Haitian nationals in the U.S. have been granted Temporary Protected Status, allowing them to stay in the U.S. 18 months past their visa expiration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Friday.
The ruling, announced by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, will prevent Haitian nationals from being sent back to their home country that has been devastated by a massive earthquake.
"This is a disaster of historic proportions and this designation will allow eligible Haitian nationals in the United States to continue living and working in our country for the next 18 months," Napolitano said in a statement.
"Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this Administration's continuing efforts to support Haiti's recovery," she added.
The ruling sided the Obama administration with a chorus of Democrats and some Republicans who spent the latter part of this week calling for Haitians to be granted temporary status.
Only Haitians who were in the U.S. as of Jan. 12 will be granted the status. Haitians eligible to apply for TPS should contact the Department of Homeland Security.
"Those who attempt to travel to the United States after January 12, 2010, will not be eligible for TPS and will be repatriated," Napolitano said.
TPS is typically granted by DHS to foreign nationals if conditions in their home country prevent them from returning safely.
At least one Republican lawmaker preemptively opposed the decision.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the House Judiciary immigration subcommittee, said Friday that the push for the status was just a political ploy by "open borders" advocates.
"This sounds to me like open borders advocates exercising the Rahm Emanuel axiom: 'Never let a crisis go to waste,'" King, said in an e-mail. "Illegal immigrants from Haiti have no reason to fear deportation, but if they are deported, Haiti is in great need of relief workers, and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians."
One Republican who supports the status, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.), lauded the decision.
“I thank President Obama for granting TPS for Haitians who are currently in the United States. It is a humanitarian gesture worth commending,” he said in a statement.