In 2010 a severe earthquake ripped through the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti, killing, by one estimate, 316,000 people, injuring another 300,000 and displacing 1.5 million people, according to CNN, in a country of about 10 million people. Because of the destruction in the country, Haitians visiting or living in Kentucky and the U.S. without documentation were allowed to stay here because their home country couldn’t handle their return.
That permission is continued or ended every six months. Earlier this year that permission was granted for another six months, according to the New York Times. Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly, decided that 58,700 affected Haitians could stay because the country is still unable to take back their citizens. Their status will be looked at again in January, and he warned that Haitians involved should start getting ready for their return to Haiti if the special designation ends, because they could be removed if they don’t have proper documentation.
The Haitians are part of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program which was created by Congress in 1990. The stays of affected non-citizens were intended to be temporary, but some designations have lasted as long as twenty years. Since the earthquake, Haitians have suffered outbreaks of cholera, periods of drought and floods, and last year Hurricane Matthew wiped out crops, livestock, homes and roads on the country’s southwestern coast.
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson represents a part of South Florida, which is home to many Haitians. She is quoted as saying, “The reality is that in six months, Haiti will still be in no position to absorb and aid 58,000 unemployed people.” Haitian ambassador Paul G. Altidor said his government will continue to lobby the federal government to provide Haiti more time to prepare for the immigrants’ return. The Haitian government sought an 18-month extension.
Haitians are the first of ten groups in the program who are in the process of being re-evaluated before their special protections expire. Others include those from South Sudan, Sudan, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. The Times reported that TPS extensions were routinely approved in the past, but that may change under the Trump administration.
The Secretary of Homeland Security can designate a foreign country, or part of a foreign country, for TPS because conditions there prevent citizens from coming back safely or adequately, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The conditions required for the TPS include:
- Ongoing armed conflict (a civil war)
- An environmental disaster (an earthquake or hurricane)
- An epidemic
- Other extraordinary and temporary conditions.
During a designated period, those affected by the TPS or those who are found to be preliminarily eligible for TPS are given certain protections:
- They can’t be deported from the U.S.
- May get an employment authorization document
- May get travel authorization
- Can’t be detained by DHS due to their immigration status.
TPS doesn’t automatically lead to permanent residency or another immigration status. But TPS beneficiaries may seek:
- Nonimmigrant status
- Adjustment of status based on an immigrant petition
- Another immigration benefit or protection.
If you live in Kentucky and have TPS protection and have questions about your status or are interested in becoming a permanent U.S. resident or citizen, contact our office so we can discuss the legal process, the applicable law and how we can help.