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Immigration advocates, lawmakers ask Biden to extend and renew Haiti TPS designation

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 12/1/2022 Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
An early group of Haitian migrants arrives in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 19, after being deported by the Biden administration. © Johnny Fils-Aimé/Miami Herald/TNS An early group of Haitian migrants arrives in Port-au-Prince on Sept. 19, after being deported by the Biden administration.

Immigration advocates and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to re-designate Temporary Protected Status for Haiti.

The re-designation and an extension would open up the immigration protection to tens of thousands of Haitians who arrived in the United States after July 29, 2021, when the last TPS designation was given following the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, two weeks earlier. It would also extend to those not covered by recent litigation over a Trump-era decision to terminate the program for Haiti and five other countries.

Last month, the administration announced that it would extend TPS protections for nationals of Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Sudan and Nepal who had been temporarily living and working in the U.S. when the designation was challenged in a 2018 federal lawsuit, Ramos v. Mayorkas, DHS filed a federal notice announcing that the benefit would be extended, shielding those eligible from deportation until at least June 30, 2024.

On Thursday, several immigration and Haitian advocates stressed that the notice only covers a small group of Haitians currently receiving TPS, which shields beneficiaries from deportation, and noted that the administration has a Dec. 5 deadline to decide on the continued protection for Haitian nationals. But rather than extending it, they also want a re-designation, which would open up the immigration benefit to tens of thousands more Haitians in the U.S.

“Too often, we’ve seen Haitians having to wait for the very last day, of course, for an extension of TPS and this really puts people’s lives in limbo,” said Ninaj Raoul, founder and executive director of the Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees in New York. “They end up having to work a lot of informal jobs, to be able to put food on the table and support their family.”

In the case of those who arrived in the U.S. after the cutoff date for the last re-designation, July 29, 2021, “they are completely out of status,” Raoul said, noting that some were paroled into the U.S. for only a few weeks but with the immigration backlog, have yet to have their cases resolved or addressed. Those individuals include a small group of Haitians who have managed to remain in the U.S. after washing up in the Florida Keys and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in the past year, and others who have been paroled in after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The push comes as the administration prepares for the end of Title 42, the pandemic-era border policy that led to thousands of Haitians and other asylum seekers being rapidly expelled after crossing the border because they were deemed a public health threat.

A federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to stop using Title 42 on Dec. 21, leading some Republicans to criticize the administration and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ handling of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Guerline Jozef, the co-founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said the end of Title 42 should not play a role in whether or not to re-designate TPS for Haitians because it would apply only to those who are already here, which is estimated to be about 100,000 prospective beneficiaries.

“We are witnessing extreme, extreme human rights violence, extreme political turmoil, extreme difficulties in Haiti right now,” she said. “The conditions are unbearable.”

Jozef, who remains in contact with many Haitians who have been returned after illegally entering the U.S., said people are living in fear in Haiti, forced to hide because of gang violence. That violence has worsened in the last several weeks after gangs ended a two-month blockade of the country’s fuel terminal. There have been massacres in several neighborhoods, including a dozen people killed in the town of Cabaret just outside Port-au-Prince this week, which followed the assassination of the head of the Police Academy.

The incidence of kidnappings continues to rise. As of Oct. 31, authorities reported that kidnapping cases remained highly prevalent in the West Department, where Port-au-Prince, is located, followed by the Artibonite Department, which accounts for 8.2% of the total number of victims recorded.

The U.S. policy of sending Haitians back to Haiti, including 46 children who arrived on a boat off the Florida Keys nine days ago along with over 140 adults, “flies in the face” of the request of the United Nations chief human rights official, Paul Christian Namphy, lead organizer with Miami-based Family Action Network Movement in Miami, said during the press call.

“The same country conditions justifying TPS re-designation for Haiti also justify a halt of deportation and repatriations of Haitians to Haiti,” he said.

The advocates’ push has been joined by that of some U.S. lawmakers. Earlier this week, 17 House Democrats urged the Biden administration to extend and re-designate TPS for Haitians, joining an earlier call in October by 16 U.S. Democratic senators who told Biden that TPS re-designation is “urgently warranted.” Last month 423 organizations also wrote to the president and Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the re-designation.

“It has been one gut punch after another for the people of Haiti,” said Schumer.

Schumer said since the assassination of Moïse, and a deadly 7.2 magnitude earthquake five weeks later along Haiti’s southern coast, conditions have only worsened for the Haitian people.

Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, said that since nearly 15,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, showed up under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, last year, there have been more than 200 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chartered flights to Haiti. She accused the United States of exacting an “unimaginable and devastating toll” on the Haitian people with its immigration policy, which is “in violation of the law, in violation of the best interest of our country, in violation of our core values as Americans.”

“I witnessed firsthand the egregious mistreatment and human rights abuses committed by the United States government against Haitians seeking safety in Del Rio, Texas,” Kennedy said. “I can still see bamboo poles covered in nothing more than people’s T-shirts and skirts, and flimsy pieces of cardboard to form countless wretched tents. I can still see the dads holding infants, the moms cradling toddlers, women and men who risked everything because of their belief in the promise and compassion of this country.

“Even though the Haitian government has been unable to safely receive and reintegrate its citizens, there have been 240 deportation and expulsion flights to Haiti since Del Rio and they have included families and days-old babies, some of them American citizens desperately seeking protections in the United States,” Kennedy added. “By comparison, months later, the U.S. rightly welcomed 20,000 Ukrainians seeking protections at the U.S.-Mexico border. This disparity tells us that the issue has never been about the border, or the ability to welcome migrants and asylum seekers. It is about our government’s treatment of Haitians who dare to seek protection.

©2022 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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