SILVER SPRING, Maryland – A trio of recent reports on Haiti’s recovery from natural and man-made disasters points to the urgency of extending Temporary Protected Status. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke must act on whether to continue or terminate TPS for Haiti by Nov. 23.
Separate reports by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., the New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Service each vividly describe the ongoing struggles to rebuild Haiti after a massive 2010 earthquake and a series of hurricanes and disease outbreaks. TPS allows Haitians who were in the United States at the time of the earthquake or who arrived soon after to live and work here legally on a short-term basis, which has been renewed several times.
As the decision on TPS for Haiti looms, a chorus of advocates have called for the United States to continue to protect people who would face a still-devastated homeland if they were forced to return. Those calls have come from the Haitian government, faith leaders, business interests, labor unions and employers of Haitian TPS holders such as sectors of the health care industry.
The reports bolster those calls with sometimes stark details, drawn from fact-finding visits, personal stories of Haitians, data from humanitarian organizations and U.S. law. Representatives of the three organizations that wrote the reports are available for interviews.
Among the key points made in the reports:
- Haiti has made some progress in recovering economically, but nearly 60 percent of people in Haiti live below the national poverty line, with incomes of less than $2.41 per day. An estimated 55,000 people are still living in camps or unstable temporary living situations, as a result of the earthquake and other natural disasters. More than 2.4 million Haitians have inadequate food supplies.
- The 50,000 Haitians with TPS financially support 250,000 people in their homeland. They contribute the majority of the $2.4 billion in remittances annually from abroad, which constitutes about 25 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product.
- Haitian TPS holders are parents to 27,000 U.S. citizen children; 4,200 are married to lawful permanent residents. Should TPS end, those families would face choices including splitting apart; moving U.S. citizens to harsh and dangerous conditions in an unfamiliar country or remaining in the United States without legal status, risking deportation.
- Just six months ago, conditions in Haiti were determined by then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to warrant an extension of TPS. Since then, Haiti and other Caribbean countries, where at least 27,000 Haitians had been working, were hit by hurricanes. The damage in some neighboring countries was cataclysmic, cutting off or reducing income to Haiti that was being sent home.
Among the stories told in the reports of Haitian TPS holders:
“It’s very hard to sleep,” says Samuel, sitting with his wife, Judeline, a Temporary Protected Status holder from Haiti. “Everyone is scared.” Samuel and Judeline live in the vibrant Haitian community in Boston, with their 11-year old son, James. Samuel, now retired, worked as a social worker for the state. Judeline works two jobs as a caregiver for the elderly. Samuel explains that money can be tight for the family. In addition to their own expenses, they must send money home to support relatives in Haiti. “In Haiti, there is no place to live. I have to give the little money I have to my sister [who is still in Haiti],” Samuel explains. Water and food is very scarce. “I don’t know what I would do,” says Samuel, thinking about what would happen if Acting Secretary Elaine Duke doesn’t extend TPS and Judeline is forced to return to Haiti. “It would destroy our family.” Recently, Samuel and Judeline’s young son, James, came home from school with questions about his parents’ immigration status. “He asked us, ‘You are fine, right?’ But we can’t tell him,” says Samuel. Judeline sadly agrees. When asked what she would say to Secretary Duke if given the opportunity Judeline says, “We just want a better life. We are good people… There is no country [in Haiti]. All we ask is to just give us a chance, to survive, to help other people back home. It is not fair to destroy families." Samuel adds, “What will I tell my son? He is a U.S. citizen. How will my child feel to know his country treated his mother this way?”
Here are comments from some of the contributors to the reports.
Ellie Happel is director of Global Justice Clinic’s Haiti Project and co-author of the NYU report, Extraordinary Conditions: A Statutory Analysis of Haiti’s Qualification for TPS. She lived in Haiti for more than five years and is there currently. “Since 2010 this country was not only hit by an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands, but also by one of the most violent, enduring outbreaks of cholera, and by Hurricane Matthew, which decimated the country's agriculture,” she said. “Today, more people are hungry than in 2010. It is in the interest of Haiti--and of regional stability--to extend TPS for Haiti for 18 months.”
Marjean Perhot is director of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Boston Refugee and Immigration Services, whose Haitian TPS clients contributed their stories to two of the reports. “The more than 4,735 Haitian TPS holders in Massachusetts have made vital contributions to our workforce, economy and are our neighbors,” she said. “Forcing them to return to Haiti at a time when Haiti is still rebuilding and while it continues to suffer ravages of natural disasters is simply cruel. Numerous independent reports have confirmed what Haitians tell us every day; there is not a home for them to return to at this time. We need to ask ourselves, what value is there in separating families? What do we gain by losing a valuable and critically needed workforce, especially in the health care industry? Why the rush to throw away the contributions of thousands? We pray for the time when Haiti is able to welcome the return of its nationals, but, now is not that time.”
Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski participated in a September delegation to Haiti, which contributed to the USCCB report: Haiti’s Ongoing Road to Recovery: the Necessity of an Extension of Temporary Protected Status. “Coming back here (to Haiti) is the end of hope. Only very few people can make the transition back. Without significantly improved capacity for reintegration and given the existing demands that the migration crisis at the (Haiti-Dominican Republic) border has placed on the already limited resources to provide accompaniment to returnees, former TPS holders would not be able to be safely returned.”
Bill Canny is executive director of Migration and Refugee Service of the USCCB and a former resident of Haiti. “I am distressed that the administration would send Haitians who have been living and working in the U.S. in a legal manner for years back to Haiti. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, and unemployment is at least 60 percent. It suffers from chronic disasters, a degraded educational system and continued cholera outbreaks. Its fragile new government will try once again to make progress but the weight of history is heavy. In our visit the elected and church leaders said with unanimity: “it is not the moment to send the TPS Haitians back.”
Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., visited Haiti with the September delegation hosted by Catholic organizations in Haiti. Her experiences are reflected in Protecting families, stabilizing the region; Why Temporary Protected Status is needed for Haiti. “Former Secretary Kelly found in May that conditions warrant an extension. Since then the region, including the United States, has been hit by a string of hurricanes,” Atkinson said. “Unfortunately, it appears that the review of TPS for Haiti and other countries has become entangled in political considerations inserted into the process by some in the administration. We urge Secretary Duke to continue her record of considering these matters with integrity and diligence.”
To arrange for interviews, contact CLINIC at 301-565-4830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.