The Obama administration announced Jan. 18 that Haitian undocumented immigrants would be given temporary protected status (TPS) for 18 months, allowing them to live and work legally in the United States while their homeland reels from last week's catastrophic earthquake. It is believed that the deportation of around 30,000 undocumented Haitians will be postponed by this decision.
The policy chance was announced by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who stated that the status would cover only Haitians already in the United States, and other Haitians who try to come without papers will be deported back to Haiti.
Temporary protected status, instituted in 1990, is a special legal category granted at the discretion of the federal government, usually to deal with enormous crisis situations that make it unusually difficult for the affected countries to deal with large numbers of deported people being returned to their shores. After the crisis is over, these immigrants are supposed to leave the United States or they will be deported, and their employers will be fined.
In the past, this status has been given to Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Liberians and others, but never, per se, to Haitians. For example, Haiti was hit by massive damage after being hit by no less than four hurricanes in 2008, and the Haitian American community and its allies asked the Bush administration to declare TPS. Even though the Haitian economy and infrastructure were in ruins, this was refused. A year ago, when the Obama administration came into power, the request was submitted again, and again it was refused.
The natural conclusion among Haitians and Haitian Americans, as well as their allies in the African American community and elsewhere, was that TPS was being applied in a discriminatory manner because almost all Haitians are Black and most who want to emigrate are very poor.
The long history of discrimination against Haitian immigrants under a whole series of U.S. administrations stretching back to Eisenhower seems to bear this out.
Indeed, the U.S. is accused of violating international norms for the handling of political refugees specifically for the way it has treated Haitian asylum seekers over the years. The contrast with the treatment of Cuban "refugees" could not be more obvious: Any Cuban who makes it to U.S. territory and claims to be a political refugee, no matter how spurious the claim, is not arrested but is immediately allowed to settle here and even work. Haitians complain that they are not allowed to do this but are simply rounded up and deported immediately, or, if they try to press an asylum claim, after spending time in detention, in horrible conditions. Nevertheless, conditions in Haiti have been so terrible that Haitian "boat people" have continued to try to get here, with thousands drowning in the Florida Straits or in the Mona Passage between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
A large number of organizations, activists and political leaders, including SEIU and America's Voice, backed the call for TPS for Haitians. A letter to the White House and Secretary Napolitano initiated by, among others, Michigan Congressman John Conyers, and with the signatures of 91 members of the House of Representatives from both parties, was sent on Friday. The letter stated in part:
"Tuesday's earthquake plunged Haiti into chaos while the country was still struggling to recover from the ongoing humanitarian crisis resulting from the 2008 storms. It is abundantly clear that extraordinary and temporary conditions now exist preventing Haiti from being able to adequately and safely handle the return of its nationals currently in the United States. Haiti has officially requested TPS on multiple prior occasions ..."
Anti-immigrant organizations denounced the granting of TPS status to the Haitians, claiming that it will lead to their being allowed to stay here permanently. Given conditions in Haiti and the fact that Haitian immigrants and Haitian Americans have been subsidizing their homeland with family remittances of more than a billion and a half dollars per year, it is clear that TPS, though welcome, is not a permanent solution to the problem of undocumented Haitian immigration in the United States. It provides another reason to fight for comprehensive immigration reform this year