The Trump administration has announced that it will be ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of Haitians and Central Americans who migrated to the U.S. after natural disasters ravaged their home countries.
TPS is a legal status, which can be given to a country facing temporary strife such as a natural disaster or armed conflict. Nationals are allowed to reside and work in the U.S. until it’s determined that they no longer need protection.
TPS for Sudan is set to expire in February 2018, with Haiti and Nicaragua following suit in 2019, and a decision on El Salvador is due in January. Honduras, Yemen, and Syria are among the seven other nations who currently hold the status.
Haiti was given TPS status following the devastating 7.0 earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak that hit the nation in 2010, but 46,000 migrants who made their way to the U.S. in the aftermath are now being asked to either apply for legal immigration status or leave by July 2019.
FOCUS ON HAITI
The expiration of TPS status for Haitians has seen far more public censure than for Nicaraguans or the Sudanese, due to the impoverished circumstances in Haiti, which seemingly has never recovered from the 2010 Earthquake and was further ravaged by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, killing hundreds and leaving 175,000 homeless.
“Those extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist,” said a statement from the US Department of Homeland Security, “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.”
The decision, while legally sound, is already being criticized as heartless by Democrats and Republicans alike. “Donald Trump’s cruelty knows no bounds,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez of the move. Floridian congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen argued on Twitter that Haiti is ill-prepared to take back its citizens.
“Deporting tens of thousands of men and women back into the nation will only deepen the suffering in Haiti,” added House Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi, “I completely disagree with the characterization that the situation in Haiti has improved.”
WHAT RELIEF EFFORT?
But seven years on from the earthquake and over a year after Hurricane Matthew, it’s not unreasonable to assume the country should have been able to make more headway in recovery efforts. Foreign aid flooded into the country in 2010, including significant aid contributions by the U.S. government and on-the-ground military assistance. NGOs have been there ever since, working to deliver aid as well as spearheading reconstruction efforts. So why has so little been achieved?
Of the billions of dollars donated to the Haitian cause, only a fraction has made it to the people; most of it was used up in administration costs or inefficiently spent. The Red Cross and other NGOs stand accused of mismanaging funds and ineffective methods.
Allegations of corruption have plagued Haiti since relief efforts began. Much of the money has simply disappeared, and one wonders whether more money ended up lining the pockets of local officials or in Clinton Foundation bank accounts. The latter is more likely the case, as most funds have been allocated to foreign NGOs, UN agencies, and civil/military entities, with only 1% given to the Haitian government and even less to Haitian organizations.
“Haitians can do way more, better than the NGOs that are coming down. People actually want to work really hard, but they need the opportunity,” says Daniel Tillias who heads one of the few local organizations rebuilding Haiti. “What is good about this is it’s not like someone from far away coming to tell people in the community what’s good for you. It’s actual people that they grew up with — that they know, they trust…We want to send a powerful message, which is, we can do it.”
While life remains harsh in Haiti, is the U.S. responsible for adopting 46,000 migrants that have no legal immigration status beyond Temporary Protection Status? The measure is intended to be temporary and to continue extending it indefinitely makes no sense, either to the American taxpayer of Haitian migrants who have been living in limbo for seven years.
While many Haitian migrants express dismay at the decision, after seven years of asylum, they have had ample time to seek alternate visa options and sponsors.
When in May, former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly indicated that Haitians “need to start thinking about returning,” thousands of Haitians fled to Canada and attempted to claim asylum. Why? After seven years of life in America, it seems reasonable to expect some personal responsibility from Haitians in the form of legitimate visa applications.
Those who wish to apply for permanent residence may do so, and applicants should be given all the help they need for success. But for those unwilling or unable to commit to becoming Americans, perhaps it is indeed time to return to Haiti and contribute to building a future for their country.