The Trump administration is criminalizing Haitian refugees

protester stands in front of Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, urging President Trump to extend the temporary protected status the federal government has offered about fifty thousand Haitian immigrants..jpg

By: Boston Globe Editorial, May 14, 2017

It didn't take long for Haitians to find out how President Trump really feels about them. While campaigning last fall in Miami’s Little Haiti, he said: “The Haitian-American community adds so much to our country: dedication to family, perseverance, entrepreneurship.”

Now they, too, have fallen victim to his administration’s relentless efforts to criminalize immigrants and refugees left and right.

About 58,000 Haitian beneficiaries of an emergency immigration program will see their status expire in July unless the administration approves an extension. As the Homeland Security secretary John Kelly weighs his decision, internal communications reported by the Associated Press last week reveal a malicious and unprecedented effort by the federal government that seems designed to find disingenuous reasons to cancel the program.

Top immigration officials have put out requests for derogatory information about those Haitians, including how many have been convicted of “crimes of any kind,” and how many have been taking advantage of public benefits (which they are not even eligible to receive in the first place). The administration appears to hope it can find a few horror stories to justify disrupting the lives of thousands.

The requests came from Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, chief of policy at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, to her staff. When agency officials responded that they couldn’t collect data on criminality, she said: “I know some of it is not captured, but we’ll have to figure out a way to squeeze more data out of our systems. . . . Please dig for any stories (successful or otherwise) that would show how things are in Haiti. . . . We should also find any reports of criminal activity by any individual with TPS [Temporary Protected Status]. Even though it’s only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than ‘Haiti is really poor’ stories.”

That would be reckless and ill-advised. The temporary protected designation is a federal relief program granted to certain countries with deteriorating conditions caused by armed conflicts, natural disasters, or health epidemics. Only eligible immigrants can apply, and a criminal record or background is disqualifying.

Trump officials are ignoring the more than sufficient evidence demonstrating that Haiti is still vulnerable. Seven years after a devastating earthquake killed more than a quarter of Haitians and displaced more than 1 million people, the country struggles to recover. “Many of the conditions prompting the original January 2010 TPS designation persist, including a housing shortage, a cholera epidemic and limited access to medical care, damage to the economy,” read, in part, a memo from Citizenship and Immigration Services prepared in December. Hurricane Matthew not only complicated any recovery efforts and progress, but also left nearly 900,000 Haitians suffering from severe food insecurity.

Even more troubling, there is concern among immigration advocates that the Trump administration might be setting a precedent to use the same rationale to cancel the protected status of Salvadorans and Hondurans next year. That would leave some 350,000 Central Americans vulnerable to being sent back to extremely unsafe countries.

The Haiti decision, due May 23, will not only be a critical litmus test for the temporary protected status program, but also a telling statement about American values.


Related article:

A harrowing turning point for Haitian immigrants

By Edwidge Danticat, The New Yorker, May 12, 2017
D. - he he asked that I not use his name—moved to the United States from Haiti with his parents in 2001, when he was nine years old. They travelled from Port-au-Prince on tourist visas, and then stayed beyond the authorized time period because of political instability in Haiti. D. attended school in Miami.
In high school he played football and had a 4.1 G.P.A. He completed all of his coursework, including all the Advanced Placement classes offered at his school, by the end of his junior year, and graduated in the top three per cent of his class. He applied and was accepted to Florida Memorial University in 2009, hoping to study engineering, but because he was undocumented he did not qualify for the full-ride scholarship he was offered. He tried other schools, including the local community college, but did not qualify for loans or in-state tuition. Instead, D. saved up for a paralegal-certificate course by working as a parking attendant at a Miami Beach hotel during the day, then at the hotel’s front desk at night. He studied and wrote papers during his night shifts. “It was like having two and a half jobs,” he told me recently. “I was only sleeping every other day. People kept telling me, ‘You’re so bright, why aren’t you in college?’ They didn’t realize that I wanted more than anything to go to college. I just didn’t have the opportunity.”
In 2010, after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated three hundred thousand people and leaving 1.5 million homeless, Haitian community leaders, including many Miami-based advocates, appealed to the U.S. government for temporary protected status, which was granted nine days after the earthquake. Temporary protected status, or T.P.S., is designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security in cases where a country’s nationals are unable to return safely or when the country is incapable of receiving them due to armed conflicts, environmental disasters, epidemics, or other “extraordinary” conditions.
T.P.S. is granted for eighteen months at a time and is renewable at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, at times in consultation with the State Department and the Secretary of State. T.P.S. does not offer a path to citizenship, but it does allow recipients to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license, and prevents them from being deported.
Haiti is one of thirteen countries that have been granted temporary protected status. The others are El Salvador, Guinea, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Yemen, and Syria. Of the three hundred thousand foreign nationals who are covered by T.P.S., approximately fifty thousand are Haitian and many, like D., have been living in the United States since before the 2010 earthquake. They qualified for T.P.S. because conditions in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake made their return hazardous, but also because of a raging cholera epidemic that was introduced by Nepalese United Nations peacekeepers, in 2010, and has killed nine thousand Haitians and sickened eight hundred thousand.
Posted May 17, 2017