Less than a week ago, the United States Civil and Immigration Services (USCIS) director announced his recommendation to end Haiti’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, on the basis that the country’s conditions no longer necessitated it.
It was a stunning declaration that sent shock waves through the Haitian communities in America and the hundreds of thousands of families back in Haiti that TPS recipients support through remittances.
And in President Trump’s America, it signaled the clear intention of the administration to end Haiti’s TPS program, which has shielded about 50,000 individuals from immediate threat of deportation.
Across America, there are over 300,000 immigrants who make up the population of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders—a subset of America’s undocumented class granted a temporary form of relief, administered by the Department of Homeland Security to countries that have suffered major natural calamity, epidemics or conflict.
Presently, TPS programs exist for 13 countries: Haiti, El Salvador, Somalia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Sudan, South Sudan, Nepal, Liberia, Guinea, Yemen, Syria and Sierra Leone.
Combined, there are about 55,000 TPS recipients from black immigrant nations residing in America. The loss of Haiti’s TPS program will reduce the black immigrant share of the TPS program by over 90%—a clear whiting out of the remaining TPS population. TPS for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is set to expire within weeks, on May 21, 2017, after the Obama administration effectively ended it late last year.
With the TPS expirations of the remaining 3 African countries in less than a year, we may soon see the end of black immigrant participation in this critical program.
TPS is offered to countries under the rationale that repatriating undocumented immigrants to a nation suffering from significant turmoil is not only immoral, but also counterproductive to the receiving nation’s recovery efforts–this makes USCIS Director James McCament’s recommendation to end TPS for Haiti is all the more perplexing.
Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which caused over 200,000 deaths and devastated much of the country’s infrastructure, Haiti has struggled to recover and rebuild. In addition to political instability, continuous outbreaks of cholera tied to Haiti’s UN peacekeeping force and the 2016 Category 4 Hurricane Matthew have further destabilized recovery efforts in the country. In fact, the DHS under President Obama observed a moratorium on the deportation of Haitian nationals in late 2016, conceding that Hurricane Matthew’s destruction had proven massive in scale.
The preposterousness of exacerbating an already volatile humanitarian situation in Haiti with the deportation of 50,000 is all the more incredulous when one considers the thousands of 2010 Haitian earthquake survivors, who have been massing in detention centers along Mexico’s southern borders with the US. This population of Haitians seeking refuge here in America illustrates the certainty in their minds that Haiti is still not able to accommodate repatriations in a country where living conditions are exceedingly harsh, at best.
Although TPS designation falls under the purview and discretion of DHS Secretary John Kelly, the arbitrary nature with which TPS extensions have been awarded to some African countries may suggest discriminatory motives, or inconsistent application, at best.
The typical length of TPS designation is for 18 months. However, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, countries still reeling from complete devastation of their healthcare systems after the 2014 Ebola crisis, were awarded 6-month extensions before the Obama administration slated their TPS for termination next month. Given America’s long history of slavery and racism that is institutionally-entrenched, many advocates for Haiti TPS extension, naturally, conclude that sinister motives are behind the token 6-month extensions for the three African nations recovering from the Ebola epidemic.
The fact that TPS programs for countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador have been extended since the early 2000’s, while more recent disasters in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and now Haiti are ignored, can only strengthen the argument that America’s government considers the interests of these countries of only marginal importance.
It would be a silly exercise to attempt arguing that the humanitarian conditions in Sierra Leone or Haiti are significantly better than those in narco-violence-wracked El Salvador or Honduras. Simply, they are all worthy of consideration and protection in these times of record conflict and resource depletion-fueled migrant crisis.
It may be too late to do right by the 4,000 Guineans, Sierra Leoneans and Liberian TPS recipients who may start getting deported within a month. But it is not too late to give Haitian TPS holders the consideration and support their communities desperately need at this time of immense need and fear.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird