Nearly 60,000 Haitian immigrants living and working in the United States are living with uncertainty once again after the federal government granted them 18 months to leave the country by ending their Temporary Protected Status.
This immigration program that was enacted in the 1990s to protect nationals from countries affected by natural disaster or civil wars was granted to Haitians in the wake of the earthquake that devastated their country in 2010.
However, the Department of Homeland Security announced that this benefit will expire on July 22, 2019, considering that living conditions have improved significantly in Haiti so is is time for the to return to home or apply for an alternative immigration status.
But Haitians and human rights activists in San Diego disagree with that observation and believe that this decision is based on politics and not facts.
“Many natural disasters have happened in Haiti, so people try to rebuild, so that could take a long time,” said Jean Elise Durandisse, minister of the United Methodist Church of Christ.
If Haitians are forced to leave the U.S., they most likely seek to settle in another country, because for many of them, Haiti is still in precarious conditions.
“If they return to Haiti it is because they have no other option, people will try to find another place for themselves and their families,” he said.
The decision of the U.S. government also puts the Haitian economy in check, since much of the reconstruction efforts depend on the remittances that come from abroad.
Hope now falls on Congress to intervene to protect the temporary status of the nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the country, half of which have American children.
“(Haitians) who live here pay taxes, work, take care of themselves, have children here, so at least the government could sit down and think about what can be done so that both parties win,” he said.
Although it is estimated that around 100 Haitians reside in San Diego, last year this region of the border was the gateway for thousands who arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry requesting entry into the U.S.
Once they were granted a stay, most of them moved to other parts of the country, such as Florida, where an estimated 32,000 Haitians live.
For Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Comittee, this decision by the federal administration goes against the spirit of the Country.
“Even the Statue of Liberty says to open the doors to all people who are seeking refuge and unfortunately, these policies say the opposite,” Rios said.
The decision comes weeks after the Department of Homeland Security announced the elimination of the Temporary Protected Status for 2,500 Nicaraguans and delayed a determination on 57,000 Hondurans residing in the country under the same program.