Act now to help secure temporary status for Haitians
By Bill Forry
Jun. 24, 2009
Last December, in the waning days of the Bush administration, the United States government once again began deporting Haitians who had been living in the US. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) had suspended so-called “removals” in September due to the wave of deadly hurricanes that struck the island nation last summer. Some 30,000 Haitians have been ordered to leave the US as a result of the decision. Of that number, about 1,400 are considered “criminal aliens”, according to ICE.
Immigration advocates immediately called on the new Obama administration — and his Secretary of Homeland Security— to overturn that decision and allow the Haitian migrants to stay under what’s known as Temporary Protective Status (TPS). To date, however, the administration has not changed the policy and the “removals” are still set to be executed at this publication date.
Brian Concannon, Jr., founder of the Institute for Justice and Demoracy in Haiti and a Reporter columnist, tells us that a grassroots effort to lobby the Obama team to push for TPS is showing some signs of success. Most notable, President Obama’s political director— Haitian-American Patrick Gaspard — flew to Florida to meet with immigration advocates face-to-face in early March. While there seems to be some indication that the White House may be open to TPS for Haitians, there is another important front in the effort that must not be neglected: Congress. Concannon reports that the pro-Haitian lobby is getting feedback from Congressional staffers that “the Department of Homeland Security has not received enough citizen input on this issue to change the policy.”
Our readers can help with that. Concannon says that Haitian-Americans and their allies should call the DHS's Public Comment line at 202-282 8495. It is especially important, he says, for those of us outside Florida to call, to demonstrate nationwide support for the measure.
In a letter sent to members of Congress on March 6, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center outlined the strong case for reinstating Temporary Protective Status to Haitians. We print it here in its entirety as a tool to help us better understand the issue and explain it to others.
Protect Haitians from Deportation
• Haiti was struck by four hurricanes and tropical storms in August – September 2008: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. The entire country has suffered: 800 were reported dead, 600,000 houses were damaged and more than 3 million persons were affected. Floods and mudslides wiped out most of the food crops and millions face the specter of acute hunger. Meanwhile, malaria and other diseases are spreading. Eight key bridges collapsed during the storms and roads were turned into lakes. The World Bank assessed storm damage at nearly one billion dollars, and Haiti’s economy contracted by 15 percent in the aftermath. This is the equivalent of eight to ten Hurricane Katrinas hitting the United States in the same month. Both the UN mission and the Haitian government have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disasters, according to the United Nations’ special envoy to Haiti. The United Nations called it “the worst disaster to hit Haiti in 100 years.”
• The homes of more than 300,000 people were devastated in the city of Gonaives alone. There is still no government plan to restore this historic city. Other cities have been isolated by washed-out roads and access remains difficult. (In 2004, more than 3,000 people died in Gonaives following tropical storm Jeanne).
• Haiti was on the brink of famine that sparked deadly riots before the storms when an estimated 2.3 million Haitians had “fallen into food insecurity,” according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since January 2008, prices for staple foods increased more than 40% and more again since the storms. Now international donor support is waning, and the U.N. World Food Program may be forced to end its emergency food distributions because an emergency appeal has not raised the needed $108 million.
• In November, Doctors Without Borders reported 26 children had died of malnutrition in a remote region.
• In the same month, a school collapse killed 91 students and teachers and injured 162 people. Five days later, another Port-au-Prince school partially collapsed. The causes of the disasters are not clear.
• The UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, said on February 27, 2009 that he is deeply concerned by reports that the US Department of Homeland Security, and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, is planning to deport tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants. Forst said he has sent a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security urging the US Government to reconsider this decision in the light of the physical and financial damage inflicted on Haiti when it was struck by successive hurricanes last August. According to a recent evaluation cited by the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, the hurricanes "comprehensively destroyed what little infrastructure there was."
• Travel warnings issued by the State Department on January 28, 2009 advise Americans to defer non-essential travel to Haiti until further notice due to security issues and political and economic conditions that precipitated civil unrest. The warning states in part:
In the aftermath of the storms, eight of the country’s nine departments reported significant physical and economic devastation. The storm damage came on the heels of the civil unrest in April 2008. Conditions in Haiti may occasionally limit Embassy assistance to American citizens to emergency services….
The absence of an effective police force in many areas of Haiti means that, when protests take place, there is potential for looting, the erection of intermittent roadblocks set by armed protestors or by the police, and an increased possibility of random crime, including kidnapping, carjacking, home invasion, armed robbery and assault…. The lack of civil protections in Haiti, as well as the limited capability of local law enforcement to resolve kidnapping cases, further compounds the element of danger surrounding this trend.
• Department of Homeland Security, and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, is planning to deport tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants. Forst said he has sent a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security urging the US Government to reconsider this decision in the light of the physical and financial damage inflicted on Haiti when it was struck by successive hurricanes last August. According to a recent evaluation cited by the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Haiti, Hedi Annabi, the hurricanes "comprehensively destroyed what little infrastructure there was."
• On October 3, 2008, Haitian President Rene Preval said, "Haiti will no longer be able to receive the deported individuals that the United States sends us on a regular basis." The Government of Haiti is no longer issuing travel documents to Haitians requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE has attempted to circumvent this policy by releasing Haitians from immigration detention with ankle bracelets or orders of supervision and ordering them to acquire their own passport and buy their own ticket for a commercial flight to Haiti. The Haitian Consulate has apparently begun asking its nationals whether ICE has ordered them to get their passport before issuing such documents. At the end of February, ICE reported that 243 Haitians with final orders of removal had been fitted with ankle bracelets.
• It is costing U.S. taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to detain the Haitians who cannot be deported because they have no travel documents. These Haitians should be paroled with work permits. As of February 27, 2009, ICE reported that 30,299 Haitian nationals have outstanding orders of removal, and 598 are currently in detention. Haitians who were detained in Florida and who are not being issued travel documents have been transferred to jails in Arizona, New York, Texas and Louisiana. The unnecessary detention of these Haitians is costing taxpayers nearly $60,000 per day.
Haitians are overqualified for Temporary Protected Status (TPS):
• Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is the least expensive, most immediate form of humanitarian assistance the United States can provide Haiti. It allows the Haitian government to invest all of its internal resources in the rebuilding and redevelopment of its struggling economy.
• TPS will enable Haitians already in the U.S. to continue sending remittances to their loved ones in Haiti, whose very survival could depend on this support. In 2006, Haitians in the U.S. sent $1.65 billion in remittances to Haiti. Haitians send more money home per capita than any other group living abroad.
• TPS may be granted when:
• There is ongoing armed conflict that poses a serious threat to public safety;
• It is requested by a foreign state that cannot handle the return of its nationals due to environmental disaster; and,
• Extraordinary and temporary conditions exist which prevent foreign nationals from returning.
• Haitians are over qualified for TPS at this time and have clearly deserved TPS over the years – given the political turmoil in Haiti, the devastation caused by natural disasters and the country’s inability to effectively respond in a timely fashion. Yet, Haitians have never been granted TPS.
• TPS was initially granted to 87,000 Hondurans and 600 Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to 290,000 Salvadorans after an earthquake in 2001. Their protected status was again renewed in September 2008. In extending TPS for these nationals, DHS said “those countries are still recovering from the devastating effects of natural disaster”—a decade later.
• It is estimated that only about 30,000 Haitians would qualify for TPS, a significantly smaller number than for other groups already granted TPS. TPS can be granted immediately by the Administration.
• There is a false misperception that TPS is not temporary. According to USCIS, TPS has been granted then terminated for: Angola, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia, El Salvador (early 1990’s), Montserrat, Guinea-Bissau, Rwanda, Kosovo Province (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), Sierra Leone, Kuwait, and Burundi. All three administrations that have invoked TPS have also terminated TPS status.
• The Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs recently told members of Congress that there are concerns that granting TPS to Haitians would “encourage people to depart.” This argument is faulty — permitting Haitians already in the U.S. to send remittances to their families in Haiti will likely prevent them from fleeing — and it constitutes a double standard. Haitian nationals were granted Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) in 1997 by President Clinton, and there was no mass migration of Haitians to the United States. Haitians not already in the U.S. would not be eligible for TPS—there is a clear cut-off date. For more details, see attached Fact Check: Bogus Threat of “Mass Exodus” from Haiti.
• TPS will permit Haitians presently in the U.S. to reside here with work permits for 18 months. Haitians with two or more misdemeanors or one felony could still be deported.
• Canada has had a moratorium on Haitian deportations for some time, in recognition of Haiti’s fragile political and economic situation. It's time for the United States to recognize that Haitians are clearly deserving of TPS and to grant this relief immediately. To do less is not only inhumane; some would argue it is racist.