The Biden government on Saturday granted special protection to Haitians temporarily residing in the US after being displaced by a devastating 2010 earthquake and reversed efforts by the previous government to force them to leave the country.
The decision, announced by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, keeps President Biden’s election promise to restore a program that will protect thousands of Haitian migrants from the threat of deportation under the restrictive policies established under the President Donald J. Trump.
Mr Mayorkas said the new 18-month term known as Temporary Protection Status would apply to Haitians living in the United States as of Friday.
“Haiti is currently suffering from serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty and a lack of basic resources exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas said in a statement on Saturday.
The protection created in a 1990 law enables foreigners who have been forced to flee their homes due to natural disasters and conflict to work and live in the United States. Haiti is one of eleven countries to benefit from the program, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Obama administration granted temporary protection status to Haitians who lived illegally in the US after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010.
Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the new designation could protect up to 150,000 Haitians from returning to the political and security crisis in their home country.
“The last thing our country should do is force an entire community in the US to choose between packing up their lives and tearing up their families through self-deportation, or being undocumented and forced into the shadows of our society,” she said Menendez said in a statement on Saturday.
As part of its tough efforts to curb legal and illegal immigration, the Trump administration sought to end protection for approximately 400,000 immigrants living in the United States, including Haitians. At the time, officials said the emergency conditions that forced immigrants to flee their countries – earthquakes, hurricanes, civil war – had occurred long ago and that most immigrants no longer needed the port provided by the United States.
Lawsuits blocked the cancellations, but in September a federal appeals court joined the Trump administration, alerting hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the need to leave the country or be deported. Many of those affected had lived in the United States for years. The Trump administration agreed to keep protection in place until at least early 2021, which means a new administration could decide to continue the policy.
Immigration advocates have urged the Biden government to restore the temporary designation to Haitians and other immigrants living in the country and welcomed the decision announced on Saturday.
“Better late than never,” wrote the National TPS Alliance, a grassroots organization, on Twitter.
In March, the Biden government issued special protection for up to 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, citing the country’s extraordinary humanitarian crisis led by President Nicolás Maduro.
However, some said more needed to be done to allow many of these immigrants to live in the United States permanently.
“Haitians have been living in uncertainty for several months,” said Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer of the nonprofit Raices, in a statement. “In the future, this could uncertainly be resolved through a permanent solution through laws that put TPS holders on the path to citizenship,” she added, using the acronym for the program.
This month the House passed law to pave the way for citizenship for an estimated four million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including those granted temporary protection status on humanitarian grounds. The law was passed largely on a partisan basis and getting it through the more even Senate will be a challenge.