Health Care

US extends 'temporary protected status' to Haitians until January

Pierrot Mervilier center rear hugs a girl that did not wish to be identified living in the U.S. with Temporary Protected Status

Haitians granted the protection can live and work in the US without fear of deportation.

Others say it's not enough.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is extending humanitarian protections for Haitians living in the USA who were affected by a 2010 quake that struck the island nation for an additional six months.

That drew applause from Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Gwen Graham and Andrew Gillum. Alcee Hastings and Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz denounced, at least in part.

The Obama administration late previous year did allow TPS to expire for Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, three West African countries that were designated in 2014 amid the Ebola outbreak. There are an estimated 58,000 who have TPS status nationwide, with Florida having the most. The Haitian community in South Florida was already feeling vulnerable after the election, after the tough talk on immigration - not just from the president but from Secretary Kelly. The Naples-Fort Myers region also had almost 20,000.

Many had hoped the administration would extend the Haitians' protection for 18 to 24 months. "I don't see why he would respond any differently to this new memorandum".

The Trump Administration is poised to make a decision that could affect the lives of 58,000 Haitian immigrants living and working in the United States.

DHS officials said there was no decision yet on what would happen at the end of the six-month extension, but warned the Haitians to obtain new travel documents and "get their affairs in order".

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, pictured in April, is extending the Temporary Protected Status designation for Haitians in the USA until January 2018.

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"This is a "pack your bags" extension, not a real one", said Jeremy Cruz-Haicken, president of the UNITE HERE Local 737 labor union that represents almost 500 Haitian refugees who work at Walt Disney World.

The Trump administration must announce a decision by Tuesday.

U.S. Representative Mario Rafael Díaz-Balart, a Republican whose district includes Miami, issued a statement Monday thanking "President [Donald] Trump and DHS Secretary Kelly for this TPS extension and I support the people of Haiti as they continue to rebuild". George Sassine, a Haitian business leader who had lobbied USA officials to renew the program, said the six-month extension will give Haitian authorities time to make their concerns more clear. She and her husband, who also has temporary protected status, want to remain in the USA, where they work, pay taxes and send money back to help relatives in Haiti.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry wrote to Kelly earlier this month urging an extension, as did U.S. Senator Edward Markey.

"Progress has been made in Haiti, but the country is still far from recovered". Given current conditions in Haiti, "there would be tremendous human hardship on a huge scale" if thousands of people were to return to the country at once, he says.

Wasserman Schultz added similar thoughts.

He added that Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating natural disaster in 2010, and he is proud of the role the United States has played during this time in helping Haitians. "The move appears to be created to allow families time to voluntarily return to Haiti or prepare to leave the country".

Those fears were allayed after a spokesperson for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in a statement that criminal history and public benefit usage is not being used as criteria for determining if someone should receive TPS. The extension will give the Trump administration more time to study economic and other conditions in the country, the official said.

The program had been set to expire in July.