Will Obama say yes?
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff dispatched a letter to President René Préval of Haiti telling him that after carefully considering his request for the granting of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians living under the color of law in the United States, he would deny it. Chertoff signed the letter on December 19, but the letter was not sent to Haiti until 11 days later on December 30, according to reliable sources.
In his response, Chertoff (acting on behalf of the President of the United States), stated that:
Following the recent storms, DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initiated the process of evaluating country conditions in Haiti to prepare its recommendation regarding whether Haiti should be designated for TPS. DHS also consulted with other U.S. Government agencies, including the U.S. Department of State (DOS), which prepared its own recommendation for my consideration. I have evaluated the DOS and USCIS recommendations and all other relevant information on whether Haiti warrants a TPS designation. After very careful consideration, I have concluded that Haiti does not currently warrant a TPS designation.
Yet he fails to indicate the factors that led to this decision. In the last 12 months, Haiti weathered a significant economic and political crisis that led to the downfall of one government and the establishment of another after several months of painstaking negotiations between the Executive and the parliament. Food riots and the global economic collapse continued to exacerbate tension in Haiti itself. Last September, almost as soon as new Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis was sworn into office, tropical storms and hurricanes hit Haiti in quick succession, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the infrastructure and hampering its ability to undertake anything but minimal survival programs. Overall, Haiti faced Armageddon and has yet to recover. Signs point to growing impatience with its leaders and the pace of progress, possibly signaling a new round of political instability that could be more severe than in the recent past. The government seems more rudderless today than over a year ago. Meanwhile, Haitians have become more dependent on the remittances sent from their relatives and peers from the US and other wealthy countries hosting relatively large Haitian immigrant populations. The subsidies, small investments and cash remittances provided by Haitian immigrants – estimated at no less than US$1 billion — help keep the Haitian economy from completely sinking into the Caribbean sea.
The decision to not grant TPS to Haitian immigrants who contribute their share of remittances to the Haitian economy is nonsensical when one takes stock of the countries designated as TPS beneficiaries. According to the US Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) they are: Burundi, El Salvador, Somalia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Sudan. A modified version of TPS, called Deferred Enforcement Departure Status (DED) has been granted to Liberia. We note that the Central American Countries (El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) were granted TPS following major earthquakes in… 1992. Yes, that’s right… they have enjoyed TPS, which is granted for a period of no more than 18 months, since that time, in other words over the last 16 years!
What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?
TPS is a temporary immigration status granted to eligible nationals of designated countries (or parts thereof). In 1990, as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 (“IMMACT”), P.L. 101-649, Congress established a procedure by which the Attorney General may provide TPS to aliens in the United States who are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country because of ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. (our emphasis) On March 1, 2003, pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296, authority to designate a country (or part thereof) for TPS, and to extend and terminate TPS designations, was transferred from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Homeland Security. At the same time, responsibility for administering the TPS program was transferred from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (Service) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
During the period for which a country has been designated for TPS, TPS beneficiaries may remain in the United States and may obtain work authorization. However, TPS does not lead to permanent resident status. When the Secretary terminates a TPS designation, beneficiaries revert to the same immigration status they maintained before TPS (unless that status had since expired or been terminated) or to any other status they may have acquired while registered for TPS. Accordingly, if an alien had unlawful status prior to receiving TPS and did not obtain any status during the TPS designation, the alien reverts to unlawful status upon the termination of that TPS designation.
This is the official definition of TPS as posted on the USCIS website. So what distinguishes Haiti from let’s say Nicaragua, Honduras or El Salvador:
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country’s widespread deforestation.
Nicaragua has widespread underemployment, one of the highest degrees of income inequality in the world, and the third lowest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere. While the country has progressed toward macroeconomic stability in the past few years, annual GDP growth has been far too low to meet the country’s needs, forcing the country to rely on international economic assistance to meet fiscal and debt financing obligations.
Honduras, the second poorest country in Central America and one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with an extraordinarily unequal distribution of income and massive unemployment, is banking on expanded trade under the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and on debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Despite improvements in tax collections, the government’s fiscal deficit is growing due to increases in current expenditures and financial losses from the state energy and telephone companies.
The smallest country in Central America, El Salvador has the third largest economy, but growth has been modest in recent years. Robust growth in non-traditional exports have offset declines in the maquila exports, while remittances and external aid offset the trade deficit from high oil prices and strong import demand for consumer and intermediate goods.
These descriptions of the respective countries’ economy are all lifted verbatim from the Central Intelligence Agency website. It would seem from these narratives that Haiti stands below all of them financially, in addition to suffering more political instability in shorter periods of time. So what is it about TPS that Chertoff does not understand?
In an editorial published on January 7, the Miami Herald hit the nail right on the head when it said:
The point is to discourage Haitians from leaving the island by not offering any help to undocumented Haitians who already are here. However, this is a rationale that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Haitians send nearly $1 billion in remittances back to Haiti, which accounts for almost a third of Haiti’s annual GDP. A policy of aggressive repatriation makes matters worse in Haiti, increasing — not decreasing — the likelihood of mass departures.
Yet there’s another point to be made, and that is a lesson for Haitian immigrants themselves to take away: don’t expect others to take up your cause or lead the fight on your behalf. The immigration landscape has changed significantly since civil rights, religious and human rights organizations fought aggressively against policies barring Haitian refugees from accessing the US asylum system. TPS for Haitians is but a small slice of the larger immigration debate that is focused mainly on management of future immigration flows while dealing with current undocumented population that is estimated at about 12 million, mostly Latino immigrants.
What Chertoff gets is the politics behind TPS. He understands that the 20,000 Haitian immigrants who could benefit from TPS are a relatively small matter, in particular because despite the sometime rumblings of Congressional leaders from Florida, the issue has not really been taken up by constituencies elsewhere. The reality is that there’s no steadfast advocacy or lobbying on behalf of Haitian immigrants.
Yet opportunities for a change in policy abound. There are several officials in DHS who see the policy vis-a-vis Haitians as an abominable policy that deserves to be relegated to the trash bins of history. Many in the incoming Obama Administration are very familiar with Haitians’ demands for TPS and in their respective fields have advocated it with Clinton and Bush Administration officials. President Obama could very well reverse this Bush Administration policy, wave the concerns that will inevitably be raised by an entrenched bureaucracy and grant TPS to Haitians from the get-go. But that’s a wish that may simply remain a dream deferred unless Haitian immigrants launch an aggressive effort to make themselves heard above the fray. The facts are on their side. The advocacy is sorely lacking.
Will President Obama grant TPS to Haitians? It’s all up to Haitian immigrants.