Politics of Poverty

Homeland Security’s “turkey” of a decision

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Destruction from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, October 2016. (Credit: Fran Afonso / Oxfam Intermón)

Terminating Temporary Protected Status for more than 50,000 Haitians goes against the evidence and bi-partisan consensus.

At this time of year, Americans remember and celebrate the story of the first Thanksgiving. How the native Wampanoag people shared a harvest time feast with a group of recent immigrants, who had come to escape difficult circumstances in their homeland. But Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s Monday night decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 50,000 Haitians living in the United States will likely leave a sour taste at many holiday tables this week.

Duke agreed to delay the effective date of the termination to July 22, 2019, so as to allow “an orderly termination.” But, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release announcing the decision, the “extraordinary but temporary conditions” caused by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which led to the original TPS designation, “no longer exist.” DHS also claimed that the Secretary took “all available information” into account, adding, “Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent…. Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.”

There is plenty of evidence that Haiti is not ready to “safely receive” tens of thousands of deportees and their families. Reports over the past month from the Global Justice Clinic at the New York University School of Law, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, and the Migration Committee of the US Catholic Bishops make the case for continuing TPS.

That case is strong:

Haiti also faces severe food insecurity. According to the United Nations, three million Haitians currently suffer moderate food insecurity, 1.32 million live in a situation of food crisis or emergency (the latter is just short of famine conditions), and damage to farms in northern Haiti from Hurricanes Irma and Maria earlier this year may drive up food prices. One in five Haitian children under the age of five is stunted due to malnutrition. And unlike some other countries in the Latin America-Caribbean region, Haiti has only modest social safety net programs to help poor citizens access food.

Not only is Duke’s decision at odds with the available evidence, it also goes against an incredible outpouring of bipartisan and community support for extending TPS for Haitians. That included appeals from the governors of Massachusetts and Florida, two states that are home to many Haitian TPS holders; both Senators from Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York; numerous Congress people, including Mia Love (R-Utah), the only Haitian American in Congress; and the US Conference of Mayors, the US Chamber of Commerce, religious organizations, Haitian Diaspora organizations, many non-profit agencies serving the Haitian American community, and a number of city and county councils. Since the spring, 19 editorials favoring TPS extension have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe.

There’s even reason to wonder if Duke is interpreting the TPS law correctly. Steven Forester, Immigration Policy Coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, recently told me, “Duke based her decision on a narrow legal reading that she could only consider whether Haiti had recovered adequately from the earthquake (i.e. the reason for the original TPS designation).” He added that the law in no way precludes her from taking into account “cholera, Matthew, or other recent extraordinary events.” Indeed, DHS referenced both cholera and Matthew when extending TPS for Haitians in May.

We can only hope that when DHS takes up the fate of some 200,000 TPS holders from El Salvador—a decision that is due by January 2018—anti-immigrant politics won’t again trump the law and evidence.

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