An estimated 58,000 Haitian immigrants living in the U.S under a temporary federal program could become undocumented and targeted for deportation if the Trump administration doesn’t extend their Temporary Protected Status by next week.
Haitians in the U.S. “are basically holding their breath and living in anxiety while they wait to hear what the Trump administration has to say,” Marleine Bastien, the executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, an advocacy group that works with Haitian women and their families, told Fusion.
After the earthquake in 2010, President Obama granted Haitian immigrants in the U.S. temporary legal status under a humanitarian program called “Temporary Protected Status.”
In 2014, the federal government acknowledged that while there has considerable progress in Haiti since earthquake, the country “continues to lack the adequate infrastructure, employment and educational opportunities, and basic services to absorb” the approximately 58,000 Haitian nationals living in the U.S. under TPS.
If the Trump administration doesn’t extend TPS for Haitians, the estimated 58,000 members of the program could be rendered undocumented and be deported. President Donald Trump’s administration must announce the TPS extension by May 23—that’s just a week away.
Last September, when candidate Donald Trump was campaigning for president, he stopped in Miami’s Little Haiti and told Haitian-Americans he “shared a lot of common values” with the community and that, “Whether you vote for me or not I really want to be your biggest champion.”
But Bastien said she doesn’t remember any other administration waiting this long to extend TPS. She said other administrations have been sensitive to the fact it can take up to 90 days to renew TPS work permits. She said she’s aware of some Haitians under the TPS program who have already lost their jobs as their employers anticipate the temporary work program expiring.
Bastien said Haitians are fearing the worst and hoping for the best—even after the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, James McCament, said conditions in Haiti have improved enough to end “temporary protected status” for Haitians.
“Haitians are fearing the worst because they know that this administration has all these hard-liners who do not favor immigration, period,” Bastien said.
Historically, the decision to extend TPS for a specific country depends on whether conditions in that nation have improved. But emails obtained by the Associated Press suggest the Trump administration may be considering other criteria.
One email showed a top immigration official had requested data on the number of Haitians under TPS who had committed crimes as well as how many were receiving public benefits—even though immigrants with TPS are not eligible for federal safety-net benefits, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
“[Workers with TPS] invest in the economic system and pay into Social Security but if they were to become handicap while working, for example, they will not be able to access these benefits that they pay into,” Bastien said.
Black immigrant rights leaders say the leaked email criminalized and demonized immigrants.
“In their inquiry, what they’re really asking is if these Haitians are taking benefits the same way that the Reagan Administration made a caricature of the Welfare Queens. This goes along that trajectory,” Carl Lipscombe, the deputy director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told Fusion.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said that criminal history and other information requested by the top immigration official would not be considered in the final TPS extension decision. “The questions were asked so that [DHS Secretary John Kelly] could have a fuller understanding of who is in the program,” the spokesperson told the AP.
Still, Lipscombe said, “looking at crimes committed by members of a specific nationality to determine whether to continue a humanitarian immigration program is really unprecedented.”
Lipscombe said he was concerned the 58,000 Haitians who have TPS could be rendered undocumented because black immigrants are more likely to be deported or detained by immigration officials than non-black immigrants.
He cited research from his organization that found black immigrants represent roughly 7% of the immigrant population in the U.S., but represent about 22% of those that are deported or detained in immigration detention as a result of some sort of interaction with the criminal justice system.
“When thinking of the TPS extensions, it’s hard to ignore a history of Haitian immigrants in particular who have been turned away from the U.S. and treated less than and second to other backgrounds,” Lipscombe said.