Local Haitian community fears end of temporary protective status

Chicago Tribune, by Kate Thayer, December 10, 2017

The federal government’s recent decision to end a protection allowing tens of thousands of Haitians to live and work legally in the U.S. has instilled fear and panic in the local Haitian community. After an earthquake shattered the already-impoverished Haiti almost eight years ago, nearly 60,000 Haitians took refuge legally in the U.S. through temporary protected status, a designation granted to those fleeing disaster-struck or war-torn countries so they can live and work in the U.S.

The federal government granted the protected status to Haitians who came after the January 2010 earthquake, and to those who were already here but could not return to their ravaged country.

But that protection is set to end in July 2019, according to a recent decision by the Department of Homeland Security, which said Haiti is now able to welcome its residents home.

For many, the prospect of leaving the U.S. is “traumatic,” said Darryl Auguste, president of the Chicago-based Haitian American Lawyers Association of Illinois. “The state of panic is real.”

The November announcement by acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke stated that Haiti has made considerable progress since the January 2010 earthquake that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands, according to the Haitian government, and displaced more than 1.5 million people. The protected status, which is not meant to serve as a pathway to permanent residency, is no longer needed because Haiti is ready to accept its residents home, according to the statement.

But Haitian-Americans in Chicago question whether Haiti is ready to receive tens of thousands of Haitians. Cholera outbreaks and hurricanes, including last year’s devastating Hurricane Matthew, have plagued Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, wiping out much of the progress made toward its economy and infrastructure, advocates say.

“For us to say (Haiti) is good enough (for Haitians to return) … we’re jumping the gun,” said Auguste, who was born in the U.S. to Haitian-born parents. “To recuperate (so fast) is pretty farfetched.”

Auguste’s organization and other local Haitian groups say they are lobbying Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and President Donald Trump to try to further extend the protected status for Haitians or provide routes for them to obtain permanent residence here, arguing that conditions in Haiti have not improved.

As of 2015, 5,000 Haitians lived in Illinois — most settling in Cook County — though it’s unclear how many have the protected status and would be affected by its end, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Chicago immigration attorney Anne Relias said there aren’t many options for Haitian protected status recipients looking to stay in the U.S. unless the government decides to extend the deadline, or the decision is challenged in court.

Most Haitians would have to first return to Haiti before they could apply to come back to the U.S. on a visa, Relias said. And depending on how and when someone entered the U.S., there could be a lengthy waiting period. “There’s no clear path,” she said.

The federal government also recently announced protected status termination for citizens from other countries. The designation for those here from Sudan ends in November 2018, and in January 2019 for those here from Nicaragua. Hondurans in the U.S. may also lose their protected status, according to a statement from Duke of the DHS.

The protected status was never meant to put immigrants on a path to citizenship, said Hans von Spakovsky, senior fellow at the the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank.

“This should’ve been done a long time ago,” he said. “There are many places far below standards we have here, but that doesn’t mean..we must allow people in from all those countries. We have to take some control over our borders.”

But Auguste, whose group offers legal clinics to educate Haitians on often complicated immigration law, said for some Haitians with protected status, the thought of returning to their homeland is daunting. Many, who were young when they came to the U.S., have built their lives here and may not know anyone in Haiti, he said.

“They have been thriving here,” said Auguste, who added that there’s a lot of misinformation circulating in the community. Some Haitians fear they will have to leave earlier than the July 2019 deadline, and many are afraid of being exposed as being in the U.S. under protected status. “They’re afraid to come out of their homes.”

One young Haitian woman with protected status who spoke to the Tribune said she came to Chicago at age 12 with her younger sister, two months after the earthquake made her family home uninhabitable. The young woman, now 20, who asked that her name not be used, said she is worried about her future and doesn’t want to go back.

“I’ve been going to school here for almost half my life. It’s like my new home now,” said the woman, who said she is working to put herself through college, where she is studying psychology. Going back to Haiti “would basically be like I’m starting over again,” she said.

The woman said she knows she won’t finish her psychology degree by July 2019 and hopes the government will extend protected status for her and her sister, who is in high school. She said she’ll need to find a job once she arrives in Haiti, which is not an easy task in the country.

Ludovic Comeau Jr., an associate professor at DePaul University who came to the U.S. from Haiti before the earthquake and would not be affected by the protected status change, said Haiti’s economy is destroyed and there are not enough jobs.

“There is no work in their country. So then, if you bring back (those living under protected status in America), it’s a disaster,” said Comeau, who is involved in outreach groups that visit Haiti several times a year.

Fran Leeman, a Plainfield pastor who started the nonprofit New Life for Haiti and visits the country several times a year, said Haiti is still recovering.

“It’s pretty bad. People are hungry,” said Leeman, who described crumbling homes and gardens wiped away by Hurricane Matthew. “It’s going to take generations for Haiti to improve.”

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-haiti-tps-status-ending-20171128-story.html

Categories Haiti News | Tags: | Posted on December 10, 2017

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