- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 16, 2010

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Friday granted an 18-month amnesty to Haitians who were in the U.S. as illegal immigrants or legal visitors at the time of this week’s earthquake.

Miss Napolitano said the order for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) only applies to those who were already in the U.S. on Jan. 12, when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti. She said anyone who flees to come to the U.S. now will be sent back, but those who were already here will be allowed to stay and work for 18 months, at which time the government will decide whether to extend the period.

“It’s sort of a time-out for Haitians in the United States who can begin to work … and have some resources then to send back to Haiti itself,” she said.

She estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 Haitians might qualify for what she called “intermediate immigration status.”

Dozens of lawmakers had urged Homeland Security to extend TPS to Haitians, arguing that Haiti is in such bad shape it cannot accept any deportees.

This is the right thing to do. Haitian immigrants already in the U.S. will not only be able to make money to support themselves, but also to send remittances to their suffering families back in Haiti,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat.

TPS was written exactly for this kind of situation when a natural disaster overwhelms a country, and makes it impossible for that country to take folks back, Miss Napolitano said.

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But some lawmakers warned it’s a dangerous move, particularly since TPS is often extended for years past the initial period and becomes a prolonged amnesty.

Of the five other countries currently granted TPS, all of them have been on the books since at least 2001, and one, Somalia, has been on the books since 1991.

Miss Napolitano avoided commenting on whether the U.S. would use the country’s base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a temporary base to hold any Haitians who are caught trying to reach the U.S.

At this moment of tragedy in Haiti it is tempting for people suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake to seek refuge elsewhere,” she said. “But attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation.”

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