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In wake of president’s assassination, Ayanna Pressley calls for deportation moratorium for Haitians

Representative Ayanna PressleyElise Amendola/AP/file

With tensions mounting in Haiti after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Representative Ayanna Pressley and leaders of the House Haiti Caucus are urging President Biden’s administration to do more to provide immigration relief to Haitian families in the United States.

In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Wednesday, the lawmakers asked federal officials to halt all deportations of Haitian migrants, reinstate a lapsed parole program to reunite Haitian families amid visa-processing backlogs, and to follow through on the Biden administration’s decision to renew a temporary protected status for Haitian immigrants.

Mayorkas first announced the resumption of the so-called TPS program for Haitians in May after Donald Trump announced he would roll back those protections in 2019, setting the stage for mass deportations of those who fled the country after its 2010 earthquake. The program, established under a 1990 law, allows people who must flee their countries because of natural disasters or wars to live and work in the United States for 18-month periods.

But Haiti caucus members said Biden officials have delayed publishing the renewal of the temporary protected status for Haitians in the government’s official journal of regulations, preventing eligible immigrants from applying. The delay comes as conditions in Haiti have deteriorated during a coronavirus pandemic that has devastated the country’s infrastructure and amid ongoing gang violence and civilian kidnappings that have displaced hundreds, the lawmakers said.


“The violence, extreme poverty and political instability that has plagued Haiti over the last several years has resulted in grave trauma to the Haitian people and across the Haitian diaspora,” states the letter signed by Pressley and Representatives Yvette Clarke of New York, Andy Levin of Michigan, and Val Demings of Florida. “The recent assassination of Haitian President Moïse and the resulting political vacuum it has caused has the potential to exacerbate the ongoing violence and turmoil in Haiti.”


Biden has come under scrutiny this year from advocates and fellow Democrats, including Pressley, after his administration expelled hundreds of Haitian immigrants. The issue has been acutely felt in Massachusetts, home to roughly 46,000 Haitians and Haitian Americans — the third-largest Haitian diaspora population in the country.

The Obama administration first granted the protected status to Haitians in 2010 after the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake there. The United States extended the status several times since then, but Trump tried to end those efforts in 2019. It remained in place after Trump’s actions to end the program faced several court challenges. But the delay in the reinstatement process has kept more eligible Haitians from applying.

In a fact sheet highlighting $75.5 million in federal assistance to Haiti earmarked in January, the White House late Tuesday said it expected the renewed designation for Haitians to be published in the federal journal “within the coming days.” Other federal aid efforts to the country include help with COVID-19 vaccine development and election activities, as well as federal funds to increase and train law enforcement officers.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security also will work with Haitian authorities to investigate the attack against Moïse, who was killed last Wednesday in his private residence. At least two of the more than 20 suspects who have been arrested in Haiti for the attack are Americans.

Both the White House and Mayorkas have emphasized that TPS will only serve Haitians already in the the United States since May, explicitly warning Haitians not to flee the country and seek refuge in the United States now. And Mayorkas has said the Biden administration is still determining whether it would reinstate immigration parole programs rolled back under Trump that would allow more Haitians and Cubans to come to the United States to reunite with their families. Biden officials have given no indication as to whether the administration would consider a pause in all deportations of Haitian migrants.


Members of the House Haiti Caucus, which formed in May, said those efforts were not enough. “These necessary actions are rooted in the calls of the Haitian community that we are proud to represent across our Congressional Districts,” their letter states. “As an ally to Haiti and the Haitian people, the United States must immediately advance domestic policy that protects the Haitian diaspora and supports the stabilization of Haitian democracy.”