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Trump administration ending temporary permits for almost 60,000 Haitians

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, has argued against ending the protected status of Haitians.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, has argued against ending the protected status of Haitians. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/File)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is ending a humanitarian program that has allowed some 59,000 Haitians to live and work in the United States since an earthquake ravaged their country in 2010, officials said Monday.

Haitians with what is known as temporary protected status will be expected to leave the United States by July 2019 or face deportation.

The decision, while not a surprise, prompted dismay among Haitian communities in South Florida, New York, and beyond. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is still struggling to rebuild from the earthquake and relies heavily on money its expatriates send to relatives back home.

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Haitian officials, and a number of Florida lawmakers, had asked that the Haitians be allowed to remain. The decision affects more than 4,300 Haitians living in Massachusetts and parts of New Hampshire.

An administration official said that acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke had determined the ‘‘extraordinary temporary conditions’’ in Haiti that justified the temporary immigration status ‘‘had sufficiently improved.’’

The official, one of several authorized to brief reporters, cited a sharp decrease in the number of internally displaced persons as a result of the earthquake and said that a legitimate Haitian government is now in place. ‘‘The law is relatively explicit, that if the conditions on the ground do not support a TPS designation, then the secretary must terminate,’’ the official said.

Successive administrations have repeatedly renewed the temporary protected status of the Central Americans and Haitians for up to 18 months. Last May, federal officials had extended the temporary status through Jan. 22, 2018.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center condemned the decision to end the Haitians’ protected status, calling it “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 longstanding commitment to people who have built lives, grown families, and lived in the US for years.”

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Holden Pierre, 24, of Milton, who has lived in the United States under the program for 17 years, called Monday’s decision a “victory.” For Pierre, the 18-month delay on the termination of his protected status means that there’s time for Congress to pass legislation that opens a path to permanent residency “not just for Haitians, but for all immigrants.”

“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.”

Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, along with fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, last week unveiled legislation to protect immigrants living under temporary protected status. It would make these immigrants eligible to apply for legal permanent residency after three years.

The Haitians are among several groups of foreigners living in this country under temporary protection, some of them for decades. The vast majority are from Central America and Haiti.

Earlier this month, the administration announced it would not renew the provisional residency of 2,500 Nicaraguans and gave them 14 months to leave the United States.

But Duke deferred for six months a decision for the much larger group of 57,000 Hondurans living here under the same designation, saying that more time was needed for consideration.

Both the Nicaraguans and Hondurans have been shielded from deportation since a devastating 1998 hurricane hit.

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Temporary protected status for an additional 200,000 Salvadorans, here since El Salvador was struck by a series of earthquakes in 2001, is also due to expire in early January.

Most of those with such status arrived here illegally. They have been exempted from deportation under a 1990 law that allows them to legally remain if the executive branch determines that instability and precarious conditions exist in their countries as the result of natural disasters or armed conflict.

Trump administration officials have noted that the program was meant to be temporary, and not a way for people to become long-term residents of the United States. They have said their decisions on further extensions are made on the basis of whether the initial justification for the status still exists.

Most of the Haitians live in Florida, and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, called publicly last week for their protected status to be extended. ‘‘Haitians sent home will face dire conditions, including lack of housing, inadequate health services, and low prospects for employment,’’ Rubio wrote in the Miami Herald.

A senior official countered that the 18-month ‘‘wind-down is a lengthy time to allow families with US-born children to make decisions about what to do, and make arrangements.’’


Aimee Ortiz of Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Associated Press was also used.