The Department of Homeland Security has decided to show some reason and compassion in its dealings with Haitians who might have been headed for deportation as soon as their Temporary Protected Status was set to expire this summer. On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that her department would be extending TPS for Haitian nationals another 18 months, through January 2013.
Under the new extension, Haitians who have been in the country since January 12 of this year will be eligible to stay in the U.S. and be legally allowed to work in the country. The Obama administration originally announced that it would grant TPS to Haitians as a result of the devastating earthquake last year. TPS is typically granted on a limited basis to folks from countries mired in war or natural disaster, where returning would be too dangerous. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 48,000 Haitians are in the country under Temporary Protected Status. Around 60,000 or so initially applied for TPS–far fewer than the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 undocumented Haitian-Americans in the country at the time.
"In the extended aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, the United States has remained fully committed to upholding our responsibility to assist individuals affected by this tragedy by using tools available under the law," Napolitano said.
"Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery."
Immigration policy experts and advocates applauded the announcement, and Napolitano’s use of her discretionary powers to help ease the suffering of folks who would be sent back to a country that is still in dangerous disarray.
"Today’s decision by the Secretary is evidence of the power of the Executive branch to shape the implementation of existing immigration law," said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, an immigration think tank.
"Secretary Napolitano could have declined to extend TPS or make more people eligible, because the law did not require her to do so. But because she had the discretion to revisit the original determination, and ultimately used it to expand the range of people eligible for this protection, the U.S. will be able to help thousands of people who might otherwise have faced deportation to Haiti and enormous suffering."
But TPS doesn’t extend to everyone. Those who’ve been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors, even if they were minor crimes, are being forced out of the U.S. This January the U.S. resumed deportations to Haiti, a move that immigrant rights advocates called, in effect, a death sentence.