Haiti Earthquake Survivors Living in U.S. to Lose Protected Status

The Department of Homeland Security has announced that temporary protected status for Haitian refugees will be terminated in 18 months, citing significant enough improvements in Haiti for refugees to return.

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Seven years ago, a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti caused the displacement of at least 895,000 people and a death toll of at least 46,000, according to the most conservative estimates. As international rescue and relief efforts scrambled to help those affected by the 2010 earthquake, tens of thousands of refugees fled to the Dominican Republic, Canada and the United States. In response, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted all Haitian refugees temporary protected status (TPS), which temporarily protected them from deportation, granted them the ability to work in the U.S. and allowed them to travel outside of the country.

haiti earthquake photo
A look at the earthquake that struck Haiti, taken January 17, 2010. (Photo: RIBI Image Library )

To date, it is estimated that at least 50,000 Haitians are beneficiaries of TPS, according to the Journal on Migration and Human Security. Nearly all of these refugees are located in Florida and New York. As recovery efforts have continued in Haiti for the past seven years, TPS holders built new lives in the U.S., integrating into the workforce and society. The Miami-metro area alone has nearly 10,600 U.S.-born children of TPS beneficiaries.

But this protected status will come to an end as DHS released an announcement November 20 for the end of TPS for Haitian refugees. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke set a final termination date of July 22, 2019, giving Haitian TPS holders roughly 18 months to leave the U.S. or find other legal immigration alternatives to stay in the country.

The reason for terminating TPS for Haitians, DHS argued, is that enough recovery has been done in Haiti to no longer warrant the protected status:

Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent. Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens. Haiti has also demonstrated a commitment to adequately prepare for when the country’s TPS designation is terminated.

While TPS was never intended to be a permanent status, it is clear from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service that TPS is granted insofar as “conditions in the country… temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances… the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.”

Several voices from both the Republican and Democratic sides of the political spectrum have disagreed with DHS’s assessment of the status and health of Haiti. Republican U.S. Representative of Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who recently visited Haiti, stated in a recent tweet:

Likewise, Democratic Senator of New Jersey, Cory Booker recently tweeted:

haiti earthquake photo
This church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was nearly leveled during the 2010 earthquake. (Photo by newbeatphoto )

Beyond politicians, Christians have also spoken up against the recent DHS decision. Over 400 faith leaders and faith organizations signed a letter addressed to Secretary of DHS, John Kelly, arguing for the extension of TPS for Haitians for an additional 18 months because:

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…dangerous conditions continue to persist in Haiti, posing a serious risk to the health and safety of Haitian TPS holders if they were to be returned to the country. To allow TPS for Haiti to expire would mean turning our backs on the vulnerable Haitians whom we pledged to welcome, and would place considerable burdens on the country as it struggles to recover from multiple natural disasters. TPS was created to provide protection to those in the United States when it is unsafe for their return home – precisely the conditions Haiti faces today.

Signers of the letter span from various faith traditions, and Christian organizations include Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the Presbyterian Church in America’s Mission to North America, World Relief, The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, among many others.

This letter follows a previous letter sent to Acting Secretary of DHS Duke on November 1 by the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) that urged DHS to extend TPS for refugees from Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador. This letter drew upon the signers’ common Christian faith and convictions:

Our concern is driven by our Christian faith and our commitment to the Scriptures, which speak clearly and frequently to God’s concern for those who are vulnerable, specifically including immigrants and the poor. Each of these individuals, from a biblical perspective, is endowed with inherent dignity as a person made in God’s image, and each is a neighbor whom Jesus commands us to love. The Bible also teaches us that God has established families as the fundamental building block of healthy societies, and we are concerned with the separation of families that withdrawing TPS at this time would likely entail.

The EIT letter was signed by representatives from the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Korean Churches for Community Development, The Wesleyan Church, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Particularly as the current administration has made significant changes in immigration policies since January, Christian organizations and leaders have gradually become more vocal and public in defending the lives of those directly impacted by these changes, signing public statements to defend Dreamers and principles for immigration reform.

As Haitians with TPS brace for changes in the next 18 months, an opportunity arises for Christians to love their neighbors in tangible ways. Perhaps a unified voice of clarity from Christian communities can sway the hearts and minds of elected officials who have the power to protect men, women and children whose lives hang in the balance.

Photo by newbeatphoto

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