Temporary “protected status” has been extended for another six months for thousands of Haitians who fled to the United States after their island was ravaged by an earthquake in 2010.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Monday said “after a careful review of the current conditions in Haiti and conversations with the Haitian government,” he has agreed to extend the temporary protected status until Jan. 22.
The issue is important in Florida, which has the largest Haitian immigrant population in the U.S., and is the state where many of the estimated 58,000 Haitians who are under the temporary protections live.
But in his statement, Kelly also signaled his department may end the temporary status for Haitians when the six-month extension ends in January, citing “progress” Haiti has made since the earthquake, including the movement out of temporary displacement camps by 96 percent of the residents.
“This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure,” Kelly said. “And (it) should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat who led a grassroots lobbying campaign to keep the temporary protected status for Haitians, called the Homeland Security decision a partial victory.
“While this news will give the tens of thousands of Haitians anxiously waiting to learn the program's fate some measure of relief, this is in fact a cup half full situation,” Wilson said. “The reality is that in six months Haiti will still be in no position to absorb and aid 58,000 unemployed people.”
Wilson said the island is still recovering from the earthquake damage and a subsequent cholera epidemic that killed more than 9,000 Haitians. She said the recovery was further complicated when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti last October.
Wilson urged Homeland Security officials to join her and other congressional leaders in the next six months in a “fact-finding mission” to personally assess conditions on the island before lifting the temporary status protections.
“I find it difficult to describe how gut-wrenchingly sad and difficult life is there,” said Wilson, who has visited the island several times. “People are still living in tent cities, years after the earthquake, and thanks to the hurricane the nation is also dealing with a food crisis.”
Gov. Rick Scott met with Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary, this month in Washington, D.C., to urge the federal agency to extend the temporary protections for Haitians.
“It's an issue I've heard about from Floridians as I traveled the state and I am glad their voices were heard today,” Scott tweeted, after the decision was announced.
Haiti is one of 13 countries where the U.S. has offered temporary protected status to foreign nationals, including undocumented immigrants, who cannot return to their home countries because of armed conflicts, natural disasters and “other extraordinary and temporary conditions.”
The Obama administration late last year extended the status for Haitians until July 22. The new extension adds six months.