The Trump administration’s mind is made up. It plans to end Temporary Protective Status for about 59,000 Haitians living in the U.S. It says these immigrants must leave the United States by July 2019 or face deportation.
The deadline is 18 months longer than what the administration had proposed earlier this year. And it’s going to take that long, or longer, to prepare Haiti for the return of so many people, to prepare our region for their departure and to prepare families for the heartbreaking choices ahead.
These Haitians had the good fortune to be in the United States when a massive earthquake struck their impoverished island nation in 2010. In a humanitarian gesture, the Department of Homeland Security invited them to apply for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, in the department’s jargon. The program was invented to help people in precisely this set of circumstances, 18 months at a time.
Their 18-month reprieve has been extended several times over the past seven years, each time because conditions on the island had barely improved. Such is the case today. The earthquake woes have been compounded by the wind and rain of Hurricane Matthew. And all has been capped off by a cholera epidemic.
But support for extensions wore thin under the Trump administration. And Monday evening, an unsympathetic White House announced the ax is going to fall.
Haiti is ill-equipped to handle the return of 50,000 countrymen looking for work, places to live, food and all the basics of life. And the loss of money earned in the U.S. and sent home to help struggling relatives is going to compound the problem.
The entire South Florida congressional delegation had supported extending their protected status, but lawmakers elsewhere showed little concern for poor people forced to return to terrible conditions. So lacking congressional cover, the White House now expects everyone to pick up and leave or be rounded up and deported.
We fully understand the position of those who argue that repeated extension of the waiver has become a de facto grant of permanent status. For it is true, the TPS Haitians have become deeply rooted in our country.
Plus, they’ve had children who are American citizens who can’t be deported.
Now these parents face a “Sophie’s Choice” dilemma. Do they leave the children behind in the care of who knows who, or take them back to Haiti to live as strangers in a country they barely know?
As we have noted before, the TPS program is another piece in a complicated immigration puzzle that Congress refuses to solve.
Some kind of temporary protection status is needed to keep people from being forced back to countries in chaos. But we also need a mechanism to reduce the possibility of extended stays that morph into permanency.
Fixing the TPS program is but one step in the multi-step immigration reform process that should begin soon.
The Trump White House leans toward a more-restrictive policy that would move away from one that now favors family reunion. Advocates of a more open-door policy argue that, on balance, the U.S. fares better when immigration policy is more welcoming. Immigration is good for the economy, they argue.
Thrashing out the differences between those two approaches is essential. We can ignore the 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants for only so long. We must deal with the Dreamers — undocumented children brought here as youngsters — before they become embittered. But it’s an election year, so as always, expect nothing to happen.
In the end, rather than address the consequences of inaction — families who’ve become Americanized while escaping disaster and disease back home — President Trump wants to round them up and send them back to join the misery.
This editorial appeared in the Sun Sentinel of Fort Launderdale on Nov. 20.