- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2017

Homeland Security has granted an additional six-month grace period to Haitians in the U.S., saying the island nation is still not sufficiently recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake to absorb the tens of thousands of people who are here under temporary protected status (TPS).

The move is a small victory for immigrant-rights advocates who’d begged Secretary John F. Kelly to grant the extension, though department officials signaled this could be the last extension and Haitians under TPS should be ready to depart by early next year.

“This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients,” Mr. Kelly said in a statement.

Some 58,700 Haitians are currently protected from deportation under the TPS designation.

Immigrant-rights advocates say conditions in Haiti are so rough that they deserve a longer-term protection, but Homeland Security officials said Mr. Kelly was following the strict letter of the law, which says he is supposed to look at the factors that led to the TPS grant in 2010 — in this case, the earthquake.

Mr. Kelly described the progress made that he said makes him optimistic the country will be ready for repatriation soon.

“The Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96 percent of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps. Even more encouraging is that over 98 percent of these camps have closed,” he said.

He also pointed to the Haitian government’s plans to rebuild the presidential residence and the end of the U.N.’s stabilization mission in Haiti.

Those under TPS had to come forward and register, and are protected from deportation for as long as they are approved. They are also granted work permits giving them a chance to get a job, a driver’s license and a Social Security number.

Those who were in the U.S. without a permanent status at the time of the designation are allowed to apply — though it does not cover those who come later.

The Haitian government had hoped for an 18-month extension from the U.S., with the foreign minister telling Le Nouvelliste newspaper that if the Haitians had wanted to come home, they would have already bought tickets. He and other officials also said they weren’t sure their economy could handle a surge of expatriates returning right now.

U.S. officials, though, said in their conversations they believe the Haitian government wants its people back at some point.

“The secretary has received commitments and statements from the Haitian government that they actually do in fact want their TPS recipients living in the United States to return to Haiti to help rebuild their country,” a senior department official said in briefing reporters. “They’re precisely the kind of people who have an entrepreneurial spirit, job skills, at this point perhaps even additional English skills.”

TPS, which is part of federal law, has long been controversial. Some analysts say administrations have used it as a backdoor amnesty for illegal immigrants from countries that suffer catastrophes.

Honduras and Nicaragua are deemed to still be recovering from Hurricane Mitch in 1999, while those from El Salvador were granted TPS in 2001 after an earthquake. Those TPS grants have been repeatedly extended.

The Trump administration seems to be skeptical of that handling, saying it’s no longer going to extend designations as a routine matter.

“Secretary Kelly is taking a look at the TPS program with a fresh set of eyes,” the senior official said. “We are evaluating precisely what Congress asked us to do with each of these TPS programs. Nothing more, really nothing less.”

The Obama administration late last year did allow TPS to expire for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, three West African countries that were designated in 2014 amid the Ebola outbreak. The protected status period ended Monday.

Next up for decisions are Sudan and South Sudan, where TPS expires in November. Nicaragua and Honduras TPS declarations expire in early January.

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