,000 from El Salvador. They're still waiting to hear whether Homeland Security will extend their status, which will likely be determined in December. Protections for Nicaraguans have already been removed and the department is weighing whether to do the same for Hondurans. Both countries continue to be plagued by civil war and gang violence. Other countries with TPS protections include Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The organizations are encouraging concerned Americans to call their members of Congress to demand that they extend the program and create a path to citizenship. Steinberg explains, "People need to let their congressional offices know that this is unacceptable and that we want to see legislation that would ensure a permanent status for those TPS holders in this country who should not be forced home."

Barrientos also suggested that advocates may tie this to a larger immigration reform ask, including a new DREAM act extending a path to citizenship for the 800,000 Americans who arrived here as children. Make the Road and other organizations are considering a march on Capitol Hill to advance their demands on December 6, details of which will be announced on the website. 

Some Haitians are already taking matters into their own hands. The New York Times points out that thousands have crossed the border already, seeking refuge in Canada

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Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.