WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Monday it will extend until January a humanitarian program that has allowed roughly 58,000 Haitians to live in the United States, but it is hinting that further extensions are unlikely.
Senior officials at the Department of Homeland Security said they “strongly encourage” Haitian recipients of Temporary Protected Status to “resolve their affairs to include obtaining travel documentation.”
“This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a prepared statement.”
Temporary Protected Status was first granted by the Obama administration to Haiti in 2010 following a devastating earthquake that killed an estimated 220,000 and displacing 1.5 million. The 18-month program had been redesignated three times before Monday’s six month extension.
DHS officials said while conditions in Haiti have improved dramatically, Kelly wanted more time to examine the situation.
Kelly said in a statement that the decision was based on a "careful review of the current conditions in Haiti and conversations with the Haitian government."
“The Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96 percent of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps,” Kelly said in the statement.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sent a vastly different report about Haiti's conditions in December. The island-nation was still plagued by a cholera epidemic, inadequate medical care, an unstable economy, a lack of enough food and housing and rampant security threats.
Advocates for Haitians also say conditions have not improved enough for Haitians to return home.
But Trump has taken a tough stance on immigration — legal and illegal — and it's a core issue for many of his supporters.
Temporary Protected Status is given to citizens of countries devastated by war or natural disasters. A decision to end the program is supposed to be based on the conditions in the home country. But internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press show that as part of the decision-making progress, an official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had asked for criminal statistics and other information about the Haitian immigrants in the program.
The Homeland Security Department denied that criminal information would be a consideration in the decision about Haiti and that Kelly simply wanted more information about program participants.
The Haitian-American community, lawmakers and the Haitian government have urged the Trump administration to leave the protections in place, saying the country is still not ready to take back immigrants who have been living abroad.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat whose district includes Little Haiti in Miami, said Monday the decision was a "blessing for the Haitian community." She said she is inviting Homeland Security officials to visit Haiti to view conditions.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, said that claims by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials that conditions have improved in Haiti contradict findings made by the same agency in December, when Barack Obama was still president.
"They are trying to play with words, claiming they are extending it for six months," Bastien said. If it's only six months, it is clear that their decision is to terminate it, which would be a disaster," she said.
Adonia Simpson, an attorney at Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice, said TPS has never been renewed for just six months.
"We don't know what this means. We don't know if this means a termination notice in the coming months," Simpson said. "I'm really surprised."
Omarosa Manigault, an assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, cast the decision as benefiting Haitians. Manigault, a Haitian-American, said she and Trump discussed the program after she visited Haiti as part of a presidential delegation in February.
She said Trump "made a commitment to Haiti and Haitians in the diaspora as well that he was really going to work with them, and for them, and he made a commitment. And this is him making his promise."