The U.S. Must Redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

With deteriorating conditions in Haiti, the Biden Administration should redesignate TPS for the country and work to create additional safe and legal pathways for people to come to the U.S.
“Haiti is grappling with a deteriorating political crisis, violence, and a staggering increase in human rights abuses.”
- Federal Register Notice for the Designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status on August 3, 2021

The situation in Haiti is increasingly dire, with violence, instability, and famine forcibly displacing thousands from their homes. Redesignating and extending Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is critical to providing safety and stability for vital members of American communities. Just as importantly, creating a new system with additional safe and legal pathways for Haitian people to come to the U.S. would save countless lives and prevent further chaos and cruelty at our borders and beyond. The current TPS designation for Haiti expires on February 3, 2023. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security must decide if conditions in the country warrant an extension and redesignation by December 5, 2022.

In May 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a new designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti, citing “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses,” as well as other conditions that prevented the safe return of Haitian nationals. Since that time, the situation in Haiti has deteriorated so much that the country is now in the middle of multiple humanitarian crises, including catastrophic levels of hunger, a resurgent cholera epidemic, and the consequences of a blockade of the country’s capital city by increasingly powerful armed groups. That blockade, which cut off access to fuel, clean water, and food for most of the country, forced hospitals and schools to shut down, and has ground the economy to a halt.

These worsening and compounding crises make it impossible to safely return Haitian nationals in the United States to Haiti, even if those individuals lack an immigration status. Haitians who are deported face deadly violence and insecurity. For example, in October, a man deported to Haiti died from cholera inside a prison after being detained immediately upon his return to the country. Failing to provide Haitian nationals in the United States with protections, beginning with TPS and including additional safe and legal pathways, would have devastating human consequences, effectively sending more people to their deaths.

“People are being killed by firearms, they are dying because they do not have access to safe drinking water… The levels of insecurity and the dire humanitarian situation have been devastating…"
- Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on November 3, 2022

Congress created TPS to prevent tragedies just like this, giving the executive branch the power to grant relief from deportation and give work authorization in cases where violence and other crises make returning to a country unsafe. Given the multiple crises in Haiti since its new TPS designation in 2021, the Biden Administration should use its statutory authority to immediately extend and redesignate Haiti for TPS, as well as create more safe and legal pathways for people to come to the U.S.

Doing so would provide clear benefits to American communities. Haitians who are living in the U.S. and are currently eligible for TPS contribute $2.6 billion to our economy each year, and 81% of them are in the labor force, providing essential services at a time of worker shortages and high inflation. They have lived here for 15 years, on average, and have built families that include almost 200,000 U.S. citizens. Continuing to provide TPS protections for Haitian nationals would ensure that families remain together and are able to continue building meaningful lives in American society. Moreover, redesignating Haiti for TPS would allow more Haitians in the U.S. to enroll in the program and contribute their skills and talents to American communities and the American workforce.

“Haiti is facing a humanitarian catastrophe. The severity and the extent of food insecurity in Haiti is getting worse.”
- Jean-Martin Bauer, UN World Food Program Haiti Country Director

Widespread Violence and Human Rights Abuses

The serious security concerns cited in the 2021 designation of Haiti for TPS have escalated dramatically. The “growing challenge to state authority” from armed groups described in that designation is now a fully realized threat. UN reports estimate that 60% of Haiti’s capital is now under the control of armed groups, and in late October the UN Security Council unanimously passed its first sanctions resolution since 2017, targeting these groups leaders in the country and their financial backers.

A year and a half after its latest TPS designation, Haiti is on the verge of economic and political collapse, as government institutions crumble and public services are virtually nonexistent. Amid this chaos, human rights abuse is now widespread: sexual violence is routinely used as a weapon by armed groups, acting with almost complete impunity.

In addition to the sheer levels of violence by militant groups (with hundreds dying as a result in the span of a week), the blockade of fuel and other goods by armed groups which lasted over 2 months, has severely exacerbated the country’s humanitarian catastrophes. As a result, food and water are in short supply, and hospitals, factories, and businesses have shut down, leaving many without basic necessities or access to work. In mid-October, the UN World Food Program determined that 4.7 million people, almost half of the entire country, are facing acute hunger, while close to 20,000 more are experiencing “catastrophic” levels of hunger or famine.

“All these ingredients have turned Haiti into a time bomb for cholera. Now it has exploded.”
- Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti

Cholera and the Health Emergency

At the beginning of October, the first identified cases of cholera pointed to a potential resurgence of the disease, which had not been present in Haiti for several years. Only a few weeks later, 1,700 cases were reported, and as of November 5th, Haiti’s Health Ministry had reported more than 5,800 suspected cases, with 20% of those affected being children under five. These figures are likely much higher due to underreporting and lack of access to medical care for Haitian people.

UNICEF has officially declared a cholera epidemic in Port-au-Prince, and prospects for a swift end to the crisis are grim. Half of all hospitals have closed their emergency services, and three-quarters are unable to provide regular care to patients.

Political and Economic Collapse

Since early 2020, Haiti’s government has been plagued by political instability, sparked by the assassination of President Jovenal Moïse in 2021 and the subsequent breakdown of the democratic process and government institutions. Mass protests against Moïse’s interim successor, Ariel Henry, have increased in recent weeks, often turning violent.

On top of this political instability, the continued effects of COVID-19 and the 7.2 earthquake that hit Haiti in 2021 have further strained Haiti’s already weakened economy. Even before the pandemic, Haiti’s economy was shrinking, and inflation has now reached a staggering 30%. Since the September port and fuel blockades, the majority of economic activity in the country has slowed as factories and businesses are forced to close and people cannot access fuel to get to work. This economic instability comes as the government estimates it will cost an additional $2 billion to rebuild the country after the August 2021 earthquake.

With these multiple humanitarian crises facing Haiti, it is imperative that the United States do everything in its power to provide protections for Haitian nationals in the United States. This includes extending the TPS designation for Haitians already protected. However, in light of the new and worsening crises, the Biden Administration must also redesignate Haiti for TPS, so individuals who have arrived since the 2021 designation can also access protections and are not forced to return to a country where their lives are severely at risk.
“Given this very troubling situation, I appeal to all States to stand in solidarity with Haiti and urge them not to return Haitians to a country that is extremely fragile.”
- Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on November 3, 2022

Additional Policies for People from Haiti Seeking Asylum and Refugees: Creating More Safe and Legal Pathways

Last September, the world watched in horror as thousands of Haitian asylum seekers faced racist abuse at the hands of U.S. government officials. The chaos and cruelty that played out in Del Rio, Texas, is a symptom of our badly broken immigration system. This failed framework of deterrence, chaos, and cruelty is often weaponized against the most vulnerable, including Black immigrants and refugees.

In addition to redesignating Haiti for TPS, the Biden Administration can take more steps to protect vulnerable Haitians at our borders and beyond right now. This includes halting deportations to Haiti, allowing access to the asylum system, expanding the use of parole for Haitian asylum seekers, and restarting a robust Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program in a timely manner. At the same time, it is critical that the Biden Administration put an end to harsh offshoring and externalization policies, including Title 42, which interfere with the journey of Haitian and other Black asylum seekers. This includes ending interception policies on land and at sea, and abandoning any reported plans to house Haitian asylum seekers at the Guantánamo Bay military base, and any efforts to deport Haitians to third countries.

But we can and must do more. We must create a modern system for migration in the Western Hemisphere built upon new, working, safe, and legal immigration avenues that comply with the non-refoulement principle and prioritize safe and legal pathways in the U.S. The Biden Administration has the opportunity to provide safety and opportunity to those seeking refuge. And we must also create pathways for people to come to the U.S. to be reunited with their families, to work, and to study. Expanding access to TPS for Haitian nationals is just one step the United States can take to save lives and keep families and communities together. The Biden Administration must follow through on its commitment to building a humane and working immigration system in the U.S., beginning with extending and redesignating Haiti for TPS.

Tell the world; share this article via...