WASHINGTON, DC – Following the devastation and humanitarian disaster suffered by Haiti as a result of Hurricane Matthew, Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) lead a group of 12 Democratic senators in asking the Obama administration to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians who recently arrived and are living in the United States. TPS has been historically granted to foreign nationals who are unable to safely return to their native country, including some Haitians who were displaced after a catastrophic natural disaster struck their home country in 2010.
“As Haiti is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it will be in desperate need of humanitarian aid for years to come...Hurricane Matthew only complicates an already desperate situation for Haitian nationals,” wrote the Senators. While the totality of Hurricane Matthew’s damage and destruction has not been determined yet, the lawmakers make the case for TPS protections for victims as part of the United States’ response by citing a growing death toll of over 1,000 deaths in Haiti and some early damage estimates reaching $1 billion.
In their letter addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, the Senators also asked for additional details about the September 22, 2016 announcement by DHS to resume deportations of non-criminal Haitian nationals and use of expedited removal and mandatory detention policies. DHS recently announced a temporary suspension of removal flights to Haiti in light of Hurricane Matthew. “The United States’ focus should be to prioritize disaster assistance and recovery, not to return Haitian nationals to a country lacking the capacity to support them. We ask that you take the urgent humanitarian situation into account when considering TPS designation and evaluating the new deportation policy,” concluded the senators.
In addition to Menendez and Nelson, the letter was also signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.); Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Ron Wyden (D-Ore.); Al Franken (D-Minn.); Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); and Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
A complete copy of the letter is available for download here, and below:
October 13, 2016
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20528
Dear Secretaries Kerry and Johnson:
In light of continued difficult conditions in Haiti, and now the widespread damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, we request that you grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible Haitian nationals currently living in the United States who are not eligible for the 2010 TPS designation due to their recent arrival in our country. Although we were encouraged by the recent decision to once again temporarily suspend removals of non-criminal Haitian nationals, we also request clarification of the implementation of this policy given the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.
On October 4th, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the Western Coast of Haiti with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour, up to 25 inches in rainfall, and over 10 feet in storm surge. While the full extent of the devastation is still not known, the storm has already reportedly claimed the lives of over 1,000 Haitians, and some early estimates have also claimed that total monetary losses will be as high as $1 billion. The emergency is ongoing, as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated that more than 4 million children are at risk. In reference to the hurricane, President Obama recently stated, “we anticipate that they’re going to need substantial help.” As Haiti is already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it will be in desperate need of humanitarian aid for years to come.
The storm has worsened conditions in an already struggling country. More than six years later, Haiti has yet to recover from the devastating earthquake and resulting humanitarian crisis. That natural disaster left the country shattered, caused over 200,000 deaths, injured over 300,000, displaced millions more, and caused an estimated $7.8 billion in damages. Additionally, the country’s cholera epidemic continues to persist, having already killed over 10,000 people and sickened more than 800,000. Also, the storm has forced Haiti to postpone Presidential elections yet again, further delaying the opportunity for Haitian people to have their voice heard. Hurricane Matthew only complicates an already desperate situation for Haitian nationals.
We welcomed the extension of TPS through July 2017 for Haitian nationals that arrived in the United States prior to January 12, 2011. TPS is also needed for more recent arrivals as it has now become even more difficult for Haitians to safely return to their country. The United States has granted TPS due to environmental disasters in the past. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America with disastrous consequences, resulting in the designation of TPS for Honduran and Nicaraguan nationals living in the United States. TPS was created to offer temporary, humane protection to foreign nationals living in the U.S. when extraordinary conditions in their home country pose a serious threat to their personal safety. We believe the reports of widespread damage and destruction in Haiti make TPS designation appropriate.
We were also concerned by the September 22, 2016 announcement that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had planned to resume deporting certain Haitian nationals, although we understand you are unable to move forward with implementation due to Hurricane Matthew. We request an update on the policies of applying expedited removal and mandatory detention to this population given the difficulty of removing individuals to Haiti at this time. Additionally, we are troubled by reports that some Haitian families are being separated at the border. As you reconsider this policy, we ask that you make every effort to keep families together. There are other ways to monitor individuals who are going through immigration court proceedings including case management systems, supervised release, and alternatives to detention.
Given Haiti’s many challenges, the United States’ focus should be to prioritize disaster assistance and recovery, not to return Haitian nationals to a country lacking the capacity to support them. We ask that you take the urgent humanitarian situation into account when considering TPS designation and evaluating the new deportation policy
Thank you for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.
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