WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration said Monday it will extend until January a humanitarian program that has allowed roughly 58,000 Haitians to live in the United States, but it is hinting that further extensions are unlikely.
Temporary Protected Status was given to Haitians living in the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated parts of that country. Haitians granted the protection can live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Haitian participation in the program has been regularly renewed for 18-month intervals and the latest extension expires in July. The renewal announced Monday is for only six months.
Senior Homeland Security Department officials said that while no final decision about further renewals, they said Haitian immigrants should start getting their affairs in order, including acquiring travel documents. The officials briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity despite President Donald Trump’s insistence that anonymous sources shouldn’t be trusted.
They said while conditions in Haiti have improved dramatically, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wanted more time to examine the situation.
Kelly said in a statement that the decision was based on a “careful review of the current conditions in Haiti and conversations with the Haitian government.”
“Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake in 2010, and I’m proud of the role the United States has played during this time in helping our Haitian friends,” he said.
Advocates for Haitians say conditions have not improved enough for Haitians to return home. Late last year the Obama administration concluded that Haiti was not stable enough to send home Haitian immigrants.
There was no immediate comment from the Haitian government. George Sassine, a Haitian business leader who had lobbied U.S. officials to renew the program, said the six-month extension will give Haitian authorities time to make their concerns more clear.
“We’ll have to use this time to fight,” Sassine said.
Many Haitians nervously anticipated the Trump administration’s decision given the president’s tough stance on immigration, both legal and illegal. Immigration was a top campaign issue and one that’s important to his political base.
Temporary Protected Status is given to citizens of countries devastated by war or natural disasters. A decision to end the program is supposed to be based on the conditions in the home country. But internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press show that as part of the decision-making progress, an official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had asked for criminal statistics and other information about the Haitian immigrants in the program.
The Homeland Security Department denied that criminal information would be a consideration in the decision about Haiti and that Kelly simply wanted more information about program participants.
The Haitian-American community, lawmakers and the Haitian government have urged the Trump administration to leave the protections in place, saying the country is still not ready to take back immigrants who have been living abroad.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Democrat whose district includes Little Haiti in Miami, said Monday the decision was a “blessing for the Haitian community.” She said she is inviting Homeland Security officials to visit Haiti to view conditions.
Marleine Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, said that claims by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials that conditions have improved in Haiti contradict findings made by the same agency in December, when Barack Obama was still president.
“They are trying to play with words, claiming they are extending it for six months,” Bastien said. If it’s only six months, it is clear that their decision is to terminate it, which would be a disaster,” she said.
Adonia Simpson, an attorney at Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice, said TPS has never been renewed for just six months.
“We don’t know what this means. We don’t know if this means a termination notice in the coming months,” Simpson said. “I’m really surprised.”
Omarosa Manigault, an assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, cast the decision as benefiting Haitians. Manigault, a Haitian-American, said she and Trump discussed the program after she visited Haiti as part of a presidential delegation in February.
She said Trump “made a commitment to Haiti and Haitians in the diaspora as well that he was really going to work with them, and for them, and he made a commitment. And this is him making his promise.”
Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Los Angeles, Vivian Salama in Washington, David McFadden in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Jennifer Kay and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.