Biden OKs Temporary Protected Status for Haitian migrants living in US


Haitian families across the United States are celebrating the Biden administration’s decision to spare at least 55,000 people from deportation back to their corruption-and-violence plagued home country.

The decision announced late May 22 by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas covers Haitian migrants living in the United States as of May 21, granting them Temporary Protected Status to remain and work legally in the United States for at least another 18 months.

In Florida, Haitians were “dancing in the streets” when Mayorkas announced the decision, said Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods north of Miami. “It was so celebratory— people knew we were in a pandemic and weren’t supposed to hug, but people were hugging and dancing in the streets, in their masks.”

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson speaks outside the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami, May 25, 2021, shortly after the Biden administration agreed to protect Haitian refugees living in the United States from deportation.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson speaks outside the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami, May 25, 2021, shortly after the Biden administration agreed to protect Haitian refugees living in the United States from deportation.
Lynne Sladky, AP

Migrants arriving after May 21 are not covered, the Department of Homeland Security said, including those who are presenting themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“For Haitians who are in this country, now they get a reprieve from having to return to an unstable situation,” said Allen Orr Jr., an immigration lawyer and president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “And they get work authorization.”

The decision reverses a Trump administration-era decision to withdraw TPS for Haitian migrants, although most deportations had been halted by the courts shortly after President Donald Trump tried to end it in late 2018. 

An estimated 2,000 Haitians were expelled in the months following President Joe Biden’s inauguration, despite his promise to halt temporarily deportations. Experts said most of the Haitians repatriated in that period were new arrivals across the U.S.-Mexico border who were removed because of immigration protocols intended to temper the spread of COVID-19.

Immigration rights groups applauded the TPS designation, which they said better reflects the United States’ legal, ethical and moral obligation to the world.

“It’s who we are as a country: We don’t return people to certain death. It’s just not something we do,” said Orr. “The concern was equity, and that we were deporting people to certain death, for no reason. The question is, why did it take so long?”

Allen Orr Jr., immigration lawyer and president-elect of the American Immigration Lawyers Association
It’s who we are as a country: We don’t return people to certain death. It’s just not something we do.

President Barack Obama’s administration first granted TPS status to Haitians in 2010 following a devastating earthquake that destroyed much of the island nation’s infrastructure, including its roads and airports, killing as many as 300,000 people. American taxpayers poured more than $2 billion into reconstruction, and nonprofits quickly fanned out, fighting the cholera and starvation that followed.

Nearly a decade later, Trump’s administration said Haiti had sufficiently stabilized to justify returning people to their homeland, and in late 2018 said it was ending TPS for Haitians. Critics argued that Trump and his administration were ignoring widespread evidence of violence in Haiti.

The Biden administration agreed.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas speaks to the media after meeting with Haitian community leaders at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex on May 25, 2021, in Miami. Mayorkas met with the leaders after a new 18-month designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status was put into place by the Biden administration.

“After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home,” Mayorkas said in announcing the policy. Mayorkas visited Miami Tuesday to discuss the change with Haitian community leaders.

Pamela White, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti, said it’s clear the country remains unsafe, with rampant political corruption, robberies and murders. In March, White and other experts testified before Congress that more than 1,000 people, including 37 police officers, were murdered in Haiti in 2020, with another 65 people, including three police officers, killed in January and February.

The United Nations has also recorded thousands of human rights violations in Haiti in recent years, including gang violence directed by a former police officer.

Making matters worse, there’s virtually no COVID-19 vaccine available for the island nation’s approximately 11.3 million residents, White said.

Pamela White, former U.S. ambassador to Haiti
They just can’t get a break because it’s just not safe.

“In fact, Haiti is not running just fine. There’s almost no money in the till, and they’re not really exporting anything,” White said. “They just can’t get a break because it’s just not safe.”

Wilson, whose daughter is married to an American citizen of Haitian descent, said the Biden administration’s decision was a good first step in reversing Trump’s hardline immigration policies. Wilson said she hopes Biden can win passage of comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform, giving Haitian migrants a chance at citizenship or permanent legal residency denied to them by Trump.

Wilson said many immigrants of African descent, including many people from Haiti, are still angry that Trump in January 2018 reportedly referred to their home nations as “shithole countries.”

“It was very clear that he had no respect for people of color and he didn’t want them in the United States,” said Wilson, who lobbied Biden heavily to grant TPS to Haitians. “This decision, potentially, affects more than 100,000 Haitians living in the United States, who couldn’t sleep at night wondering about their future. These are people who in some cases have lived in this country for many years, for decades, and for whom this TPS designation has almost become like a chess match: You win today, but how long does that win last before you have to engage in another challenge with another president?”

Today, Haitian immigrants to the United States have largely clustered in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and Boston, immigration experts said. While official estimates put the number of TPS-covered migrants at 55,000, experts said the number could be three times that.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson
This decision, potentially, affects more than 100,000 Haitians living in the United States, who couldn’t sleep at night wondering about their future.

Patrice Lawrence, co-director of the UndocuBlack Network, which advocates for undocumented Black migrants, said she and her colleagues are now working to change how new migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border are being treated under Title 42, a public health order used to deny them asylum because of the spread of COVID-19. She said if the government agrees that the Haitians already living in the United States should be protected from being sent home, so, too, should those requesting asylum now.

“The United States government is extremely creative and if they want to get something done, they do,” she said.

Biden’s decision helps clarify that Haitians covered by TPS are allowed to work, a key step in removing the day-to-day uncertainty they face, said Carline Desire of the Boston-based Association of Haitian Women, which provides housing, education and training to newly arrived refugees.

Desire, a Haitian immigrant herself, said many Haitians come to Boston because they have family in the area, but also because New England is known as a hub of higher education.

She said clarity over their work status may help Haitian migrants get better jobs: “You have people with PhDs who are driving cabs.”

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