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Can Hurricane Irma possibly help Haitians win a TPS extension?

Felicia Persaud | 10/5/2017, 1:16 p.m.
In Washington Sept. 12, 2017, Haiti’s U.S. Ambassador Paul Altidor and Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) hosted a dinner ...
TPS for Haitians

In Washington Sept. 12, 2017, Haiti’s U.S. 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 5 storm, Hurricane Irma, which left a path of death and destruction in its wake across many Caribbean islands, including Haiti?

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers supported by more than 68 others hope so.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) 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 grant Temporary Protected Status to Caribbean islanders whose home countries have been ravaged by one of the worst hurricanes in decades.

These islanders include nationals of Barbuda, St. Maarten, Saint Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Turks and Caicos, as well as the Bahamas.

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, and in Haiti ripped off rooftops, flooded parts of Ouanaminthe in the northeast and caused at least one national road connecting the north and center parts of the country to become impassable.

But some lawmakers feel a TPS from the Department of Homeland Security for affected Caribbean nationals will also be an easy solution to the TPS needs of current Haitians because 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 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 because given their numbers in the U.S., they and nationals of the DR would be the main beneficiaries of such a move.

There are much smaller numbers of Caribbean nationals from the other affected islands living in the U.S. and even fewer are without status.

And it could be the last option for Haitians, especially because time is running out for them, and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now Trump’s 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 devastation, and at least it gives a small group of people something much needed in this dark world—hope!

The writer is CMO at Hard Beat Communications, Inc. which owns the brands NewsAmericasNow, CaribPRWire and InvestCaribbeanNow.