Late last week, Haiti urged the Trump administration to extend its Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for another 18 months before it expires in January. Pres. Trump authorized a 6-month extension for the Caribbean country earlier this year and must make a decision by November. But is TPS actually hindering Haiti's ability to rebuild since suffering a devastating earthquake in 2010 and recent tropical storms?
Temporary Protected Status was created under the Immigration Act of 1990 (the same legislation that caused legal immigration levels to skyrocket to more than 1 million green cards per year). The theory was to create a program that offered some temporary relief for foreign visitors whose home country faced an unexpected event -- armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions -- that would made it difficult for them to safely return home when their visa expired.
But in practice, TPS has become another channel for foreign nationals to live and work in the United States, creating additional job competition for American workers and recent legal immigrants. It also serves as an amnesty because it grants work permits to illegal aliens from the designated country who were fortunate enough to illegally enter the U.S. before the TPS effective date.
Haiti first received TPS for 18 months under Pres. Obama in January 2010 following a devastating 7.0 earthquake. But like most other TPS designations, its been continually extended, in this case a total of 5 times over the last 7+ years.
- May 19, 2011 -- 18-month extension
- October 12, 2012 -- 18-month extension
- March 3, 2014 -- 18-month extension
- August 25, 2015 -- 18-month extension
- May 24, 2017 -- 6-month extension
Approximately 50,000 Haitians have protected status in the United States, and according to analysis by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), they're doing pretty well compared to their fellow citizens back in Haiti. The group has an average household income of $45,000 with 81% of TPS recipients living above the poverty line. 71% have a high school degree or better, and 37% have some college or a college degree.
As for Haiti, the World Factbook reports that 59% of Haitians are living in poverty and notes that the country has a "shortage of skilled labor". Wouldn't the ongoing rebuilding effort in Haiti, along with attempts to reform its political system, benefit from 50,000 U.S. educated Haitians returning home, especially considering the lack of skilled labor?
The problem with TPS for Haiti, and the nearly two dozen countries that have received TPS designation over the years, is that the temporary program often feels permanent. Haiti's 7-year designation is relatively short to some other countries. Honduras has had it since 1999 and Liberia since 1991.
But even Haiti's "shorter" TPS designation creates problems for the Trump administration in making a decision whether or not to end it. According to CMS, TPS recipients have given birth to 27,000 U.S.-born children and nearly a quarter of the households own a home. When a program is extended well-beyond the 6-18 month window that Congress intended, it's likely to create some feeling of permanence.
No one debates the destructive impact the earthquake had on the island in 2010 which has led to a lack of housing and food. But the country still has a robust tourism economy with regular visits from U.S.-based cruise ships. The island is clearly not closed for business.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently said that "it would be difficult for them to absorb" an end to TPS. But with U.S. assistance, I can't help but think that the island could benefit from the return of tens of thousands of of its own citizens with better education and skills than a vast majority of its current citizenry.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is the Director of Content & Activism for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Oct 10th 2017 @ 3:29pm EDT