(USA Today) The Trump administration announced Monday it will end immigration protections for about 59,000 Haitians living in the United States in May 2019, concluding that conditions on the ground in the poverty-stricken Caribbean country have improved enough since a massive earthquake in 2010 for residents to return.
The Obama administration first granted "temporary protected status" to Haitians after the nation was ravaged by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. The protections have allowed Haitians to legally remain in the U.S. and have been extended each year as Haiti struggles to recover.
Elaine Duke, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security, made the decision that extraordinary temporary conditions on which the special protections were issued "no longer exist."
"The decision to terminate TPS (temporary protected status) for Haiti was made after a review of the conditions upon which the country’s original designation were based and whether those extraordinary but temporary conditions prevented Haiti from adequately handling the return of their nationals, as required by statute," DHS said in a statement. "Based on all available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, Acting Secretary Duke determined that those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist."
In May the Trump administration announced it would extend protections to Haitians who fled to the U.S. until January 2018, but might shut down the program early in the new year. But DHS officials ultimately decided to extend the immigration for another 18 months to give Haiti's government more time to prepare for the return of residents who were forced to leave the country.
DHS officials also said the 18 months is intended to give Haitians with temporary status enough time to arrange for their departure or "to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible."
Several federal lawmakers from Florida, a state with the largest Haitian population, immediately criticized the move.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called the move by DHS "unconscionable" and urged the Trump administration to reconsider.
There is no reason to send 60,000 Haitians back to a country that cannot provide for them. This decision today by DHS is unconscionable. And I am strongly urging the administration to reconsider. Ultimately, we need a permanent legislative solution. https://t.co/Ft0bE0itf6— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) November 21, 2017
"There is no reason to send 60,000 Haitians back to a country that cannot provide for them," Nelson wrote in a post on Twitter.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lethinen, a GOP lawmaker from Florida, also blasted the decision.
"I travelled to #Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and after hurricane Matthew in 2016," Ros-Lethinen wrote on Twitter. "So I can personally attest that #Haiti is not prepared to take back nearly 60,000 #TPS recipients under these difficult and harsh conditions."
Rep. Mario Diaz-Ballart, a Republican lawmaker from Ft. Lauderdale, said he strongly disagreed with the decision and expressed concern about the impact that sending home Haitian immigrants who, in some cases, have spent more than eight years in the U.S. could have on his community. He expressed concern about a move to similarly phase out TPS for some 2,000 Nicaraguans, who were given temporary legal status to live in the U.S. after they fled their homeland following Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
"These individuals are established, respected members of our communities who have made significant contributions and I urge the administration to reconsider its decision regarding Haitian and Nicaraguan nationals,” Diaz-Ballart said.
I travelled to #Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and after hurricane Matthew in 2016. So I can personally attest that #Haiti is not prepared to take back nearly 60,000 #TPS recipients under these difficult and harsh conditions.— Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (@RosLehtinen) November 21, 2017
Earlier this year, James McCament, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recommended the six-month extension. But at the time, McCament said Haiti was nearly ready to receive more of its exiled citizens, and the U.S. should end the protected status in January.
Temporary Protected Status is offered to foreign nationals, including legal residents and undocumented immigrants, who cannot return to their home country because of armed conflict, a natural disaster or "other extraordinary and temporary conditions."
Duke met with Haitian Foreign Minister Antonio Rodrigue and Haitian Ambassador to the United States Paul Altidor recently in Washington to discuss the Trump administration's thinking ahead of the formal announcement.