On the 20th of November 2017, the United States Homeland Security announced the termination of the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) program, giving 18 months for 59,000 Haitians currently living in the US, to gain a form of residency status or face deportation.
WHAT IS TPS?
Introduced by the US in 1990, the TPS program allows individuals from countries experiencing natural disasters, epidemics, political turmoil or conflicts to remain legally in the US until the situation in their country improves. TPS beneficiaries have the right to work, even if they have overstayed their visa or have entered the U.S illegally.
TPS was granted to Haitians under the Obama administration in January 2010, after a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital city Port-au-Prince and its surrounded areas; a catastrophe which was followed by a deadly cholera outbreak.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT?
The termination of TPS is set to dramatically impact the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians, and potentially tear families apart. In fact, it is currently estimated that 27,000 children have been born to Haitian TPS beneficiaries, giving these children US citizenship, while the immigration status of their parents, once TPS ends, remains uncertain.
Many Haitians have spent a large portion of their lives in the US — 13 years on average — some with no experience of life outside the U.S. This means that thousands may be forced to move back to a country they have not returned to in several years, to find little or no job prospects following a series of natural disasters and years of instability. Overall, 6,200 Haitians (nearly a quarter of the TPS households) have taken a mortgage in the US and 81% are employed, and receive an income which is above the poverty line.
While TPS was never a promise of permanent residency or citizenship, the decision is equally a major blow for families in Haiti who rely on the money which they receive from relatives abroad. Last year, it was estimated that 2.358 billion USD was sent to Haiti, with the majority coming from United States.
WHY WAS TPS CANCELLED?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Haiti has made “considerable progress” in its rebuilding efforts and the “extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist”. The United Nations, which closed its Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in October 2017, also seemed to confirm this assessment of the situation on the ground:
“The many setbacks and challenges notwithstanding, including the disaster caused by the January 2010 earthquake and at least six major hurricanes, substantial headway was made, and today the Haitian people enjoy a considerable degree of security and greater stability”
Opponents to the decision to end TPS, argue that Haiti is unable to take back so many people, and will struggle to reintegrate them safely and successfully because Haitians in Haiti already suffer from dire living conditions and low job prospects.
WHAT ARE THE LIVING CONDITIONS LIKE IN HAITI?
A closer look into Haiti’s living conditions shows that the country has not yet recovered from the series of catastrophes which succeeded the 2010 earthquake, with food insecurity, nutrition, health and insecurity being the urgent priorities cited by the UN.
Domestic food production in Haiti is not high enough to support the population. Vulnerable families in the South of Haiti — the area most affected by hurricane Matthew in 2016 — still rely on food support from NGOs. Malnutrition levels are above emergency thresholds in 5 municipalities of the Grand’Anse area (South West) and 2 communes of Haiti’s South. Lastly, over 1.3 million people are projected to severely lack food until February 2018, especially in the South West and North East of Haiti.
Healthcare and the prevention of diseases continue to be major issues. Almost half of Haiti has no basic health structure, and infant mortality has been on the rise in the last 15 years. Over a third of Haiti’s population in rural areas lack adequate sanitation facilities, increasing the risk of spreading deadly waterborne diseases, notably cholera. While the number of cholera cases has decreased nationally, a surge of cholera cases has been recorded in November in the North of Haiti, in the areas affected by Hurricane Irma last September, and by recent heavy rains.
Nicolas Victorin, the mayor of Pignon in Haiti, said there is no doubt that Haitian TPS beneficiaries will come home to dire conditions due to the “lack of housing, inadequate health services and low prospects for employment.”
“Electricity is only for a few hours a day where the structures exist and there is no running water in most of the cities. Imagine the cultural shock that will be for those people who are so used to the lifestyle in the U.S.?” — Nicolas Victorin
18 MONTHS TO PACK…
The official date for TPS to end is 22nd July 2019. There are still some uncertainties regarding the possible legal avenues Haitian TPS beneficiaries can take to adjust their status in the next 18 months. Some potential routes include finding a work sponsorship from a US company, starting college or studies, applying for refugee status (only 10% of Haitian applicants are granted refugee status) or marrying a US citizen.
Somewhat ironically, the US State Department currently recommends that US citizens “carefully consider the risks of traveling to Haiti due to its current security environment and lack of adequate medical facilities”, further stating that the “Haitian authorities’ ability to respond to emergencies is limited, and in some areas nonexistent”.
Despite the assessment made by the Homeland Security on the 20th of November 2017, Haiti’s social and medical infrastructures are not meeting the current needs of its population — a situation shaped both by capacity and political will. In addition, given the island’s geographical location, it may just be a matter of time before Haiti is again tested by a natural hazard.
The potential impact of 59,000 returnees on an already struggling country is hard to gauge. For those who face deportation, and the country that awaits them, it’s difficult to see a truly positive outcome.
In Haiti, iguacu recommends supporting Partners In Health (locally known as Zanmi Lasante) which operates in two of Haiti’s poorest regions, providing critical and lifesaving healthcare to Haitians, and expert training to medical professionals.
Learn more about Haiti and PIH at weareiguacu.org/haiti