The Department of Homeland Security’s current 18-month designation of Haiti for Temporary Protective Status (TPS) is about to expire on July 27, 2017. Haiti was devastated by an earthquake on January 12, 2010 and within days Haitians who were in the U.S. were able to apply for TPS. Haitian TPS has continued to be renewed for 18-month increments since the initial designation period because the country has suffered from the after effects of the earthquake and was then devastated by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. To date, approximately 58,000 Haitians are currently residing in the U.S. with TPS which has granted them the status to live and work here without fear of deportation.
Haiti is our neighbor and it’s hard to witness how Haitians never seem to get a break. Not only do they have a new government in place that is struggling with the aftermath of such destructive natural catastrophes as those mentioned above, they are also dealing with severe outbreaks of cholera and wide-spread food insecurity. For the Trump administration to expect Haiti to assimilate 58,000 potential deportees back into their country seems pretty inhumane. Rather, keeping them here is a humanitarian gesture DHS Secretary Kelly and President Trump should make.
Immigration advocacy groups across the country are releasing action alerts to pressure the Trump administration to extend TPS for Haitians. The following one was adapted from one posted by Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (Haitian Women of Miami), an organization I knew well from when I lived in South Florida and worked with Haitian refugees. According to their website, U.S. Senators Rubio and Nelson of Florida, Markey of Massachusetts, and Schumer and Gillibrand of NY have already signed letters to Secretary Kelly for extending TPS for Haitians. However, even though Senators Gillibrand and Schumer have already signed on, we need to keep the pressure on for them to continue advocating for this.
To help the efforts in getting TPS for Haitians extended another 18 months, please take the following steps:
Step 1: Call Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, 202-224-4451, Senator Charles Schumer, 202-224-6542, and Representative Tom Reed, 202-225-3161.
Step 2: Whether you get a recording or a person, say that you are a constituent and that you live in the Congressperson’s state or district. Then say:
I’m calling about the need to extend TPS for Haiti, which expires July 22. Please let the Senator [Representative] know that TPS is at grave risk of NOT being extended, and that we need him [her] to please call DHS Secretary Kelly today to URGE HIM TO EXTEND IT, because not extending it would be a travesty and disaster for families here and in Haiti and bad for U.S. national security. Thank you.
*Please note….you can use your own words if you like but keep it brief. You don’t need to discuss the issue; the receptionist is trained just to take your message without asking for any details.
The other day I met with Elsa (not her real name) who has had a lawful status in the US since the late 90’s thanks to Temporary Protective Status (TPS). The US enacted the TPS program through the Immigration Act of 1990 as a way to aid countries that were being faced by difficult but temporary conditions such as war, epidemics, or natural disasters. This program created a process for foreign nationals to stay in the US if there were conditions in their homelands that prevented their safe return. It also provided a way for foreign nationals, such as Elsa, to have the opportunity to live and work in the US without the fear of deportation, but only temporarily.
For 15 years now, Elsa has been doing what it takes to stay in good status as a TPS beneficiary. She undergoes criminal background checks, files tax returns, has to demonstrate she has good moral character, and she saves the fees (approximately $500) every times she needs to have her application prepared and filed. For the past few years Elsa has been coming to Catholic Charities for assistance with re-registering her TPS since it is valid for only 18 months. Ithacan immigrants registered for TPS tend to be from Central American countries that have TPS designation: El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The current list also includes Haiti, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, and Syria. As of yesterday, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone were also added due to the Ebola virus outbreak.
While this temporary status safeguards Elsa from deportation or detention and allows her to legally work in the US, it also places her life in a legal limbo since she never knows when her status could be terminated. For 15 years she has had to live with the ambiguity that if her country is deemed safe to return to, her lawful presence in the US could come to an end. Every time I see Elsa, she asks me the same question – “Why can’t I get a green card?” After spending 15 years in good status, albeit temporary, I think this is a valid question.
As depicted in the chart above, there are well over 300,000 TPS beneficiaries in the US. The majority are living in urban areas but there are others who have chosen rural areas, such as Ithaca, to make their temporary home. Similar to Elsa, they often have strong ties to their community and feel like they are in their permanent home. The ones I have met locally are for the most part living humble lives as they work in relatively low wage jobs often as cleaners or housekeepers, as farmhands in rural parts of the county, or as cooks or dishwashers in Collegetown or downtown Ithaca.
Compared to the several million of undocumented immigrants who are waiting for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) or an executive action by President Obama to see if they can get relief from the fear of deportation and the opportunity to work with authorization, Elsa’s status is almost enviable. For 15 years she has been shielded from deportation or detention and has been able to participate in the formal economy. She was also able to get a driver’s license. But the caveat is this is only temporary. Therefore, as fortunate as her position may seem to some, the fact is unless there is some legislative change through Congress, Elsa won’t be eligible to get a green card anytime soon and will have to live in a legal limbo.
Even though their status says “temporary,” the roots TPS beneficiaries are putting down in the US run deep but unfortunately may not be safeguarded or permanent. For many of them, repatriation to their former country isn’t a viable option, so they would be forced to go back to being undocumented and living in the shadows if their country’s designation is terminated. They would have to leave the formal economy and move to the underground economy. This is unsettling and that is why when someone like Elsa, who has paid her dues and is a contributing, law abiding member of our community, repeatedly asks “Why can’t I get a green card?” I, too, have to wonder, why not?