The U.S. government has placed a temporary hold on a recent policy change that may have put thousands of Haitians living in the U.S. in danger of being deported to a country devastated by Hurricane Matthew.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday that some flights to Haiti have been suspended in the wake of the storm, which has killed hundreds of Haitians and put thousands more at risk of starvation or cholera.
"We will have to deal with that situation, address it, be sympathetic to the plight of the people of Haiti as a result of the hurricane," Johnson said Tuesday in Mexico City, where he held talks with Cabinet officials on border, migration and security issues.
He added that the U.S. intends to return to its deportation policy once the humanitarian crisis is under control.
"[A]fter that situation, after that condition has been addressed, we intend to resume the policy change that I brought about several weeks ago," Johnson said.
An Obama administration directive unveiled last month was designed to put an end to temporary provisions that allowed Haitians to enter the U.S. without a visa. That policy came out of an extraordinary wave of migrants coming to the U.S. in the years since Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010.
As many as 5,000 Haitians were intercepted at the border within the last year alone, administration officials said last month, up from 339 entries the year before. Most entered through southern California.
In announcing the policy change last month, Johnson said the situation in Haiti had "improved sufficiently" since 2010.
But as Hurricane Matthew approached, critics warned the new deportation policy was ill-fated and poorly timed.