Refugees from the poorest nation in the Americas could soon find themselves in the crosshairs of U.S. President Donald Trump's administration as immigration authorities publicly mull ending temporary protections for 50,000 Haitians residing in the United States.
Residents of the impoverished Caribbean nation were extended temporary protected status, or TPS, after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that ruined Haiti's infrastructure and claimed nearly 200,000 lives.
In a letter that circulated through the press last week, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services James McCament suggested that the temporary protections be tapered off after January for a “period of orderly transition,” after which Haitian migrants in the U.S. would lose their right to work and reside in the country.
U.S. immigration authorities grant TPS to foreign nationals facing displacement or danger from natural disasters, epidemics or political instability if they are deported to their home countries. Haitians have repeatedly been granted the reprieve, renewed every 18 months since the 2010 earthquake.
McCament argues that conditions on the island have improved enough to end protections for Haitians. The statement echoes similar messaging from the Obama administration, whose Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said last October that conditions in Haiti had “improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis."
According to ICE data, deportations of Haitians skyrocketed last November, reversing a policy whereby unauthorized Haitians were allowed to stay in the United States provided they didn't have a criminal record.
The elimination of temporary protections for tens of thousands of migrants would open the door to the mass detention and expulsion of Haitian refugees, escalating an already-dire situation in a country that remains plagued by cholera, poverty, foreign occupation and the aftermath of last year's deadly Category 4 Hurricane Matthew, a disaster that itself displaced tens of thousands of people, creating a major housing shortage and propelling new waves of refugees toward surrounding countries.
"What they're trying to argue is the temporary aspect of this has ended and we've returned to, 'Haiti as it was, always poor,'" former DHS senior counselor Esther Olivaria told USA Today. "But that's just not the case," she added, noting that the implementation of TPS removal “would be a travesty.”
The final decision on removing protections for Haitian migrants lies with DHS Secretary John Kelly.
“The bottom line is that conditions in Haiti have not improved to an extent that would remotely justify the end of TPS,” said Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, to immigration reform group America's Voice. “The elimination of TPS for Haiti will not only create immense hardships for close to 47,000 Haitian individuals who have lived in the United States under the protection of this program for more than seven years, it will also impact their children, many of whom are U.S. citizens, and their families back home, who rely on remittances for their basic needs.”
The Immigration Legal Resource Center has also pointed out that TPS will expire within the next 18 months for 70,000 Hondurans and 180,000 Salvadorans as well. A report from the center says that the elimination of TPS and removal of the Haitian and Central American migrants will come at a cost of US$3.1 billion and a loss of US$45.2 billion in GDP over the course of a decade in the U.S.
Haiti: The Price of Liberation
Refugee outflows in Haiti have traditionally been influenced by U.S. imperialist meddling in the island nation's affairs and the consistent denial of the Haitian people's right to self-determination, including the backing of brutal dictators like Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and 1991 toppling of popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, moves that favored pro-U.S. elites while impoverishing the vast majority of the Caribbean nation's population.
Standing at the crossroads of xenophobia and anti-Black racism, Haitian migrants to the U.S. have long suffered various forms of abuse and disparate treatment at the hands of authorities, including racially discriminatory immigration policies that favor non-Haitian refugees from countries suffering similarly precarious conditions.
The targeting of Haitian migrants comes amid a broader worldwide trend of rising xenophobia as well as the growth of right-wing, racist political movements.
"Within the current context of growing xenophobia in rhetoric and policies, migrants are increasingly the scapegoats of deeper economic, social and political transitions within many receiving societies," human rights advocate Monami Maulik of the Global Coalition of Migrants told the United Nations Human Rights Council in March.