Biden Administration Extends Relief for Haitian Immigrants After Backlash Over Deportations

Over the previous weekend, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would be granting more than 100,000 Haitians in the United States Temporary Protected Status, otherwise known as provisional humanitarian immigration protection, or TPS, BuzzFeed News reported two weeks ago. The updated status would allow those eligible to obtain work permits and be safe from deportation.

Only Haitians — or persons without nationality who last resided in Haiti — who were in the U.S. as of May 21, 2021, are allowed to apply for the 18-month extension, leaving out those who arrived after the set date. Homeland Security cautioned thar anyone attempting to travel to the U.S. following the May 22 announcement could face deportation. The media outlet reported that the influx of applicants would be added to the already over 50,000 Haitians who have applied for the program. 

The Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement to the outlet that “Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” He added, “After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home.”

As immigrants in America continue to fight for safety, Haiti remains in turmoil. There has been outcry regarding Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse and his time in office, with many calling for his removal. The U.S.-backed politician is accused of attempting to establish a new dictatorship as the country struggles with economic hardships and surging violence rates.

Mayorkas cited “extraordinary and temporary conditions in Haiti that prevent nationals from returning safely, specifically, a political crisis and human rights abuses; serious security concerns; and the COVID-19 pandemic’s exacerbation of a dire economic situation and lack of access to food, water, and healthcare,” as his reasoning behind the decision. 

Meanwhile, advocates from UndocuBlack and the Haitian Bridge Alliance had been pressing the Biden administration for months for assistance. Earlier this year, President Joe Biden faced harsh criticism after watchdog activists claimed that ICE had forced over 1,000 asylum seekers, including pregnant women and infants onto planes headed to various locations, including Haiti, Jamaica, and African nations. The organization slammed the president for not speaking up and for seemingly allowing Black immigrants to be relocated during a global pandemic.

At the time, Haitian Bridge Alliance co-founder and executive director Guerline Jozef told Atlanta Black Star, “The community is in pain. We are literally receiving calls at 5 a.m. of mothers crying.”

On the day of his inauguration, Biden released a memo ordering a 100-day ban on deportations while his administration conducted an internal overview of the nation’s immigration policies. However, on Jan. 26, Trump-appointed federal Judge Drew Tipton of the Southern District of Texas reversed Biden’s freeze causing deportations to continue while the administration strategized.

According to Jakob Johnston, a Center for Economic and Policy Research analyst who had been tracking deportation flights for the past year, ICE had chartered 1,033 flights on private planes since Feb. 3, 2020, 64 of which left the U.S. since Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20. Flights went to several different Latin American and Caribbean countries. Haiti was the last destination for 12 of the flights during that span, more than any country on the list besides Mexico.

Still, advocates appear to be pleased with the latest development. Shelly Clermenco, a Haitian TPS holder and advocate with UndocuBlack, told the outlet, “Haitian communities are celebrating today, not just for ourselves, but because today’s news is a reminder to all of us that efforts to do what’s right are effective.” She added, “But this is just the beginning. We need Congress to do what is right and provide a path to citizenship so that my family and I can live fully and freely.”

Haiti’s TPS designation is slated to go into effect following the release of the Federal Register notice, which NPR reported would happen soon.

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