On Monday evening, the Trump administration took another swing at immigrant communities. This time, Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke announced that come June 2019 the administration will end temporary protections that allow some 50,000 Haitians to live and work legally in the United States. By doing so, the Trump administration is effectively creating a new class of undocumented immigrants and demanding the separation of tens of thousands of families. And Duke gave every indication that she is not done.
In her Monday announcement, Duke also left open the door to rescind similar protections, known as Temporary Protected Status, for 60,000 people from Honduras. In the coming months, she’ll be reviewing the status of some 200,000 similarly protected Salvadorans. TPS provides short-term work authorization and protection from deportation to those who come from countries that are too destabilized by natural disaster or conflict to return home. Monday’s announcement means that those with TPS from Haiti have 18 months to pack up their lives here and leave the country.
Protecting TPS is a matter “of public health as well as basic human decency,” said Patrice Lawrence, national policy and advocacy coordinator with the UndocuBlack Network, a national organization advocating for those without status from across the African diaspora. “What we have learned, though, is this administration does not play fair.”
The United States first conferred TPS on those from Haiti after the massive 2010 earthquake that killed at least 200,000 people and displaced more than a million more. The Obama administration extended TPS for Haitians multiple times, but members of the Trump administration, including former DHS secretary and current Chief of Staff John Kelly, have lobbied for the dismantling of the program’s current protections for those from other countries. In May of this year the Associated Press revealed that the agency was fishing around for reports of TPS holders committing crimes.
“We should also find any reports of criminal activity by any individual with TPS,” United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policy chief Kathy Nuebel Kovarik said in e-mails sent earlier this year, AP reported. “Even though it’s only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than ‘Haiti is really poor’ stories.”
Not only is Haiti the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, conditions in the country remain dire. A cholera epidemic sparked by the aftermath of the earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and has sickened hundreds of thousands more. Cholera and diphtheria remain threats in the country, as it has been rocked by even more disasters in recent years. Hurricanes and torrential rains and floods have exacerbated already serious concerns about limited medical care, security problems, and acute housing and food shortages.
For the 50,000 Haitians currently covered by TPS, the end of their protection means they will be returned to the status they had previously when they were in this country. For many it will mean a return to being undocumented.
“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,” DHS said in its statement Monday.
TPS was created in 1990 under then-President George H.W. Bush, and provides temporary protections in six, 12-, or 18-month increments. It is not an immigration program, and does not on its own lead to any other immigration benefits like green-card eligibility. It can’t be accessed through marriage, nor can a person who has it sponsor a relative to receive it. It applies only to those who are already in the country when TPS is conferred because their home country is too dangerous for their return. If the federal government approves an extension of it, TPS holders must re-register with the government and hand over their personal and biometric data every time.
Administration officials are required to assess home-country conditions in their totality intermittently, and earlier this year even then–DHS Secretary John Kelly affirmed that TPS ought to be extended for Haitians for another six months.
“Here we are, six months later, with Acting Secretary Duke making contrary findings that things have improved dramatically over the last six months [in Haiti] such that they do not qualify,” Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said on a press call on Monday.
“We find [Monday’s decision] to be really an unprincipled decision, based on the facts on the ground,” Murray said. “It just does not line up with what we know to be true on the ground. DHS knew that six months ago, I don’t see why they don’t know it now.”
Not only are conditions in Haiti too unstable for people’s return, those with TPS have been vetted, Murray said. They are long-term members of their communities. The current Haitian TPS population includes families with 27,000 US-born children, according to Murray, and one in five owns their own home.
Monday’s cancellation of TPS is the third time the Trump administration has made these moves. In September, the DHS ended TPS for people from Sudan, and then in early November it announced the elimination of of TPS for those from Nicaragua. The TPS deadline for those from El Salvador is up in March and, given this slew of recent decisions, immigrant-rights advocates are bracing for the worst.
Taken alongside the Trump administration’s end to DACA and its proposed cuts to refugee admissions, the larger implications of the end of TPS for Haitians are clear: The Trump administration is driven by inward-looking, anti-immigrant, nativist forces that leave little room for humanitarian principles or the consideration of the safety and well-being of those who are not considered American. Immigration policy in the United States has not been defined by compassion and openness—far from it. But the Trump administration appears bent on stripping even the veneer of humanity away from it altogether.