Metro

Advocates decry decision to end temporary status for Haitian immigrants

Congregants prayed during services at Boston’s First Christian Church Source of Grace, a church frequented by the Haitian community, last month.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Congregants prayed during services at Boston’s First Christian Church Source of Grace, a church frequented by the Haitian community.

Advocates for immigrants decried the Trump administration’s decision Monday to end temporary protections for about 60,000 Haitians living in the US, saying their native country has not sufficiently recovered from a devastating earthquake in 2010.

“We strongly object to any suggestion that conditions in Haiti no longer warrant TPS,” said Eva A. Millona, who directs the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “Indeed, the fact that this administration has now terminated TPS for three countries within three months – Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti – makes it clear that decisions are being made not based on the facts, but on the administration’s desire to push immigrants out of this country.”

TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status, which allows immigrants to live and work here legally. About 4,700 Haitians are living in Massachusetts under that designation, advocates say.

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The Department of Homeland Security, which announced the decision to end the status in July 2019, said the “extraordinary but temporary conditions caused by the 2010 earthquake no longer exist.”

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“Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent,” Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said in a statement. “Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.”

The status will remain in place for 18 months to “allow for an orderly transition,” she said.

“This will provide time for individuals with TPS to arrange for their departure or to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible,” she said.

But the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said the decision marked “yet another example of the Trump administration politicizing a humanitarian program in an effort to appease its anti-immigrant base and breaking our country’s long-standing commitment to people who have built lives, grown families, and lived in the US for years.”

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“We call on Congress to step in immediately and find a legislative solution for all TPS holders,” the group said. “There is bipartisan support for a humane solution for Haitians with TPS, that would extend them a path to citizenship.”

Millona urged Congress to “step up to the plate” and find a legislative solution that would provide immigrants a path to permanent residency.

“This isn’t the end of the story,” she said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey denounced the decision as “a tragedy for thousands of families in Massachusetts.”

“This designation has enabled them to fully integrate into our communities, contribute to our economy, and support Haiti’s ongoing efforts to rebuild and recover,” she said.

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Holden Pierre, 24, a Haitian native who lives in Milton, called the government’s decision to extend protections for 18 months “a victory” because it will give immigrants time to lobby for a reprieve.

“We’re all in the same battle,” Pierre said. “This is a good start, we just have to keep organizing and rallying so we can continue to move forward.”

“I’m looking forward to a bigger victory in 18 months,” he said.

Yet Pierre acknowledged that many Haitians may well be deported to a country they haven’t lived in for years.

“I love Haiti,” he said. “But I do not know Haiti.”

Before the administration’s decision, protected status for Haitian immigrants was slated to expire in January. Pierre said he was thankful for the temporary extension, especially during the week of Thanksgiving. But he vowed to fight for the chance to stay here permanently.

“We need to dig deep within ourselves and challenge [the government] to solve immigration,” Pierre said.

Aimee Ortiz can be reached at aimee.ortiz@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @aimee_ortiz.