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Senators to Administration: Allow 50,000 Protected Haitians to Stay in U.S.

Augusta, Maine school worker Toni Richardson, photo courtesy of First Liberty Institute.

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are asking the Trump administration to not allow any lapse in the temporary protected status program that covers some 50,000 Haitians sheltering in the U.S., shielding them from deportations.

The Wednesday letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly comes in the wake of a USA Today report that indicated James McCament, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, felt it was time to send the Haitians back.

Temporary protected status, which is extended to foreign nationals unable to safely return to their home countries, was first offered to Haitians after the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people. Last year, Hurricane Matthew pummeled the island, worsening the country’s cholera outbreak that has killed more than 10,000. A December USCIS report evaluating the status said conditions were still poor in Haiti, “including a housing shortage, a cholera epidemic and limited access to medical care, damage to the economy … political instability, security risks, food insecurity, and environmental risks.”

In a letter written by McCament obtained by the newspaper, the acting director argues that conditions are good enough for Haitians to return and he received no response when he tried to get a recommendation from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has not yet decided on the fate of the Haitians.

Temporary protected status, which allows work and travel authorization, currently covers foreign nationals from El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The program does not by itself lead to legal residency, though those covered can apply. Those eligible must “have been continuously physically present in the United States since the effective date of the most recent designation date of your country.”

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) signed the letter led by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asking Kelly and Tillerson to extend the status for Haiti, which expires July 22.

“An extension is necessary to allow Haiti to fully recover from the damage of the January 2010 earthquake and October 2016 hurricane, and to provide security to Haitians living in the United States,” they wrote, adding “Haiti’s situation remains fragile, and the World Bank notes it is one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest country in the Americas with a GDP per capita of $846 in 2014” and the United Nations “will continue to have a presence in the country by replacing its peacekeeping operation with a successor operation.”

Hurricane Matthew, which caused some $2 billion in damage in Haiti and left 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, “virtually guaranteed that Haiti’s post-earthquake recovery will be extended for years to come.”

“Haiti is ill-equipped to handle the return of the roughly 50,000 Haitian nationals currently receiving TPS,” the senators added. “TPS was created to offer temporary, humane protection to foreign nationals living in the U.S. when extraordinary conditions in their home country pose a serious threat to their personal safety.  We welcomed the previous extension of TPS for Haitian nationals, and we believe the reports of widespread damage and destruction in Haiti make an extended TPS designation appropriate.”

“Given Haiti’s many challenges, the United States’ focus should be to prioritize disaster assistance and recovery, not to return Haitian nationals to a country lacking the capacity to support them.”