Immigrants rights’ advocates and Haitian nationals Sunday praised the Biden administration’s extension of protected status for immigrants from that country and expressed hope it signaled progress in extending permanent residency for many forced to flee their home countries.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Saturday announced a new 18-month designation that extended temporary protected status to Haitians living in the United States as of Friday.
The program, which was created in a 1990 law, allows people who fled countries because of natural disasters and wars to come to the United States to live and work. In 2010, the Obama administration granted that protected status specifically to Haitians who arrived here following a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
Saturday’s extension of those protections was due to continuing problems in Haiti, according to Mayorkas.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas said in the statement.
For Tricia, who fled Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and has been living in Massachusetts under temporary protected status, the decision offers a measure of peace for many who fear being ordered out of the United States. She agreed to speak if the Globe only used her first name.
“This extension means I currently don’t have to worry about deportation,” she said in a phone interview.
For her and her family, she said, it “just alleviates the anxiety on our daily lives, that we don’t know what tomorrow holds.”
Kenny Azi of Brockton, who also immigrated from Haiti following the earthquake and holds protected status, said he is grateful that the administration extended those measures.
“It opens the door for more people to integrate into this country,” Azi said in a phone interview.
The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which lauded the extension Sunday, said temporary protected status gives more than 100,000 Haitian nationals in the United States a stronger chance to remain here.
“MIRA hopes that the administration will follow up on this action by moving forward to forge a pathway to citizenship for Haitian and indeed all immigrants regardless of document status,” the group said in a statement.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director for Lawyers for Civil Rights, called the TPS designation for Haiti “long overdue.”
“The Biden/Harris Administration is rightfully restoring these fundamental humanitarian protections, especially for Haitians. We applaud this important corrective action,” he said in an e-mail.
The decision appeared to be a partial reversal of a Trump administration effort to order about 400,000 immigrants to leave the country, or face deportation.
The United States extended the protected status several times for Haitian immigrants following the 2010 earthquake, but President Trump tried to end those efforts in 2019. The program remained in place, however, after Trump’s moves to end the program faced several court challenges, according to Mayorkas’s statement.
Biden has come under fire from advocates and fellow Democrats earlier this year, including US Representative Ayanna Pressley, after his administration expelled hundreds of immigrants. The Washington Post in February reported that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement used deportation flights to expel about 900 Haitians, including children, in the span of two weeks.
The Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, president and executive director of True Alliance Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping members of the Haitian community in Massachusetts, said he hoped to see Congress pass legislation that would give people with protected status permanent residency in the United States.
“We are so grateful, but the fight still continues, not only for Haitians, but for all TPS holders who would love to see something like this happen for them,” Fleurissaint said Sunday.
He called the decision “a big, big, relief for us as advocates, as leaders, for the well-being of the Haitian community.”
The extension of protections to Haitian immigrants could mean progress for people fleeing humanitarian crises in other countries, said José Palma, a co-founder of the Massachusetts TPS Committee.
Palma, an immigrant from El Salvador who has lived in the United States for more than 20 years and currently holds a temporary protected status, said he hopes similar extensions are made to other immigrants.
But, more than that, he said, people need a permanent resolution.
“It’s a really good step because being at risk for deportation every day to know you are protected for at least 18 months, it is relief, but for sure, it is not enough,” Palma said of the extension.
Palma said he was glad to hear the news for Haitian immigrants.
“I am so happy that thousands of Haitians are going to go to bed [and] kiss their kids without being afraid of being deported,” he said.
Azi, who owns his own marketing company, Kreateurs Agency, said he had started making contingency plans in case he had to return to Haiti.
In separate interviews, both he and Tricia said Congress must pass legislation providing for permanent residency for those holding temporary status.
“It’s still a temporary gateway,” Azi said of the extension.
Tricia, now 28 and the mother of a 2-year-old son, came to the United States one week after the 2010 earthquake as a 17-year-old with her mother and sister and brother, all of whom now reside in Massachusetts.
She and her family haven’t lived in Haiti for years and her child knows nothing about the country, she said.
She said she would wake up every morning afraid to go out, due to concerns about being kidnapped or killed. Before the earthquake, her father survived being shot, she said. And she witnessed a kidnapping near her doorstep.
“If I were forced back to Haiti at this point, I feel that it would be very difficult to re-adjust to the society I left a long time ago,” she said. “It’s just all of these traumas that I feel like I will have to re-live,” she said.
Since her arrival, Tricia has built her life in the United States, she said. She finished high school, earned an associates degree, and now has a job in quality assurance in the biopharmaceutical industry. She is working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Southern New Hampshire University.
“With my experience, I’ve been able to achieve a lot,” she said. “I look forward to what I can do next.”
Material from the New York Times was used in this report.