The Biden administration will grant a form of provisional residency known as temporary protected status to tens of thousands of Haitian migrants living in the United States without legal status, the Department of Homeland Security announced Saturday, citing worsening conditions in the Caribbean nation.
Haitians granted protected status will be exempted from deportation for 18 months. At that point, the Biden administration could choose to renew the designation.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
“After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home,” he said.
Only Haitians already present in the United States are eligible, so migrants who arrive after May 21 would still face potential deportation, according to DHS.
The decision was a win for the immigrant activists and advocacy groups that have campaigned for the protections and criticized the Biden administration for deporting Haitians to their home country during a period of heightened violence and instability.
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Haiti is in the middle of a constitutional crisis, with rival street gangs controlling parts of its capital city, Port-au-Prince.
Critics of the designation argue that a humanitarian program meant to shield migrants during extraordinary circumstances has morphed into an immigration pathway for hundreds of thousands of migrants with “temporary” protections that have been extended more than a decade.
The Obama administration designated Haitians for protected status after the devastating 2010 earthquake. That designation was repeatedly renewed, but the Trump administration announced in 2017 that it would not extend the protections, giving Haitians 18 months to leave the United States.
Immigrant advocates sued the government to force a reversal, and the Trump administration’s efforts to end TPS for Haiti and other nations stalled in multiple court battles.
Biden’s move could benefit 150,000 Haitians living in the United States, according to an estimate by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
“The last thing our country should be doing is forcing an entire community in the U.S. to decide between packing up their lives and tearing their families apart by self-deporting, or becoming undocumented and forced into the shadows of our society,” Menendez said in a statement.
“All one needs to do is take a look at the conditions on the ground in Haiti to understand why today’s announcement to issue a new TPS designation will avoid destabilizing the island’s fragile recovery efforts and keep approximately 150,000 individuals from harm’s way,” he said.
Congress created the TPS designation in 1990 to temporarily exempt foreign nationals from deportation if the executive branch determined natural disasters or armed conflict in their countries had created extraordinary hardship and instability.
The DHS announcement directs Haitians eligible for the protections to file an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, including current beneficiaries of the original 2010 designation. Haitians granted the protections receive work and travel authorization, and must satisfy background checks to remain eligible for the benefits.