The Trump administration will terminate a humanitarian status extended to roughly 59,000 Haitians living in the United States, but with an 18-month delay, the Homeland Security Department announced Monday evening.
Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke faced a Thanksgiving Day deadline to decide whether to renew so-called temporary protected status for Haitians, who were initially granted that status after a destructive earthquake hit the island nation in 2010.
After consulting U.S. and Haitian officials, Duke decided that on-the-ground conditions in Haiti no longer warranted the protection granted under the program. The move means that the Haitians given temporary protected status, or TPS, may remain until July 22, 2019, but could face deportation after that date.
The decision came after “an intense interagency review process” that also took into account Haiti’s ability to repatriate tens of thousands of people, a senior administration official said on a background call with reporters.
Temporary protected status allows nationals of a country beset by a natural disaster or armed conflict to remain in the United States and apply for work permits, but the designation needs to be renewed by the DHS secretary every six to 18 months. In the past such renewals have been granted routinely.
But the Trump administration has taken a stricter view of renewal criteria. When then-DHS Secretary John Kelly awarded Haitian recipients a six-month extension in May, he cautioned enrollees to prepare to depart the U.S.
The decision to end TPS for Haitians represents a defeat for a broad range of forces who lobbied to preserve the protections, including Republican and Democratic lawmakers from states such as Florida, New Jersey and New York.
Haitian officials also pressed Duke to renew the status. Haitian Ambassador Paul Altidor and Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue met with Duke one week ago to petition for an extension, administration officials confirmed Monday. In the meeting, the pair laid out their case for a renewal, Altidor told POLITICO last week.
Roughly 40,000 people who lost their homes in the earthquake still live in camps for the displaced, the ambassador said in a letter to DHS earlier this month. Altidor also cited a cholera epidemic that killed thousands of people in the aftermath of the earthquake.
The TPS renewal process, an obscure bureaucratic matter under past administrations, veered into more dramatic territory in recent weeks.
When Duke faced TPS decisions for Honduras and Nicaragua earlier this month, White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly phoned her to press for a termination, saying further delay “prevents our wider strategic goal” on immigration, according to the Washington Post.
But Duke bucked the White House and granted six month renewal of TPS for 86,000 Hondurans. She simultaneously ended TPS for 5,300 Nicaraguans, but gave them until January 2019 to leave the country or adjust to another immigration status.
A senior administration official told POLITICO the decision to allow an automatic renewal for Hondurans was due to “late arriving and conflicting information” about the conditions in the country. Duke needed more time to fully consider the decision, the official said.
In contrast, the department had been gathering information about Haiti’s enrollment for months, according to the official. “The administration had been intensively discussing these issues with the Haitian government since General Kelly issued a six-month extension in May,” the official said.
The decision to end the program will uproot the lives of Haitians who have been in the United States for years. The move will hit hardest in Florida, home to roughly two-thirds of Haitian TPS enrollees, according to data from the non-profit Center for Migration Studies.
Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged Duke to grant Haitians a full 18-month extension in a letter sent to Duke late last week. The pair were joined by eight other lawmakers from the Florida delegation who said “the need for a full extension is clear.”
Rubio also penned an op-ed Friday in the Miami Herald. “If TPS is not extended,” he wrote, “Haitians sent home will face dire conditions, including lack of housing, inadequate health services and low prospects for employment.”