It took a massive earthquake in Haiti to finally push the government to reopen Temporary Protected Status for the tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants who would otherwise be slated for deportation. Just in time, the TPS designation, which allows undocumented immigrants from disaster-stricken countries to remain legally in the United States, has become a little more accessible, thanks to advocates at the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic. Federal immigration authorities have issued new guidelines stating that certain traffic violations and other minor infractions under New York State law should not disqualify someone from TPS eligibility. Basically, Homeland Security has ruled that various minor violations like loitering and trespassing shouldn’t bar emergency relief under TPS. Under current law, two misdemeanor convictions can lead to disqualification.
Nonetheless, the immigration system makes it prohibitively difficult for many to obtain relief on humanitarian grounds. A conviction for one of the many crimes designated as "aggravated felonies" (an expansive category that could include everything from low-level drug offenses to shoplifting) can prevent someone from applying for asylum or, for that matter, virtually any other channel for legalization.
In New York’s Haitian community, deportation based on minor criminal convictions has been a contentious issue. For the past few weeks, immigrant rights activists and officials have campaigned for the release of Jean Montrevil, a Haitian American who has been detained and ordered deported due to a drug conviction from over twenty years ago, for which he has already served 11 years in prison. Ironically, the earthquake in his homeland has temporarily eased Montrevil’s ordeal, as the government has halted deportations to Haiti. More broadly, Homeland Security recently announced it would reopen the TPS designation for Haitian immigrants residing illegally in the country.
The easing of the TPS regulations is a tiny improvement in a massively dysfunctional policy regime, but as more Haitian Americans seek TPS relief to escape the devastation in Haiti (and continue working and providing for their families in the U.S. economy), they need all the help they can get.