Stranded in the U.S.? | Sojourners

Stranded in the U.S.?

What does this year's hurricane season mean for Haitians in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status?
Image via Marion Doss/Flickr

It’s hurricane season in the Caribbean, and for the nearly 60,000 Haitians who left their homes because of another hurricane just last fall, the timing couldn’t be worse. As the island recovers from being hit with strong winds and flooding from Hurricane Irma and readies for Hurricane Maria, Haitians living and working in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) face even more uncertainty about their home.

Temporary Protected Status was first granted to Haitians fleeing a catastrophic earthquake in 2010. Those granted TPS are permitted to live and work legally in the United States until conditions in their home country have improved. In May, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (now the White House Chief of Staff) announced that that program aiding Haitian immigrants, reviewed every 18 months, would come to an end in January 2018. 

Now, lawmakers are petitioning the Trump administration to monitor earthquake recovery efforts to determine whether temporary protected status for Haitians should be terminated in January. In the meantime, an estimated 7,000 Haitians who had been living under TPS in the United States have risked everything to illegally cross the northern border into Canada. This could be a costly mistake, placing themselves in legal jeopardy. 

Canada is managing the Haitian influx to French-speaking Quebec by temporarily housing many of the newcomers in otherwise economically depressed areas — parts of the country that are otherwise losing ground and could benefit from the population boost. As they await a decision about their temporary presence in Canada, these Haitians are likely to be deported — if they cannot demonstrate their need for asylum — not back to the United States, but back to Haiti.

Unemployment is a reality for so many Haitians already living in Haiti. Facing down the potential end of TPS, thousands more Haitians can expect few job options if forcibly removed back to the island. Joblessness engenders hopelessness in many Haitians, who feel unable to plan for their lives or their families’ lives once they return.

The options for Haitians living under TPS in the U.S. today are limited. The deadline to re-register for continued TPS status has already passed, and this extension runs out in January of next year. 

Those who re-register and wish to seek gainful employment for the next few months are also required to complete an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which requires a hefty $410 fee. All Haitians living under TPS who wish to work must re-apply for a new EAD, even if they already hold one. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does allow Haitians to apply for a fee waiver, but no statistics are forthcoming on how often these waivers are granted.

More than ever, people living under TPS live in a kind of incomprehensible uncertainty. They have few options, and the Trump administration has signaled that these options are about to narrow even further.

As their island home is subjected to uncertainties of its own, a policy of forced repatriation of Haitians is cruel at best. The U.S. harms only itself when it rejects the chance to grow the workforce and ejects those living within our borders who have nowhere else to go.

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