Originally published by Politico
JOSH GERSTEIN and TED HESSON
President Donald Trump is again backing away from his hard-line anti-immigration rhetoric from the campaign trail, this time by extending the legal status of nearly 59,000 Haitians already in the U.S..
Haitian activists, the Haitian government, immigrant advocates and a bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed the White House to maintain the special status for Haitians affected by the 2010 earthquake in their country, with some advocates warning that Trump and other Republicans could face political repercussions—particularly in Florida, which is home to a large Haitian community.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly allowed only another six months, passing up the typical 18-month extension. Trump aides are pointing to that curtailment as evidence of their intent to conduct a more rigorous review of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program under which the Haitians won relief six years ago.
The TPS program is one of several forms of relief the U.S. has given to foreigners over the years when their homelands were struck by natural disasters or armed conflict. The program allows nationals of the affected countries to remain in the U.S. and receive work permits until the disaster or unrest in their home country abates. People in the U.S. from those countries are eligible whether they were here legally or illegally at the time their country was designated for TPS.
Kelly warned that Haitians who hold the special status should not assume it will be renewed after the new expiration set for next January.
“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,” the secretary said in a statement.
However, the secretary stopped short of embracing an option reportedly recommended by top immigration officials: announcing definitively that the special designation will end early next year.
DHS officials briefing reporters said Haiti was eager to have its nationals return, despite about $2 billion in remittances from the U.S. to Haiti annually. Remittances from abroad represented 25 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product in 2015 — one of the highest percentages of any nation, according to data compiled by the World Bank.
In a statement, Kelly said the Haitian government wanted to have their citizens return home from the U.S. “in the near future.”
However, Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S., Paul Altidor, said his country made it clear it supported the full, 18-month extension permitted under U.S. law.
“The near future doesn’t mean six months,” Altidor said. “We were quite specific and quite clear that a minimum of 18 months was needed to get things going.”
“We did that in writing, we did that in person,” he said. “We had a lengthy discussion about it.” The ambassador added that “it was a necessity for Haiti.”
He said that he hopes a six-month extension will afford time to broker longer-term relief and give Haitian and U.S. officials “sufficient time to come back to the negotiating table.”
Lawmakers who backed the extension welcomed the news, although some expressed concern about another showdown half a year from now.
“Last week, I asked the White House to extend the TPS deadline for Haitians until at least January 18, and I’m glad to see that the administration agreed,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) “I look forward to continuing to work closely with the White House and DHS on this issue.”
“Extending temporary protective status designation for Haiti is a humane and common sense decision, and I am pleased DHS heeded the calls from Congress and the Haitian diaspora across the country not to end this program today,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). “The country has suffered a series of calamities of historic proportions that it has yet to recover from, and it cannot handle the return of the roughly 50,000 Haitian nationals who would be sent back to the island if this vital program was canceled.”
The decision to allow the Haitians to remain in the U.S. for another six months and to keep live the possibility of a further extension are fresh examples of Trump softening his tough campaign rhetoric on immigration.
While Trump promised to immediately end President Barack Obama’s accommodation for so-called Dreamers after taking office, the new president has not done so and is continuing to renew their “deferred action” status and work permits. About 650,000 individuals who entered the U.S. illegally as children are currently enrolled in that program.
Trump also signed a government funding bill last month that does not provide money for the wall he promised to construct along the border with Mexico.
Some immigration hawks expressed disappointment at the Trump administration’s decision to continue the special status for Haitians.
“The administration could have done the right thing, but given their track record over the last several months, it doesn’t surprise me. They just didn’t,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. “This is is just like DACA. They’re dealing with the TPS issue the way they dealt with DACA, which is to continue the old policy.”
It’s unclear precisely what the move to extend the protection for Haitians means for other beneficiaries of the TPS program, including about 200,000 citizens of El Salvador and 50,000 citizens of Honduras. The protection for El Salvador dates back to the civil war there in the early 1990s and was extended due to earthquakes in 2001. Hondurans and Nicaraguans in the U.S. were allowed to stay following damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Critics have said that while the original designations for those countries were legitimate, the extensions have become more and more factually tenuous, now claiming that countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have not recovered from natural disasters nearly two decades ago. Some allege that the extensions are often the product of political pressure and not the facts on the ground.
“They call something temporary and then renew it forever,” Krikorian complained. “Immigration law is larded up with these kinds of things, but the ‘T’ in TPS put one more element in this dishonesty.”
DHS officials said Monday that Kelly believes that some of the past renewals were unwarranted, but they did not give specifics.
“Sec. Kelly is taking a look at the TPS program with a fresh set of eyes,” said one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Many times it was easier for one to kick the can down the road on one of these extensions or designations than it is to make the hard decisions that Congress has asked us to do.”
Krikorian said he supports changing the law so that executive branch officials could make initial designations of a disaster warranting TPS status, but renewals of that status would require approval from Congress.
“What, in 6 months Haiti is going to be better off?” he asked. “It seems just a way to kick the can down the road and does point to a need to change the law.”
There are currently 10 countries recognized for TPS status: Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The designation the Obama administration granted to three countries hard hit by the Ebola virus—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—expired last week. Obama administration officials announced last September that the Ebola-related designations would expire this month, due to the end of the outbreak. The total number of people covered by those TPS grants was just a few thousand, limiting the political fallout of the expiration.
The Trump administration will face more such decisions in the coming months, with the TPS status for Sudan and South Sudan set to expire in November and the most politically-sensitive El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua designations set to run out early next year.
Read more: www.politico.com/story/2017/05/22/trump-legal-protection-haitians-238677