It’s never a good time to force people to leave the United States and head back to a desperately impoverished and unstable nation. So it’s good news that 58,706 Haitians in the United States won a six-month reprieve Monday from the July 22 expiration of their temporary protected status. However, that extension probably won’t be enough, and the United States will have to be ready to do more.
The Haitians have been protected from deportation since an earthquake devastated the already-impoverished and unstable island nation in 2010. The quake killed hundreds of thousands of people and caused tens of thousands to flee to our shores.
Temporary protected status generally lets groups of individuals stay here and get work permits for 18 months at a time. The Department of Homeland Security had been debating whether to issue another extension, and some top officials reportedly opposed it. But the idea of sending people back ignited a bipartisan firestorm among politicians, particularly in the metropolitan area, where large Haitian communities have sprung up, including as many as 10,000 people with temporary protected status. So there is a six-month reprieve, but homeland security officials framed it as time for the Haitians to get their affairs in order to leave, not a precursor to a longer reprieve.
Critics of the extensions say they turn a temporary program into a permanent one. But the United States should never deport people who have become part of our communities to a land that lacks the most basic necessities.
It also has been reported that the Department of Homeland Security is considering inquiring into the criminal records of some Haitians to deny them protected status. That’s reasonable. Being in the United States is a privilege for noncitizens, a benefit no one who commits significant crimes should enjoy.
We can’t be a nation that doesn’t vet immigrants carefully and keep track of them. But we also can’t be a nation that deports people who are in need and have done nothing wrong to lands still overcome by disease, corruption, shortages and hopelessness.