- - Sunday, May 14, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Haiti continues to break the hearts of everyone who deals with its continuing crises of hunger, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. Catastrophe is not a stranger to the isle of Hispaniola. Fifty thousand Haitian refugees are in the United States now, admitted for humanitarian reasons after a 2010 earthquake, under a program called Temporary Protected Status. The Haitians are among 300,000 such immigrants admitted under special circumstances.

Temporary Protected Status, typically extended 18 months at a time, will expire July 22, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must decide by May 23 whether to extend it again. The May 23 deadline will enable the U.S. government to give a 60-day notice that Temporary Protected Status will be allowed to expire. And not just in Haiti. Extensions for temporary refugees from 13 countries, most but not all in the Western Hemisphere, will expire in November and two more in 2018.

The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, James McCament, has recommended that the program be allowed to expire, but to give the Haitians until January 2018 to leave.

Seven years have passed since an earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010 killed more than 100,000 persons and devastated Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republican, is the poorest country in the hemisphere, and one of the poorest and most corrupt in the world. Its own elites have abused it for decades, stealing from those who have little to steal from. The Obama administration, which took in the refugees whether they entered the United States legally or not, had begun to send them home before the president’s term expired.

The Congressional Black Caucus has urged President Trump to extend temporary status again. “TPS was created to provide protection to those in the United States when it is unsafe for their return home — precisely the conditions Haiti faces today,” the Caucus said in a letter to Homeland Security John F. Kelly. “The country needs more time to recover before Haitian nationals in the U.S. can safely return.”

Nevertheless, another extension merely delays the inevitable. Extensions effectively grant permanent resident status, which is unfair to thousands of others from Haiti and other places who are waiting patiently, and legally, to enter the United States. “Haiti is nowhere near ready to take anybody back [to Haiti],” says Nadine Norcena, a worker at a Roman Catholic charity for Haitian immigrants in Massachusetts. This is no doubt true, but the sad fact is that Haiti is unlikely ever to take back the Haitians who have made it here.

The Trump administration appears to be handling the process properly, reviewing the Haitian immigrants’ backgrounds individually, checking for criminal records and whether any have been receiving welfare benefits for which they are ineligible, rather than simply granting a blanket extension of protected status.

Kathy Nuebel Klovarik, the new policy and strategy chief of Citizenship and Immigration Services, has instructed her agency to gather relevant criminal and welfare information. The decision on further extensions usually would depend on whether conditions in the home country have improved, but the United States has no obligation to continue to extend refugee status, temporary or otherwise.

The decision will take into account how much money the refugees are sending home and how frequently they travel back to Haiti, which could help determine how much conditions in Haiti have improved. “Please dig for any stories (successful or otherwise) that would show how things are in Haiti — i.e., rebuilding stories, work of nonprofits, how the U.S. is helping certain industries,” she said. “Even though it’s only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than ‘Haiti is really poor’ stories.”

Sending someone home is painful, first for the person sent home and for the official who makes the decision to enforce the law, but such decisions cannot be determined on anecdotal evidence. Fair play must be for everyone.

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