Caribbean American pols denounce limited TPS for Haitians

Two Caribbean American legislators in Brooklyn have denounced as woefully inadequate the limited extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for undocumented Haitians living in the United States.

New York State Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, and New York City Assemblyman Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, said on Wednesday, May 24 that the Trump administration’s decision this week to extend TPS for six months, rather than 18 months, is an insult to nationals from the French-speaking Caribbean country.

“The extension for Haiti’s TPS designation was needed, but the length of six months is not enough,” said Bichotte, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn.

“It definitely begs the question, ‘why would the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) only extend the designation for six months and not for 18 months, which has been the normal practice?’” asked Bichotte, the first Haitian American from New York City to be elected to New York State Assembly.

She said while the US’ premise is that conditions have improved in Haiti, it is “patently false.”

Bichotte noted that Haiti was struck by Hurricane Matthew last year, “the worst hurricane to hit Haiti in 52 years,” and that the country is still experiencing a cholera epidemic, “which has killed nearly 10,000 people and made another 800,000 very sick.”

“Combined, these two events have also resulted in extreme food insecurity on the island,” she said, adding that the Trump administration “would have us believe that most of the camps that were created for those displaced during the hurricane have been disbanded.

“That is true, however not because people have been provided with adequate housing but because they were forcibly closed due to large scale evictions by landowners,” she pointed out. “Unfortunately, these evictions have mostly gone unchallenged.

“It has even gotten to the point that now several of the larger camps have been reclassified as ‘permanent housing’ simply because the residents had attached so much salvaged building material to their make-shift housing,” Bichotte continued.

Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn, said that the six-month extension, announced by DHS Secretary John F. Kelly on Monday, is unfathomable, stating that it puts the administration’s “ignorance on full display — to believe that Haiti will be significantly better in six months.

“This also shows a continued lack of consideration on viewing immigrants humanely and forcing them to live under a continued cloud,” he added, calling for continued unity and strategy in helping Haiti rebuild after a series of natural disasters, “and focus on how we can create a path to permanent residency for the thousands of Haitians, who now call the US home.

“I stand committed and ready to advocate for and with the Haitian community for the months and years to come,” Williams affirmed.

Kelly said on Monday that the TPS extension is effective July 23, 2017 through Jan. 22, 2018.

But he warned that the six-month extension “should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Prior to the expiration of this limited six-month period, Kelly, however, said he will re-evaluate the designation for Haiti and decide anew whether extension, re-designation, or termination is warranted.

But he maintained that Haitian TPS recipients, who do not have another immigration status, to use the time before Jan. 22, 2018 to “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or to apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”

With a decision looming on TPS for 58,000 undocumented Haitians living in the United States, a number of immigration lawyers in the United States had urged Haitians worried about deportation to start contingency plans.

At a forum in Miami on Friday, organized by the Haitian Lawyers Association and Haitian Women of Miami, at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, lawyers and others said it’s time for TPS holders to begin making contingency plans in the event that John Kelly had decided to end the program in January, according to the Miami Herald.

Bichotte pointed to reports last month that the Trump administration “was trying to characterize Haitians as criminals and people who cheated our welfare system.”

But she said TPS recipients are ineligible for welfare benefits.

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