International News

Trump Administration Will Deport 24,000 Haitians Living in South Florida by 2019

Courtesy of Marleine Bastien/Fanm Ayisyen
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 24,000 Haitian nationals live between Miami and Palm Beach under temporary protected status (TPS), which is given to immigrants from nations devastated by political turmoil or natural disasters. Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has been struck by both, including the infamous 2010 earthquake that leveled the island, a subsequent cholera outbreak, and Hurricane Matthew last year. Those 24,000 residents have lived here an average of 13 years each and have conceived more than 10,000 American children.

But despite the still-dire conditions on Hispaniola's western half, the Trump administration yesterday announced its final decision on whether to extend TPS for the 60,000 Haitian nationals living under the program for a few more years — and the news isn't good for those in Miami. Yesterday the administration said it is extending TPS one last time, until July 2019, and then afterward, every Haitian living in the United States with TPS status must leave. They have 18 months to pack their bags.

The decision is a major blow to Miami, which contains the largest Haitian diaspora in America. Nearly half the 59,000 Haitian TPS recipients have settled in the Magic City.

"Thousands of Haitian TPS recipients have been living in the U.S. for an average of seven to 25 years," Marleine Bastien, director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, a Miami-based immigration rights group, told New Times last month, as the Department of Homeland Security debated whether to continue allowing TPS. "To deport them and force them to leave behind their U.S.-born children will be a catastrophe of great magnitude."
In May, Homeland Security officials warned that TPS would end in 2018 but said the decision likely wasn't yet final. Federal officials told residents to prepare for an official statement by November 23 — and a massive lobbying and protest movement kicked into high gear in an attempt to help keep the nation's Haitian population from deportation.

In October, Miami-Dade County officials passed a resolution asking the Trump administration to extend the program. The measure noted that Haiti had been walloped by the earthquake, the Zika and Chikungunya viruses, and razed by the Category 4 Matthew. Aside from the natural disasters, Haiti suffers from one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Just two days ago, thousands marched in Haiti's streets to demand President Jovenel Moise step down because of corruption. Earlier this year, an investigation reportedly revealed that millions of dollars in earthquake relief had been stolen under the watch of former President Michel Martelly.

Miami-Dade's government noted Trump himself once promised to help the Haitian people any way he could.

"President Donald Trump recognized the devastation Haiti faced even before the additional damaging effects of Hurricane Matthew, acknowledging the turmoil, pain, and suffering of the Haitian people as a result of the 2010 earthquake and desiring to be their 'greatest champion,'" the commissioners noted, trying in vain to hold Trump to words he probably doesn't even remember speaking.
On November 6, the Trump administration announced it was ending TPS status for Nicaraguan nationals too; 2,400 people would have to leave the country within 14 months. Homeland Security is still debating what to do with the 57,000 Hondurans living here on TPS status, but signs don't look good that they'll receive an extension. Immigration experts warn that massive numbers of people returning to poorly run nations, especially Haiti and Honduras, could set off violence and disaster.

Even the most ardent advocates of TPS, however, are aware the program was never supposed to be a permanent immigration fix. Miami's Haitian community now has no choice but to continue lobbying D.C. to pass a permanent solution. One bill, called the Aspire Act, has already been introduced; it would grant permanent residency to any person who held TPS status as of January 1, 2017. Whether Congress can agree to pass the legislation is anyone's guess.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.