By Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
Immigration and Haitian community activists Monday lauded the Biden administration for protecting tens of thousands of Haitian migrants from deportation by allowing them to temporarily live and work in the United States, but cautioned that the fight for a permanent immigration solution is not over.
Advocates say their focus now is to get Congress to approve a pathway to citizenship for Haitians and other undocumented migrants living in the United States, and to end expulsions to Haiti under the public health law known as Title 42. The emergency order allows federal officials to immediately expel migrants without allowing them to file for asylum or going through normal immigration processes.
First invoked by former President Donald Trump under the guise that migrants pose a public health threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Title 42 has been used to expel about 400,000 migrants from the United States, including more than 2,000 Haitians since President Joe Biden took office in January, immigration advocate Guerline Jozef said.
“The Biden administration must rescind Title 42 immediately,” said Jozef, whose California-based Haitian Bridge Alliance has been a leading advocate of the push to end Title 42 deportations and to expand the pool of eligible Haitians who can qualify for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.
“While Haiti is on fire, literally in turmoil, we see that people are deported, expelled in the middle of all of the chaos,” she added. “We can no longer allow Title 42 to be used as a trap to return people to Mexico or deport and expel them to countries like Haiti. Right now Haiti is in the middle of not only a second wave of COVID-19 but continued political uprising.”
On Monday, Haiti’s health ministry announced the country was under an eight-day state of health emergency following a surge in COVID-19, which has killed or infected several notable personalities in recent days. Health Minister Marie Greta Roy Clément warned that the order may need to be renewed for a longer period with more drastic measures if there isn’t a drop in cases at the end of the period.
Clément said the ministry has confirmed 15 deaths, 67 hospitalizations and 302 new cases in the last 72 hours. In all, Haiti has registered 14,037 infections and 292 deaths since the virus was first confirmed in the country in March 2020. In recent days, cases have been on the rise following confirmation of two variants. Haiti remains the only country in the region to not have administered a COVID-19 vaccine, and it is not expected to receive any before the end of June or beginning of July.
“The country is on alert,” Clément said during a press conference. “We are very worried.”
On Saturday, citing concerns about COVID-19 as well as Haiti’s deepening political crisis and social unrest, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the administration was granting a new, 18-month designation of TPS to Haiti. The designation allows Haitians already enrolled in the humanitarian relief program to continue to receive protection from deportations and work permits, and allows Haitians in the U.S. as of May 21, 2021, to also enroll if they qualify. Between 100,000 and 154,000 Haitians will potentially benefit from the deportation relief, Jozef said.
Jozef said it is a great disservice to allow the expulsions to continue. While advocates are celebrating the victory on TPS, they are continuing their fight, she said, crediting the TPS decision to “a combination of advocates not giving up and who took the cause as their own and pushing 24-7 to get to the decision.”
“It took a lot of people, a lot of community leaders, Haitians and non-Haitians, to arrive at where we are today,” Jozef said.
In addition to Haitians, more than 300,000 Central Americans, including immigrants from Honduras, have also been living under the threat of deportation and face termination of their TPS status as of Oct 4. Asked Monday about their fate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said TPS recommendations will be up to DHS and the State Department.
“Certainly the president is aware, and certainly aware of the plight of many people across the world, Hondurans and others, who have been impacted by hurricanes, other natural disasters, and other reasons why they certainly would be requesting this status,” she said. “But I don’t have anything to predict for you or preview for you about additional countries being granted status.”
In a press conference Monday, Miami advocate Marleine Bastien also vowed to continue the fight for all TPS beneficiaries. The head of the Family Action Network Movement, Bastien said the TPS designation for Haiti is long overdue and while “overjoyed by President Biden’s decision to respect his promise,” she wants him to reassess Haiti policy and the root causes of Haitian migration.
“Haiti qualified for this designation months ago; I can say years ago,” Bastien said. “We know the conditions that exist right now in Haiti and no one needs to spell it out for us. We know the country for the past few months has descended into hell, where no one, no Haitian citizen … is protected from harm.
She was joined at the press conference by more than a dozen community leaders and local elected officials, who while thanking Biden also thanked her organization for its advocacy on the issue. DHS announced that Mayorkas will travel to Miami on Tuesday to meet with Haitian community leaders.
“People in Haiti are suffering; women and men are being kidnapped; women and girls are being raped,” Bastien said. “Political opponents are being killed, massacres are being conducted and an illegal [constitutional] referendum is being planned and a fake election is being planned.”
Bastien’s words were met with applause from Haitians in the audience, many of them TPS holders and undocumented migrants, who later spoke of the relief the decision has given them — and their fears of returning to Haiti, whose serious security concerns, social unrest, increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty and lack of basic resources were all cited by Mayorkas as reasons for the new designation.
“I am very happy with this decision,” said Beatrice Museau, 42, who arrived in Miami four years ago and has been without documents. “It’s been very difficult for me because I couldn’t work; I didn’t have any papers. I’ve been living in fear that they would send me back to Haiti, where there are huge security concerns. I am very happy that I have more of a guarantee that I can live here now.”
Haiti’s 18-month TPS designation will go into effect on the publication date of the Federal Register notice. Homeland Security warned that anyone who attempts to travel to the U.S. after May 21 will not be eligible and risks being deported.
Catholic Legal Services Immigration attorneys Randy McGrorty and Vanessa Joseph both warned Haitians to be patient until the notice comes out and not fall prey to unscrupulous individuals who can cause them to either lose their benefit or prevent them from qualifying.
“Don’t file anything; look for qualified immigration professionals,” McGrorty said.
Summarizing the meaning behind Saturday’s decision, McGrorty said it was a step in righting the wrongs of “50 years of racially motivated, discriminatory” U.S. immigration policies targeting the Haitian community, which has contributed and continues to contribute to American society.
“The announcement over the weekend was more than just an affirmation of hope, it was literally a lifeline to 100,000 of our neighbors here in South Florida,” he said. “It gives them safety and security and it abolishes the fear of deportation.”