Supplemental Report for the M4RJ Statement Condemning TPS Termination for Haiti

On November 20, acting secretary Elaine Duke announced that the DHS would be terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti, meaning that those who have been protected under the status, close to 60,000 people, must return to Haiti by July 2019 or risk being deported. To understand the ramifications and injustice of this decision, it is critical that people understand how TPS works, how Haiti was designated the status, and how the conditions on the ground justify its continued extension.

TPS is a condition under U.S. immigration law that protects citizens from specific countries from deportation due to extreme conditions or circumstances in their home countries, for example conditions caused by extreme natural disasters or armed conflict. Under TPS, eligible participants are also provided with the option to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), allowing them to legally work within the United States.  Extensions to TPS are given when conditions in home countries remain tenuous and citizens cannot be safely and effectively reintegrated. Haiti was designated under the TPS program in January of 2010, following the devastating earthquake that killed over 200,000 people and displaced over 1 million more from the capital city of Port Au Prince. To be clear, TPS is not a blanket policy affecting all Haitian immigrants. It only applies to those residing in the United States without status prior to the earthquake, and those who came to the U.S. for up to one year after. Damage from the earthquake can still be seen in Haiti today, as well as physical and economic conditions shaped by corruption and overall model of the foreign aid response from the U.S. and other countries in the months and years following.

The recent decision by DHS to terminate Temporary Protected Status for Haitians has been condemned by countless immigration and advocacy groups due to the continuing hardship, poverty, and disparate conditions on the ground in Haiti. The DHS statement claimed that the “extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist,” and that “since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent. 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. Haiti has also demonstrated a commitment to adequately prepare for when the country’s TPS designation is terminated.” This statement is misleading in many ways, mainly in that it fails to consider the numerous factors affecting the conditions in Haiti today that have led to the previous extensions of TPS for Haiti under the Obama administration, including the effects from a ravaging Cholera epidemic, destruction from Hurricane Matthew in late 2016, and requests on behalf of the Haitian government to extend TPS.

In September of 2010 a Nepalese UN contingency introduced cholera to Haiti through negligence of allowing raw sewage to be disposed of in one of the largest and most used water sources in Haiti, the Artibonite River. Since that time, over 10,000 Haitians have died from cholera, while over 800,000 have been infected. The UN refused to accept public responsibility for the Cholera outbreak until 2016, and while currently calling for the need for a fund for $400 million to assist in vaccination efforts and sanitation improvements, no funds or direct monetary reparations have been provided to victims or their families. Additionally, while the U.S. led the initiative to establish the UN contingent in Haiti in the first place, and was the key international influencer in insisting the UN not accept legal responsibility for the epidemic, the Trump administration has publicly refused to provide any contributions to the fund for Cholera victims in Haiti, claiming a “lack of responsibility” in the outbreak.

In addition to the prolonged damage from the earthquake and the precarious conditions from Cholera, conditions in Haiti were made more dire after category 4 Hurricane Matthew devastated the island in October of 2016, the worst storm to hit Haiti since Hurricane Cleo in 1964 and the third strongest storm on record. Over 1,500 fatalities were reported in the months following Matthew. 200,000 homes were destroyed and the storm generated the need for immediate aid for 1.4 million Haitians, and monetary damages from the storm were estimated at US$1.9 billion. Extensive and nearly complete crop damage in the country’s southern region generated extreme food shortages for the already food insecure nation, which deepened in months following Matthew due to extreme flooding and crop destruction in the northern regions. Due to crop loss and subsequent food shortages, prices on dietary staples such as rice skyrocketed.

It is critically important to examine and create understanding of all of these factors, as well as the U.S. complicity in laying the economic groundwork for the poverty that exists in Haiti to truly understand the moral obligation for supporting a program like TPS. The economic ramifications that would come from the lack of legal work opportunities available to the 60,000 Haitian TPS holders would further exacerbate the precarious economic situation in Haiti, where remittances in 2016 totaled more than one-fourth of Haiti’s national income at US$2.36 billion. Additionally, Haitian TPS holders have an estimated 27,000 children among them here in the United States. The termination of TPS leaves families the impossible choice to either move their children to Haiti where they face a deepening lack of educational and economic opportunities, or to leave them with family or caretakers if parents are deported back to Haiti, a likely result due to the need for TPS holders to maintain up to date contact records with DHS to be eligible. By targeting policies like Asylum, TPS, and DACA, the Trump administration is intentionally and actively targeting the most vulnerable populations to support a racist, politicized agenda against immigration.

In the months leading up to the TPS termination, leaked emails obtained by the Associated Press showed DHS requests for public benefits and criminal history data from the Haitian-American community to use in swaying public opinion against TPS, despite the fact that TPS holders, who are disqualified from the program if they have any criminal activity in the U.S., are ineligible for public benefits. Kathy Kovarik, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services head of policy and strategy, sent repeated emails to staff requesting that they “squeeze more data” out of their systems, referring to the criminal activity and public benefits information, as well as information regarding how frequently Haitian-Americans traveled to Haiti and sent remittances. “Please dig for any stories (successful or otherwise) that would show how things are in Haiti -- i.e. rebuilding stories, work of nonprofits, how the U.S. is helping certain industries,” Kovarik wrote in an email from April. In the same email she told staff that “we should also find any reports of criminal activity by any individual with TPS. Even though it’s only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than ‘Haiti is really poor’ stories.”

It is critically important to examine all of these factors when discussing TPS for Haiti to understand the injustice within the Trump administration’s termination of it. When DHS representatives state that “conditions from the earthquake” have improved, not only is it deliberately misleading, but it fails to take into account the factors that should by law be evaluated when extending or terminating TPS. The precariousness of TPS under the Trump administration is not limited to Haiti, as DHS is evaluating TPS for Honduras, El Salvador, and other countries and has also terminated TPS for Nicaragua and Sudan.  This effort to terminate TPS is rooted in racist, politicized policies that continue to exploit marginalized and vulnerable populations in the United States and feed into the larger structure of poverty and insecurity in TPS holder’s home countries. Action is needed on behalf of TPS holders whose status is under threat, please join the efforts of the March for Racial Justice in advocating for TPS and speaking out against the injustice of its termination for Haiti and other countries.

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Andrea Ciannavei