The Biden administration on Saturday announced it will extend deportation protections and work permits for 54,000 Haitian immigrants living in the U.S. with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and allow tens of thousands of other eligible Haitians to request relief.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he will extend the TPS designation for Haiti by 18 months, allowing current recipients to renew their protections, which the Trump administration sought to end. Mayorkas also opened the program to new applicants, allowing eligible Haitian immigrants to apply for TPS as along as they had arrived in the U.S. by Friday, May 21.
"Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," Mayorkas said. "After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home."
Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said the Biden administration's decision to expand eligibility for the Haiti TPS program could benefit approximately 150,000 Haitian immigrants, including 100,000 potential new applicants.
"As Haiti passes through an acute political and security crisis and faces enduring humanitarian challenges, this decision provides urgently needed protections for eligible Haitians in the United States," Menendez said in a statement. "The last thing our country should be doing is forcing an entire community in the U.S. to decide between packing up their lives and tearing their families apart by self-deporting, or becoming undocumented and forced into the shadows of our society."
U.S. law allows DHS secretaries to grant TPS — a provisional humanitarian immigration protection — to immigrants whose home countries are plagued by armed conflict, recovering from natural disasters, dealing with an epidemic or that are otherwise unable to guarantee the safe return of their citizens.
The Obama administration first designated Haiti for TPS in 2010 following the deadly earthquake that battered the Caribbean nation that year. The designation was extended several times until 2018, when the Trump administration said it would wind down the deportation relief program.
The program was set to end this fall unless the Biden administration reversed the Trump-era termination efforts.
Saturday's announcement comes after months of pressure from immigrant advocates, who argued the ongoing political turmoil and high levels of insecurity and crime in Haiti endangered immigrants the U.S. was deporting there.
In his announcement, Mayorkas said he made his decision after deliberating with other agencies about the "temporary and extraordinary conditions" in Haiti, including "a political crisis and human rights abuses; serious security concerns; and the COVID-19 pandemic's exacerbation of a dire economic situation and lack of access to food, water, and healthcare."
The new TPS designation, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News, will not benefit Haitians who travel to the U.S. after the announcement.
The Biden administration has also extended TPS protections to some Syrian and Burmese immigrants in the U.S.; though it has yet to say whether it will reverse the Trump administration's move to end TPS protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua, Nepal and Honduras.