Don’t Send Our Haitian Neighbors Back to a Devastated Homeland
Haiti was designated for Temporary Protective Status (TPS) following the earthquake that struck the country in January 2010. TPS has been extended every 18 months since then to allow Haitians living in the U.S to remain because it would be unsafe for them to return home. On May 24, then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), John Kelly, announced a mere six-month extension citing Haiti’s “progress across several fronts” in its recovery. Unless DHS reconsiders, TPS for Haiti will be revoked on January 22, 2018 and thousands of Haitians will lose their employment authorization and will be subject to deportation.
The 2010 earthquake took an estimated 300,000 lives, displaced 1.5 million people and led to an ongoing cholera epidemic that has claimed an additional 10,000 lives. Haiti’s eventual recovery was almost completely reversed by Hurricane Matthew, which struck in 2016 killing over 1,000 Haitians, leaving 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and exacerbating the cholera epidemic. Just months after Secretary Kelly’s announcement, Haiti took another direct hit from Hurricane Irma that, while not as severe in terms of loss of life, caused the destruction of hundreds of north coast communities, decimated by high winds and flooding, and saw the total destruction of 18,000 family farms.
Even prior to 2010, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to an overview on Haiti issued in March by the World Bank, the country’s already inadequate economy and infrastructure, devastated by repeated natural disasters, remain extremely vulnerable. Numerous reports issued by our own government say the same thing:
- In March, a report issued by US AID noted that “the destruction created by the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew exacerbated an existing lack of adequate health infrastructure…. as well as access to electricity, clean water and sanitation systems”.
- In May, the US State Department warned US citizens “to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Haiti due to its current security environment and lack of adequate medical facilities…”
- In July, a Central Intelligence Agency reported that 62% of Haitians are without electricity, more than 2/3 of the labor force does not have formal jobs, and the degree of risk of major infectious diseases is “very high”.
Journalist Jonathan Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, who was in Haiti during and after the latest earthquake, has said “… if you actually try to construct a picture of what is food security like in Haiti, what infrastructure like in Haiti, what is governance like in 2017, there’s no set of facts that you can string together that would suggest that the country is any more ready to support itself or handle the influx of tens of thousands more people than at any point in the recent past.”
There are currently about 58,000 Haitians living in the U.S. who are protected under TPS. Over 80% of these are working legally (under TPS), supporting themselves and their families and are sending money back to Haiti. The July CIA report noted that “remittances are the primary source of foreign exchange, equivalent to more than one quarter of GDP, and nearly double the combined value of Haitian exports and foreign direct investment.” Revoking TPS protected work authorizations would further devastate the Haitian economy and the lives of families that rely upon these remittances to survive.
The “progress across several fronts” cited by Secretary Kelly as a rationale for prematurely lifting TPS status for Haitians does not take into account the continued dire circumstances in which Haitians find themselves today. The lack of infrastructure, adequate healthcare, security, food, access to electricity and clean water remain the reality in Haiti today as they did when TPS was first granted.
In a rare recent instance of bipartisanship, ten Democratic and Republican U.S. senators and representatives, led by Florida Senators Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D), have urged DHS to extend TPS for Haiti for 18 months starting January 22, 2018. In their letter to Acting Secretary Elaine Duke they described TPS as “central to our country’s commitment in providing safe haven to individuals unable to securely return to their home country due to ongoing violence, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions. Haiti continues to face such conditions.”
The same circumstances exist today that caused the designation of Haiti for TPS over seven years ago. In keeping with our nation’s tradition of compassion towards those in crisis, I urge the administration to extend TPS protection to the 58,000 people living and working in the U.S. It is simply not safe for them to return home.