Just before Thanksgiving, the Trump administration announced plans to force 59,000 Haitians back to their devastated country. It’s hard to interpret the timing as anything but deliberate: The administration chose a holiday when America honors its original refugees to tell Haitians to get lost.
Haitians affected by the order live and work in the United States under a special humanitarian program known as temporary protected status . Approximately 440,000 foreign nationals from about a dozen countries live and work in the United States under the program, including 260,000 from El Salvador and 86,000 from Honduras, according to US officials. Combined, Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras account for more than 90 percent of all beneficiaries.
The administration has already canceled protection for citizens of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Nicaragua. Now Haitians in the program must leave the country within 18 months, or face deportation.
It’s true that the protection has “temporary” in its name and was never intended as permanent. But Haiti is still struggling. And even if the humanitarian crisis there doesn’t move the president, pragmatic concerns should. In its zeal to pander to the president’s anti-immigrant base, the administration is making short-sighted decisions that could end up harming American interests.
Haiti still suffers from prolonged humanitarian disaster. The 2010 earthquake that devastated the island, killing 300,000 Haitians and displacing 1 million more, was the original trigger for welcoming citizens of the island into the United States, but its misfortunes have continued. A powerful cholera outbreak brought by UN personnel exacerbated an ongoing health crisis. Hurricane Matthew hit the country last year, destroying about 90 percent of the southwest part of the island, wiping out crops, and severely crippling the water and sanitation infrastructure.
Today, more than 50,000 Haitians live in camps under unstable conditions. Unemployment is at around 40 percent. One of the most powerful forces driving the Haitian economy is actually the amount of remittances coming from the diaspora. Sending Haitians working in the United States back would interrupt some of those remittances, exacerbating the country’s problems.
The Trump administration is also expected to make a decision soon on ending protections for citizens of El Salvador and Honduras, two violence-racked Central American countries. Again, both humanitarian arguments and America’s own interests argue for letting those refugees stay here. The United States has given aid to those countries to deter more waves of migration. Sending back thousands of Salvadorans and Hondurans would put their lives at risk and potentially set back American efforts to stabilize those countries.
The reality is that these countries cannot absorb so many people, and it’s not in the interest of the United States to force them to try. Congress should create a pathway for beneficiaries of the protections — those who have worked, paid taxes, and raised families here — that enables them to stay permanently. Sending them back to their unstable homelands is not just cruel, but short-sighted. Surely, the country of the Pilgrims can find a way to keep welcoming these refugees.