National Immigration Forum

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Protecting Haitians in the U.S.

January 14, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Haiti Presidential Palace
Photo: AFP

The latest plague to visit Haiti is the earthquake that struck on January 12 that has destroyed much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, home to more than 20 percent of the country's population.  Hundreds of thousands may have been killed.

The U.S. government is mobilizing to help in rescue and relief efforts.  The White House is encouraging Americans to pitch in.

Once the immediate urgent tasks are completed--accounting for U.S. personnel and citizens, rescuing the remaining survivors who may still be trapped in the rubble, and seeing that those whose homes have collapsed have shelter and food--the administration must take another step: grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the U.S.

TPS can be granted to nationals from a country where "there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster…resulting in a substantial, but temporary disruption of living conditions in the area affected."  It can also be granted if "there exist extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent aliens who are nationals of the state from returning to the state in safety…"  Both certainly apply in the case of Haiti today.

TPS is granted for periods of six to 18 months to persons who are in the U.S. at the time TPS is designated.  It can be extended for additional six- to 18-month periods.  Currently, nationals of El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Sudan, and Somalia have TPS.

With TPS, an individual gets work authorization.  With work authorization, Haitians in the U.S. will be able to work and send money back to family in Haiti.  Over time, these remittances from individuals become more significant than foreign aid sent by governments.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that it has halted removals of Haitians to Haiti for the time being.  This is an important development, but a temporary halt in deportations is not equivalent to TPS; it does not give Haitians work authorization.

Advocates for Haitians in the U.S. have been pressing the Administration for months to grant Haitians TPS.  Haiti, already the poorest country in the hemisphere, has recently suffered from widespread flooding from tropical storms.  Whatever has been the Administration's hesitancy to grant TPS to Haitians from these disasters, there should be no doubt now that Haitians should be protected from deportation and given work authorization until it is safe to return. 

The administration is trying to mobilize a coordinated response from the government to this disaster.  Granting Haitians TPS and work authorization must be part of that response.

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