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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden administration expands protections for Haitian migrants

By Eileen Sullivan

The Biden administration announced earlier this week that it would offer new special protections to more than 100,000 Haitians who were in the United States as of Nov. 6, including the permission to work and stay in the country for at least 18 months.

The administration also announced that Haitians whose existing protections, known as temporary protected status, were expiring would have an additional 18 months to live and work in the United States, as conditions in Haiti have deteriorated precipitously in recent months.

The new designation is especially important for the thousands of Haitians who arrived in the United States after the last cutoff for temporary status, in 2021. Many have been struggling to find their footing as they file applications for asylum and wait as long as a year to receive permission to work in the country legally.

There are about 101,000 Haitians in the United States who already had temporary status and another 53,000 who have applied. Monday’s announcement could expand eligibility to another 110,000 Haitians who were in the country as of Nov. 6, the Homeland Security Department said.

“The conditions in Haiti, including socioeconomic challenges, political instability, and gang violence and crime — aggravated by environmental disaster — compelled the humanitarian relief we are providing today,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

The situation in Haiti has been volatile for years, but the assassination of the country’s president in July 2021 led to even more turmoil. And in recent months, gang violence has worsened, cutting off access to medicine, drinking water and food. The United Nations has cited “catastrophic” levels of hunger and faminelike conditions, increasing concerns among Biden administration officials that the United States could soon see a wave of mass migration from Haiti.

In October, the Haitian government asked for foreign armed intervention to help stabilize the country.

The Biden administration has come under criticism for expelling thousands of Haitians under an emergency public health rule put in place at the beginning of the pandemic, putting them on flights back to an unstable country where people feared for their lives.

In September, the administration stopped sending expulsion flights to Haiti and instead has been allowing some of the scores waiting in Mexico into the country under case-by-case humanitarian exemptions.

Unlike other legal pathways for immigration into the country as a refugee or to work, the temporary protected-status program does not have a cap, and the secretary of Homeland Security has the authority to make the designations.

Republicans have railed against this use of the program and argued that it is intended to give temporary relief and not the permanence that comes with extension after extension issued for people whose countries are still considered too dangerous for citizens to return.

The status does not provide a path to permanent residency, but some immigrants have been living and working in the country for decades because of the extensions. Protections for other citizens have ended when their countries’ conditions improved. For example, the status ended for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina after the end of its 1990s civil war.

Haitians were first given protected status after a devastating 2010 earthquake in the country. The Biden administration extended and broadened the designation in 2021.

In its announcement Monday, the Biden administration warned Haitians who were not already in the United States not to see the designation as an invitation to come. In the past, smugglers have spread misinformation and told Haitians fleeing their homes that the United States was providing humanitarian relief.

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