Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday extended immigration protections for Haitians in the United States, granting work permits and deferral from deportation to those who were in the country as of Nov. 6.
The extension and redesignation of temporary protected status (TPS) comes after immigration advocates, the Haitian diaspora and Democrats had called on the Biden administration to amplify protections for nationals of the beleaguered country.
“We are providing much-needed humanitarian relief to Haitian nationals already present in the United States,” said Mayorkas in a statement.
“The conditions in Haiti, including socioeconomic challenges, political instability, and gang violence and crime — aggravated by environmental disaster — compelled the humanitarian relief we are providing today,” he added.
The move was largely received as good news among Haiti advocates, who worried that repatriations to the Caribbean country would further aggravate conditions there.
“This decision will save lives and is the type of compassionate response this moment demands,” tweeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), one of the Democrats leading the push asking for the TPS extension and redesignation.
“Thank you @POTUS and @SecMayorkas for heeding our calls to extend & re-designate #TPSforHaiti and to the grassroots movement that made this possible,” she added.
While the move is certain to spell relief for tens of thousands in the United States, worsening conditions in Haiti mean the Biden administration still faces a difficult foreign policy task.
“It’s welcome news and it’s the right call both legally and morally, as a nation that is committed not to deport people to conditions of tremendous danger, that’s what TPS is all about,” said Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
But Forester warned conditions on the ground in Haiti would only worsen without a change in U.S. policy.
“The reason things have deteriorated so badly in Haiti is a result of the fact that unfortunately our policy has been to prop up a corrupt, illegitimate regime there that has caused conditions to get incredibly bad and dysfunctional and hellish,” he added.
TPS policy is by statute set by the Department of Homeland Security, which can decide to end, extend or redesignate TPS calls.
Mayorkas’s decision to both extend and redesignate means that Haitians in the United States who already had TPS protections will now be protected through Aug. 3, 2024, and Haitians who arrived too late to get those protections will be eligible to apply.
The Biden administration had previously redesignated Haiti for TPS in 2021, substantially increasing the number of protected Haitians, but that announcement came before nearly 15,000 Haitian nationals crossed the Rio Grande in Del Rio, Texas, setting off a wave of repatriations to Haiti.
The Biden administration’s more than 25,000 expulsions and deportations of Haitians over the next year angered immigration advocates and allies on Capitol Hill, amplifying calls for action on TPS.
Many pro-Haiti advocates are also calling on the State Department to withdraw support for acting President and Prime Minister Ariel Henry, whom many accuse of colluding with criminal gangs — and of involvement in his predecessor’s assassination.
“The all-important next step is for State to recognize that its policy vis-a-vis Haiti of blocking democratic forces of civil society and propping up this illegitimate regime is a failure,” Forester said.
Dan Foote, who resigned as Biden’s special envoy to Haiti in protest over repatriations to the country, said the current conditions were predictable.
“The Biden administration was told, in writing, exactly how things would play out under their illegitimate, de facto PM, Henry. They’ve botched things, and made Haitian life so much worse for her people in the last 12 months, that ethically, they should grant TPS for all Haitians,” said Foote.