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Haitian advocates appeal for immediate end to deportations and expansion of TPS  

Members of Congress, Haitian-Americans and immigrant advocacy groups are calling on the Biden administration to expand Haiti’s Temporary Protected Status designation after a major earthquake claimed at least 1,300 lives in Haiti’s southwestern peninsula on Saturday.

Haitian advocates appeal for immediate end to deportations and expansion of TPS

Miami Herald / Alex Dugherty / August 17, 2021

Members of Congress, Haitian-Americans and immigrant advocacy groups are calling on the Biden administration to expand Haiti's Temporary Protected Status designation after a major earthquake claimed at least 1,300 lives in Haiti's southwestern peninsula on Saturday.

And they argue the Biden administration must stop deporting Haitian immigrants from the U.S. to Haiti, with the most recent deportation flight taking place two days before Saturday's earthquake.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who announced an upcoming Miami visit prior to Saturday's earthquake to address the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and pro-democracy protests in Cuba, has the power to extend Haiti's TPS designation. TPS is a temporary program administered by the Department of Homeland Security in consultation with the State Department that allows recipients to live and work in the U.S. for a period of time without the threat of deportation.

Mayorkas expanded Haiti's designation on August 3, in response to Moïse's assassination, to include Haitians who were residing in the U.S. as of July 29. The new designation keeps TPS for Haitians, which was first introduced in 2010, in place until February 3, 2023.

Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson said another expansion is almost a certainty, and a group of Haitian-American congressional staffers is working on additional policy responses to the earthquake.

"I'm sure we won't find any resistance at all because it's almost impossible not to extend it," Wilson said. "With the ones who already have TPS, we've extended the deadline for many years. With Haiti right now, we're waiting."

A DHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Because DHS expanded TPS so recently, an additional expansion to cover the earthquake likely won't result in many more Haitians becoming eligible for TPS. About 57,000 Haitians were eligible prior to Mayorkas' expansion announcement that increased the number of eligible Haitians to about 160,000, according to the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Tessa Petit, a Haitian-American who works as the Florida Immigrant Coalition's director of operations in Miami, said extending the TPS eligibility deadline is the bare minimum the administration should do.

"Between July 29 and August 14 when we had the earthquakes there are Haitians who have crossed the border and are applying for asylum," Petit said, referring to the U.S. southern border. "Now more than ever it will be impossible to return them to a country that will not be able to give them support and is unsafe for them."

The National TPS Alliance also called for a new designation date on Saturday.

"In response to today's catastrophe, we are urgently calling Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden administration to once again extend the new TPS designation date for Haiti to benefit more Haitians currently residing in the United States," said Paul-Andre Mondesir, the National TPS Alliance's lead organizer.

Other earthquake options

Ira Kurzban, an immigration attorney who works extensively on TPS litigation for Haitians, said the administration is likely to keep extending Haiti's TPS designation date until conditions on the ground begin to improve. DHS first announced TPS for Haitians three days after the 2010 earthquake and later expanded the eligibility date until a year after the disaster to account for Haitians who came to the United States seeking medical treatment or housing.

"I think it's unconscionable for Biden to send people back now," Kurzban said.

He also said the administration could use "humanitarian parole" to admit Haitians with medical conditions or injuries that cannot be treated in Haiti. Individuals can apply for humanitarian parole, usually with the help of a lawyer, to the director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Services. But he said historical events have led previous presidents to grant parole to large groups.

"The first President [George H.W.] Bush allowed 320,000 Chinese students to stay in the United States after the Tiananmen Square protests," Kurzban said. "Are you doing group parole? Recognizing that there's 30,000 people in southern Haiti that have no homes, do we fly those people to the United States? In 1966, we flew 260,000 Cubans to the United States."

Kurzban said the administration could also revive the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program, which was ended last year by the Trump administration. The program, established in 2014 in response to the 2010 earthquake, allowed certain U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply for parole for their family members in Haiti to allow them to come to the U.S. before their visas became valid.

"The day that Stephen Miller came into office he terminated all those parole programs," Kurzban said, referring to President Donald Trump's immigration policy adviser. "Some they terminated officially, most they terminated unofficially. They just stopped interviewing people."

Permanent solutions

The Florida Immigrant Coalition and other immigrant groups are calling for a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship for Haitian TPS recipients, a position shared by many Democrats in Congress.

On Friday, before the earthquake, every Florida Democrat in the House of Representatives called for TPS recipients, Dreamers, immigrant farmworkers and immigrant essential workers to be "considered" in a massive $3.5 trillion spending bill that Democrats are attempting to pass by the end of the year.

"We urge you to keep them in mind when negotiating the details of the reconciliation package," the group of 10 lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden.

Melissa Taveras, the Florida Immigrant Coalition's director of government relations, said "we need legislators to use policy, which includes a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders."

"It's time to provide them with a permanent solution," Taveras said, estimating that a combined 5 million immigrants, including "hundreds of thousands" of Haitian TPS holders, would benefit if a pathway to citizenship is included in a year-end spending bill.

And Taveras, Petit, Kurzban and Wilson all said the Biden administration must end the deportations of Haitians, which continue under Biden despite a campaign promise to stop them and the ongoing TPS designation.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance, a California-based Haitian-American organization, and Florida Immigration Coalition said two deportation flights took place last week on August 10 and 12, days before the earthquake. They question the deportations, especially in light of the expanded TPS designation that Petit argued made the expulsion of 1,800 to 2,300 Haitians from February 2021 until July 29 illegal.

"If they were on U.S. soil prior to the 29th they should be eligible," Petit said. "Our concern is that the folks who are being deported because they don't have due process ... It's hard to know if they entered the United States before July 29th."

Taveras said about "100 Haitians, all non-criminal Haitians including women and children" were deported by plane on the 10th and 12th.

Wilson, who wrote a letter to Biden with 18 members of Congress calling for the end of deportations and introduced legislation on the issue, said the earthquake is another reason, in addition to the Moïse assassination and COVID-19 pandemic, to stop them.

"They need to stop today. Immediately. There should be no deportations to Haiti," Wilson said.