The Obama administration is resisting pressure from congressional Democrats and immigration advocates to allow tens of thousands of undocumented Haitians to remain legally in the United States until their impoverished country recovers from a devastating food crisis and a series of natural disasters.
The House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security and international law is considering a draft bill granting “temporary protected status” (TPS) to Haitians, but its prospects for passage are slim.
A much faster way to provide relief would be for Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to exercise her power under the law and approve such status by executive order. But she has no such intention, said her spokesman, Sean Smith.
“There is no change in our policy on temporary protected status, and deportations to Haiti are continuing,” he said Tuesday. “And let me be clear: No one living in Haiti right now should be attempting to come to the United States in hopes that they will be granted TPS.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s decision is certain to anger the Haitian government, which repeatedly urged the Bush administration to stop deporting Haitian citizens. Officials at the Haitian Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment.
Mrs. Napolitano’s predecessor, Michael Chertoff, wrote in a letter to Haitian President Rene Preval in January that, “after very careful consideration, I have concluded that Haiti does not currently warrant a TPS designation.”
Advocates of TPS had hoped that the new administration would change U.S. policy. If approved, TPS would stop the ongoing deportations and allow migrants to work here legally but would not lead to permanent residency.
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and author of the House bill, urged Mrs. Napolitano to grant TPS to Haitians in a meeting last week, said Lale M. Mamaux, Mr. Hastings’ chief of staff.
“It is my understanding that Secretary Napolitano has taken these recommendations under consideration and will be presenting them to the White House,” she said. “The congressman very much hopes that the White House will do the right thing and seize the opportunity to help our struggling neighbor.”
Mr. Smith said that Mrs. Napolitano did not mean to suggest to Mr. Hastings that a change of policy was forthcoming.
In his bill, which has 40 co-sponsors, Mr. Hastings wrote that, “while United States policy advises Americans that current conditions make it unsafe to travel to Haiti, the same conditions make it dangerous and inappropriate to forcibly repatriate Haitians at this time.”
“The Haitian government’s ability to provide basic governmental services - clean water, education, passable road and basic health care - has been severely compromised by the natural disasters and food crisis in 2008,” he wrote.
Citizens of six countries are currently under TPS: Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan, according to the DHS Web site.
Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, said TPS “would help to relieve some of the pressure on the Haitian government in the short term.”
“But what Haiti needs most is a long-term nation-building effort, not short-term stop-gap measures,” he said. “Granting TPS to Haiti is merely a Band-Aid that cannot heal a deeply wounded country and may raise the risks of a new wave of migration.”