SEATTLE, Washington — In July 2019, the 50,000 Haitian refugees currently living in the U.S. will lose their temporary protection status (TPS). In November 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it was terminating the Obama era policy allowing thousands of displaced Haitians to relocate to the U.S after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 devastated the country’s infrastructure. Now, TPS for Haitians is about to end, so what will happen to 50,000 Haitian refugees?
Terminating TPS for Refugees
Established by Congress in 1990, TPS is a designation enforced by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allowing non-US citizens to remain in the U.S. if living conditions in their home country are deemed unsafe, often as a response to an armed conflict, natural disaster or epidemic. There are currently 13 countries granted TPS, amounting to roughly 325,000 people.
TPS has allowed Haitian beneficiaries to legally live and work in the U.S. for almost a decade, although they are required to re-register every 60 days. For the 50,000 Haitian TPS recipients, this move by the Trump Administration means either two things: stay in the U.S., but live in the shadows or return to Haiti. Many immigration experts claim the latter is still not feasible.
Unsuitable Living Conditions in Haiti
In 2016, Haiti was still not fully recovered from the earthquake or its aftereffects from Hurricane Matthew, which wreaked havoc on Haiti’s ‘breadbasket’ southeast peninsula. The storm had a far-reaching impact on the country’s food production and infrastructure. Malnourishment is still a huge problem for almost 40 percent of Haitian households, 30 percent of whom are children. To add to the list of hardships, Haiti has endured one of the worst cholera epidemics in recent history, lasting eight years and killing almost 10,000 people.
If just a fraction of the TPS beneficiaries were to return home, the already unstable situation in Haiti could worsen. The aftermath of the earthquake left an estimated 300,000 people dead and roughly one million of the three million affected were rendered homeless. Little has been done by the Haitian government to make reparations. Political unrest has already plagued the country for much of 2018. In fact, last November, thousands took to the streets protesting government corruption and a lethargic economy.
Furthermore, the return of 50,000 people could overwhelm the country’s infrastructure, putting considerable pressure on an already struggling system. Many Haitians forced to return would find themselves homeless, unemployed and subsequently faced with food insecurity. Unemployment rates hover around 40 percent, housing shortages afflict many communities in the southern region and the healthcare system is both underfunded and understaffed.
Fighting to Stay in the U.S.
In the U.S., most of the Haitian TPS beneficiaries are deeply rooted in their communities. According to the Center for Migration Studies, roughly 85 percent of all TPS recipients participate in the labor force, 87 percent speak English and 11 percent are self-employed, often creating additional jobs. Nearly 30 percent of households with TPS beneficiaries have mortgages, while 5,000 Haitian beneficiaries are married to lawful residents.
The Trump Administration’s decision is facing a stout legal battle- there are currently seven lawsuits challenging the termination, one of which ended two weeks ago. Saget et al v. Trump, which was filed last March, claims the DHS failed to follow standard procedures when reviewing living conditions in Haiti, while also alleging the termination was based on “racial animus.” Representatives from the Family Action Network Movement are also working to sue the administration in order to continue TPS for Haitians.
The plaintiffs are hoping for an extension of TPS for Haitians, while also calling on Congress to find a more permanent solution. Federal Judge William Kuntz is expected to make his decision by early March, but until then the fate of 50,000 people is hanging on what will happen with TPS for Haitians living in the U.S.