The Trump administration announced Monday it will be ending protected legal residency for an estimated 60,000 Haitians living in the United States, giving them until July 2019 to return to their country.
Thousands of Haitians flocked to the United States in 2010 following a catastrophic earthquake that measured at 7.0 on the Richter scale and which killed more than 200,000, displaced more than 1 million, and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in and around the country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that the “extraordinary conditions” necessitating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians in the United States “no longer exists”.
TPS, a policy begun in 1990, allows people who are unable safely to return to their home nations because of armed conflict, other violence, natural disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary circumstances to remain in the United States while the situation in their home country resolves.
“Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens,” Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke said in a statement. “Haiti has also demonstrated a commitment to adequately prepare for when the country’s TPS designation is terminated.”
But many question whether Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, would be able to support an influx of 60,000 people returning home after seven years.
David Quinn is a Catholic missionary from Hastings, Neb. who has lived in Haiti since the spring of 2015 with his wife, Andrea, and their two children. While they did not experience the 2010 earthquake first-hand, they did experience Hurricane Matthew, which struck the nation in 2016.
Quinn said the country still has not recovered from the earthquake or the hurricane and is ill-equipped to provide for the people who already live in Haiti.
“They have never recovered from the earthquake from what I can see,” Quinn told CNA.
“They’ve cleaned up some things here and there, but as far as returning to what they had before? Not even close. Their economy hasn’t improved since the earthquake, it’s been continuing to degrade, and many, many people are without work yet.”
In one part of Port-au-Prince, people are still living in tents and “tin boxes”, their homes destroyed seven years ago and never rebuilt, Quinn said. Most people subsist off of simple gardening, selling what they can at the weekly market and living off of a “pittance of an income and a really poor diet.”
“There’s so many people without work already, and if you throw another 60,000 people back into the situation, I don’t know what they would do...how would they feed themselves? ” Quinn said.
When Hurricane Matthew struck, blowing over homes and banana trees, Quinn said the government was not prepared to handle the aftermath and did little to nothing to help their own people.
“If you look at their response even to Hurricane Matthew, right afterwards you go to the local government and you’re like ok, do you have any food stored or anything set aside for how people are going to eat? And they have nothing, they didn’t prepare at all. So it was up to NGOs and us with the Church,” Quinn said, to provide support and bring in international aid.
Non-profits and charitable organizations are often left to take care of the people of Haiti, Quinn noted, but he added that charity, while necessary, also decreases many people’s drive to work and often perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
“You could work for a whole day and make like a dollar or two, or you can just give me (something), which people often do, because they’re so poor. So it just becomes this kind of cycle of dependence,” Quinn said.
“So if you have a Haitian who’s living in the United States and he’s a productive member of society, and then he goes back to Haiti, then it’s very likely he’s going to become dependent, not productive,” he said.
The decision to end TPS would also not only disrupt the lives of the 60,000 people who have been living in the United States for seven years, Quinn added, but it would also disrupt the lives and sources of income on which many Haitians depend.
“Many, many of them depend on people living in the States, sending money back to their families. So many people depend on that, so if they were to get kicked out, the situation gets incredibly worse, not just for those people but for their families who were getting $100 a month or whatever amount sent back,” he said.
“It’s just really sad to see,” he added. “I can’t imagine having my life set up somewhere else for (almost) a decade, and having it taken away like that.”
Earlier this month, the Catholic bishops of the United States released a report entitled Haiti's Ongoing Road to Recovery: The Necessity of an Extension of Temporary Protected Status, recommending the U.S. government extend TPS for Haitians.
"(W)hile conditions in Haiti are improving, the country is not yet in a position where it can adequately and safely accept return of the estimated 50,000 Haitian nationals who have received TPS," Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, said in his introduction to the report.
Similarly, in October, the U.S. Bishops recommended that the Trump administration extend TPS for people from Honduras and El Salvador, who would face violence and crime if they were sent back to their countries.
Many lawmakers of both parties have voiced their opposition to the decision to end TPS status for Haitians, including many in Florida, where more than half of TPS Haitians live.
“I traveled to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and after hurricane Matthew in 2016. So I can personally attest that Haiti is not prepared to take back nearly 60,000 TPS recipients under these difficult and harsh conditions,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), said on Twitter.
TPS status for an estimated 200,000 Salvadorans is set to expire in January, while a decision on the TPS status of 57,000 Hondurans has been deferred for six months.