Washington — The U.S. government on Monday broadened a program that allows certain Haitian immigrants to live and work in the country without fear of deportation, citing the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the destitute Caribbean nation, which has been beset by an outbreak of violence in recent months.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would allow tens of thousands of additional Haitians to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by moving up the program’s cut-off date. Previously, only Haitians who had arrived in the U.S. before July 29, 2021 were eligible for TPS, but the new designation will allow those living in the country as of Nov. 6 of this year to apply for the program.
DHS also announced Monday that the U.S. would push back the expiration date for the Haiti TPS program from Feb. 4, 2023 to Aug. 3, 2024. Officials stressed that Haitians thinking of coming to the U.S. illegally should not do so, as they would not qualify for the program and could face deportation.
Created by Congress as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS is a designation given by federal officials that provides deportation protections and work permits to immigrants from countries experiencing armed conflict, environmental disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. The program does not offer permanent legal status.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has long been plagued by crushing poverty, political turmoil, gang violence and devastating natural disasters, including a 2010 earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people.
But Haiti’s already grim state has only deteriorated over the past year amid intensifying warfare between violent gangs and the government’s struggle to maintain some semblance of order following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. In October, the country’s prime minister asked the international community to dispatch a “specialized armed force” to quell the chaos.
In a statement Monday, DHS said it expanded the TPS program for Haitians because of the “prolonged political crisis” in Haiti and the gang violence there, as well as the scarcity of food, water and fuel in the country amid an uptick in cholera cases.
“The conditions in Haiti, including socioeconomic challenges, political instability, and gang violence and crime — aggravated by environmental disaster — compelled the humanitarian relief we are providing today,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
There are currently 101,000 Haitians in the U.S. enrolled in the TPS program, according to DHS statistics. The government is also reviewing 53,000 pending TPS applications from Haitians. The program’s new cut-off date is expected to make another 110,000 Haitians eligible for TPS, the DHS data show.
The Biden administration created its first TPS designation for Haitians in the spring of 2021, saying it was too dangerous to return migrants to Haiti because of security concerns, human rights abuses and the country’s dire economic situation.
Democratic lawmakers had been pushing the Biden administration to expand the TPS program for Haitians, saying the move would not only serve a humanitarian purpose, but be beneficial to the economy as well.
“At a time when we have labor shortages and high inflation, they are on the frontlines providing essential services to our nation. Moreover, redesignating Haiti for TPS would allow more Haitian nationals in the U.S. to contribute their skills and talents to the American workforce,” more than 17 House Democrats wrote in a letter to Mayorkas last week.
The Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian migrants has previously garnered criticism from progressives. In the fall of 2021, the sudden arrival of thousands of Haitians in the small Texas community of Del Rio caught U.S. border officials unprepared, leading to the creation of a makeshift migrant camp underneath a bridge.
News footage that showed mounted border agents aggressively herding Haitian migrants — with some agents seen swinging split reins, a type of rope used by horse riders — sparked a massive uproar. A government probe later found the agents had used “unnecessary” force when they dispersed Haitian migrants who were seeking to deliver food to their families. But the investigation did not find evidence that mounted agents struck anyone with their reins.
Following the events in Del Rio, the U.S. launched a deportation blitz to Haiti, expelling thousands of Haitians. Since earlier this year, the majority of Haitians who have arrived along the U.S. border have been admitted at legal ports of entry, where the Biden administration has been making humanitarian exceptions to Title 42, a public health order that allows the U.S. to expel certain migrants, federal data show.
Under President Biden, the U.S. has created TPS programs for an unprecedented number of migrants and countries. Certain nationals of 16 countries are currently eligible for TPS, including immigrants from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Ukraine and Venezuela, all of whom were made eligible for the program under Mr. Biden.
The Biden administration’s TPS policy is a stark departure from the Trump administration, which tried to end the designations for several countries; though its efforts were held up in federal court. The Trump administration argued the TPS authority was abused and improperly extended despite changing country conditions.