Chair Menchaca, Council Members, and staff, good morning and thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding Council Resolution 1290. My name is Helen Drook, and I am a Senior Staff Attorney at the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. NYLAG is a nonprofit law office dedicated to providing free legal services in civil law matters to low-income New Yorkers. NYLAG serves immigrants, seniors, veterans, the homebound, families facing foreclosure, renters facing eviction, low-income consumers, those in need of government assistance, children in need of special education, domestic violence victims, persons with disabilities, patients with chronic illness or disease, low-wage workers, low-income members of the LGBTQ community, Holocaust survivors, as well as others in need of free legal services.
NYLAG strongly supports Res 1290 calling upon the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to grant Haiti a new designation for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to provide temporary immigration relief to eligible Haitian nationals in the United States, as well as to stop the detention and repatriation of Haitian nationals ineligible for immigration relief in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
The earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010 caused incredible destruction, killing an estimated 250,000, and displacing 1.3 million people – over one-tenth of the total population. Without the infrastructure to quickly rebuild, the earthquake exacerbated many of the challenges Haiti was facing even prior to 2010: chronic poverty, environmental degradation, economic and political vulnerability. The rebuilding process has been further hampered by catastrophes such as Hurricane Matthew and a cholera epidemic.
Under Section 244(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Secretary of State is authorized to designate a foreign state for TPS upon finding that such state is experiencing an ongoing conflict, an environmental disaster, or “extraordinary and temporary condition.”
As a result of the devastation caused by the January 12th earthquake, on January 15th, 2010, the Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security designated Haiti for TPS. The U.S. government has renewed TPS for Haiti several times, most recently in January 2016, extending through July 2017. In re-designating and extending Haitian TPS, the federal government has clearly recognized that the situation in Haiti remains catastrophic, and that returning Haitian nationals presently residing in the U.S. to Haiti would violate the humanitarian principles upon which our country and its immigration laws were built. The designation of Haiti for TPS was designed not only to keep people from returning to the country where life-threatening conditions persist, but also to ensure economic help for the poverty-stricken country. TPS allows people not only to stay in the U. S., but also to obtain employment authorization and work. NYLAG has firsthand knowledge of is the benefits of TPS. Since 2010, NYLAG has helped thousands of Haitians obtain TPS and remain in the United States. We have also provided free legal services to another 700+ Haitian nationals, helping them obtain citizenship, travel documents, and other immigration relief. NYLAG has conducted 22 large scale clinics in partnership with Council Member Mathieu Eugene, who has worked tirelessly for the many Haitian immigrants in his district. Moreover, NYLAG helped dozens of Haitian nationals obtain employment in the U.S. through our job training and placement partners. We have seen how this temporary immigration relief has helped not only those who were able to obtain TPS status, but also their families, affording them an opportunity to provide financial support to family members who remained in the devastated Haiti.
In addition to granting TPS, the United States government has created the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Act to allow certain relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to avoid dangerous conditions in Haiti, and to wait for their adjustment of status in the U.S. This program was created prior to the time when Hurricane Matthew hit, and any ICE decision to recommence removal to Haiti would be contrary to the recognition by the U.S. government of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
NYLAG strongly supports Res 1290 to ensure that Haitian nationals living in the United States are treated in a compassionate and humane manner. Once again, I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to speak here today, and to thank Council Member Eugene for his dedicated work on behalf of the Haitian community of New York.