The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will extend immigration protections for 58,000 Haitians living in the United States for six more months, but urged them to start returning to the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation as the protections may not be renewed further.
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.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said conditions in Haiti remain difficult enough to warrant protected status through January 2018, but the department may shut down the program then.
In a letter obtained by USA TODAY, James McCament, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote to Kelly last month recommending the six-month extension. McCament said Haiti is nearly ready to receive more of its exiled citizens, and the U.S. should end the protected status in January.
Asked if Kelly has already decided to follow that recommendation to end the protected status in January, a Homeland Security senior official noted that Kelly urged Haitians to start returning home. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations of the department, told reporters they could draw their own conclusions from that suggestion.
“This six-month extension should allow Haitian (temporary protected status) 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 (temporary protected status) recipients, “Kelly said in his statement.
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Uncertainty about the future of protected status is sure to worry members of the Haitian-American community, and members of Congress who had been pleading with the Trump administration to extend the protections. The protections were set to expire on July 22.
Haitian ambassador to the U.S., Paul Altidor, wrote to Kelly asking for an 18-month extension, arguing that rushing Haitians back to the still-recovering nation could prompt many more to try and return to the U.S. as undocumented immigrants.
A bipartisan group in Congress, including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Have also urged Trump to extend the protected status. They argue that recovery has been slow, and that Hurricane Matthew last year set the country back.
Kelly wrote in his letter that Haiti has made remarkable progress since the 2010 earthquake. He said 96% of people who were displaced by the earthquake have left makeshift camps on the island.
Temporary Protected Status is offered to foreign nationals, including legal residents and undocumented immigrants, who can not return to their home country because of armed conflict, a natural disaster or “other extraordinary and temporary conditions.”
The U.S. is currently giving protection to people from 13 countries: El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.