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Can Hurricane Irma Possibly Help Haitians Win A TPS Extension?


Vicki Rosenthal and others protest in front of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Broward county to urge the Department of Homeland Security to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Felicia J. Persaud

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Oct. 6, 2017: In Washington D.C., on September 12, 2017, Haiti’s US Ambassador Paul Altidor and Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., hosted a dinner with other Democrats to craft a new strategy aimed at convincing the White House to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitians.

That status will run out for some 60,000 Haitians in January 2018 and many are desperate for a chance to stay on. Some have become so desperate that they have crossed the border into Canada in the hopes of getting asylum there.

But could Haitians be given new hope in the form of the deadly category five storm, Hurricane Irma, which left a path of death and destruction in its wake across many Caribbean islands including Haiti?

A bi-partisan pair of lawmakers supported by over 68 others, hope so.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and California Democrat Barbara Lee have gotten dozens of their colleagues in Congress to sign on to a letter that calls on Donald Trump and the Department of Homeland Security to grants Temporary Protected Status to Caribbean islanders whose home countries have been ravaged by one of the worst hurricanes in decades.

These include nationals of 10 Caribbean nations including Barbuda, St. Maarten, Saint Martin, The British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Haiti, the Bahamas, The Dominican Republic and the Turks & Caicos.

Although the Dominican Republic and Haiti were spared the worst of the hurricane, many people lost their homes and livelihoods and do not have access to water and basic sanitation.

Irma left more than 24,000 people displaced in the Dominican Republic while the storm ripped off rooftops, flooded parts of Ouanaminthe in northeast Haiti and caused at least one national road connecting the north and center pars of the country to be impassable.

But some lawmakers feel a TPS from the DHS for affected Caribbean nationals will also be an easy solution to the TPS needs of current Haitians since the program was established to give reprieve to people who can’t return to their home country for reasons such as natural disasters.

“In particular, the administration must provide Temporary Protected Status [TPS] to Caribbean citizens who lived directly in Irma’s destructive path but are currently residing in the United States and unable to return to their home countries,” Engel, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said.

It would be a smart play from Democrats and the Republican lawmakers sensitive to the plight of Haitians, especially since given their numbers in the US, they and nationals of the DR, would be the main beneficiaries of such a move.

There are much smaller percentages of Caribbean nationals from the other impacted islands living in the US and even less are without status.

And it could be the last option for Haitians especially since time is running out for them and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now Trump chief-of-staff, made it clear in June  last year that “the operative word in the law is ‘temporary.’”

The Department of Homeland Security has so far not commented on Engel’s proposal and so far, given the current tenor of the Trump administration as regards to immigration, it seems like a drowning man clutching at straws. But at least it would be the one positive of Irma in all the decimation and at least it gives a small group of people something much needed in this dark world – hope!

felicia-j-persaud-hard-beat-altThe writer is CMO at Hard Beat Communications, Inc. which owns the brands: NewsAmericasNow, CaribPRWire and InvestCaribbeanNow.