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Temporary Protected Status for Haitians: What It Really Means When It Ends

Brian Biery: Approximately $1.4 billion was sent from Haitians in the U.S. back home in 2016, which accounts for an astounding 29.4% of Haiti’s 2016 Gross Domestic Product!

The month in Haiti has been hell, literally, with over a week of protests and angry mobs running the streets inflamed because of government corruption and the rising cost of living. With at least seven dead and dozens injured, it has been a violent, turbulent place.

ending tps for haitians

And this is the place where the Trump administration wants to send nearly 60,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Haitians by July of this year. The TPS was applied to Haiti after the devastating 2010 7.1 earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians, made homeless over a million more and contributed to an outbreak of cholera.

Since then the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere has been pummeled by a variety of man-made and natural disasters. First, there was Hurricane Matthew in 2016 that pounded the country, and then Hurricane Irma in 2017 that again caused flooding and widespread damage. And last year Haiti was rocked again by a powerful 5.9 earthquake that left hundreds dead and thousands displaced.

All of this is in addition to the political and economic instability that causes riots and protests like the ones seen recently to erupt on a regular basis.

Interestingly, the Trump administration believes that: “Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and quality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens,” according to a DHS Statement in the N.Y. Times.

How the administration could come to that conclusion after the litany of suffering that Haiti has endured over the years is astounding! Nearly 60% of the county’s 11 million residents live on just over $2 a day. And they must grapple with the doubling of prices in the past few weeks and the devastating devaluation of the national currency, the gourde.

So what will the impacts be of sending nearly 60,000 Haitians back to Haiti in a few months? How will that decision affect both the U.S. and Haiti?

  • Remittances: Approximately $1.4 billion was sent from Haitians in the U.S. back home in 2016, which accounts for an astounding 29.4% of Haiti’s 2016 Gross Domestic Product! No other country in the Western Hemisphere comes close to having nearly one-third of its GDP generated by remittances! Imagine removing 58,000 contributors to the money being sent home and the significant reduction in income it would cause.
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  • Employment: Estimates from researchers indicate that over 80% of Haitian TPS recipients are working in the U.S. These include several thousand who work in the resort/tourism field in Orlando, Fl, 500 of whom work for Disney World changing beds, cleaning theme parks and completing tasks that many who are born in the U.S. would not do. Even Disney has asked to keep these workers in the U.S. as it knows that they will be difficult to replace.
  • Job Market:Haiti’s unemployment rate is 40% and nearly two-thirds of the labor force do not have formal jobs. What does this mean? That people are working in an unstructured economy, doing whatever they can to earn a couple of dollars a day. Driving moto-taxis, selling bags of water from boxes on their heads, changing flat tires by the roadside, selling any variety of knick-knacks at one of the open-air intersection markets. Where would 58,000 returning Haitians work? How would their presence impact competition for jobs?
  • Children:Over 27,000 children have been born in the U.S. to Haitians in the TPS program since 2010. They are U.S. citizens and deserve the right to stay. What happens to those children when their parents are sent back to Haiti? Do they become foster children passed from DCFS family to family? How do families stay intact when children are separated from their parents? Or do they take their kids with them even though their know nothing of Haiti?
  • Safety: In several conversations with TPS recipients one of their greatest fears is personal safety. In a place where resources are so scarce the concern is that they will be labeled as having money and therefore being a target. Since they once lived in the U.S. and earned dollars then the assumption is that they must have money hidden somewhere. So whether via extortion, kidnapping or robbery, many fear being victims of crime upon their return.
  • Housing: Over two million people were dramatically affected by the 2010 earthquake. Homes destroyed, families separated, hopes crushed. So for most TPS Haitians there is no place to go home to. It is gone! Families have reconstructed and rewoven to include extended members and neighbors. However, there is scant room for tens of thousands of cousins and other relatives to live upon their return.

Ending the TPS program in Haiti is a horrible idea! It is outrageous to think that conditions have improved to the point where sending Haitians back is viable. Instead, it is actually a cruel and inhumane decree. What does it say about a country that turns its back on the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, the most forgotten? It says that we only hold up our ideals around civility and humanity when it is convenient. And when it isn’t, we try to brush it away as if it were a piece of lint caught on our silk jacket.


Brian Biery

Brian Biery is a board member of Project Edeline a nonprofit formed after the 2010 earthquake that has built and helps to operate an elementary school in Croix-des-Bouquets, on the edge of Port Au Prince. He has traveled to Haiti five times in the past three years, including January, 2019.