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House Democrats call on Biden administration to renew Haitian migrant protections

FILE – In this Sept. 22, 2021, file photo, migrants, many from Haiti, are seen in a pen area waiting to load onto buses near the Rio Grande, in Del Rio, Texas. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

A group of 17 House Democrats is urging the Biden administration to renew a key immigration program protecting Haitians in the United States.

In a letter led by Democratic Reps. Cori Bush (Mo.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), and Mondaire Jones (N.Y.), the lawmakers asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday to extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti.

Under TPS, foreign nationals of a country undergoing a man-made or natural disaster are allowed to live and work in the United States as long as their country’s designation is active.

“As Haitians face an unprecedented crisis in their home country, we strongly urge the Administration to extend the 2021 designation and redesignate Haiti for TPS, swiftly release the Federal Register Notice, and provide a minimum 180-day registration period for both current TPS holders and new beneficiaries under redesignation,” wrote the lawmakers.

The Democrats’ requests mirror those of a coalition of more than 400 pro-immigrant and Haitian advocacy groups, who last month called on the Biden administration to revamp TPS for the Caribbean nation.

TPS designations are granted by the Homeland Security secretary for up to 18 months, and cover citizens or nationals of the designated country who are in the United States up to a certain date.

Extensions prolong TPS benefits for existing beneficiaries, while redesignations set a new cutoff date for applying for TPS benefits, usually augmenting the number of people who are eligible for the program.

Haiti’s original TPS designation dates back to a 2010 earthquake, and was more or less summarily extended until the Trump administration tried to end most TPS designations.

Litigation stopped the Trump administration’s efforts, and in 2021 the Biden administration redesignated the country, allowing all Haitians in the United States as of July 29, 2021 to apply.

The Biden administration initially entered into talks with the plaintiffs in litigation against Trump’s TPS termination orders, but those talks collapsed in October, although the designation of people affected by litigation was extended until 2024.

The Democratic lawmakers specifically asked Mayorkas to extend TPS designations for other Haitians not included in that extension.

They also called for a redesignation, which would allow Haitians who have come since the 2021 cutoff to apply for TPS benefits.

That appeal is centered on the island’s deteriorating socioeconomic conditions.

“Haiti is currently experiencing one of its worst outbreaks of violence in decades. The rule of law has effectively collapsed. Powerful gangs rule with impunity, and in some cases with government complicity, as demonstrated by recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Canada on current and former Presidents of the Haitian Senate, and by Canada on former President Michel Martelly and two former prime ministers,” wrote the lawmakers.

The Biden administration’s policy toward Haiti has been heavily criticized, both for its repatriations of Haitians and for its support of Ariel Henry, the acting president and prime minister of the country.

Two of the letter’s signatories, Pressley and Jones, in March called on Biden to quit repatriating Haitians back to their home country.

The Biden administration has repatriated at least 25,000 Haitians, in most cases under a Trump-era border management policy that allowed U.S. officials to deny Haitians their right to claim asylum.

And the U.S. and Canada in October sent armored vehicles to bolster Haiti’s police, even as opposition groups accused the government of being in cahoots with criminal gangs.

“For months, a gang blockade at Haiti’s principal fuel terminal crippled day-to-day operations, severely restricting the movement of medicine, food and supplies. The situation paralyzed an already crippled economy in the country, where the inflation rate reached a staggering 30%. This has all occurred amid a resurgence of cholera in the country, particularly in Haiti’s National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince,” wrote the lawmakers.

The Democrats, many of whom represent large Haitian diaspora populations, added that a TPS redesignation and extension would benefit the United States economically.

“Given the deteriorating situation in Haiti, this Administration should prioritize humanitarian relief, especially given the positive impact that extending and redesignating Haiti for TPS will have for our nation,” they wrote.

“Approximately 80% of Haitians currently in the U.S. are in the labor force and contribute over $2.6 billion to our economy each year. At a time when we have labor shortages and high inflation, they are on the frontlines providing essential services to our nation. Moreover, redesignating Haiti for TPS would allow more Haitian nationals in the U.S. to contribute their skills and talents to the American workforce.”

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Biden Haiti Immigration Temporary protected status TPS
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