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U.S. Extends Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, But Will Mass Deportations Follow in 6 Months?

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In a partial victory for the Haitian-American community, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday it has extended Haitians’ temporary protected status (TPS). Tens of thousands of Haitians were given TPS after an earthquake devastated their country in 2010, and the new extension will allow them to continue to legally reside and work in the U.S. for the time being. If the Trump administration refuses to extend TPS after the six-month reprieve expires, up to 55,000 Haitians could be forcefully repatriated to their fragile, struggling homeland. Human rights advocates note Haiti is still reeling from Hurricane Matthew, which in October 2016 destroyed the country’s southwest peninsula. The hurricane killed more than 1,000 people and decimated villages and farmland. Haiti is also suffering from a devastating cholera epidemic that erupted after the earthquake. We get response from Jumaane Williams, New York city councilmember for District 45. His district represents one of the largest populations of Haitians in the United States.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In a partial victory for the Haitian-American community, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday it has extended Haitians’ temporary protected status, or TPS. Tens of thousands of Haitians were given TPS after an earthquake devastated their country in 2010, and the new extension will allow them to continue to legally reside and work in the U.S. for the time being.

Immigrant rights advocates cautiously welcomed the decision, but voiced concern that the Department of Homeland Security failed to extend TPS for the usual 18-month increment, leading some to wonder if this is a precursor to mass deportations. The [Haiti] Advocacy Working Group tweeted, quote, "Haitian #TPS extended for six months by Trump administration. But decision foretaste of coming trouble #deportation."

On the campaign trail in September, Donald Trump visited Little Haiti in Miami and vowed to be a champion for the Haitian-American community.

DONALD TRUMP: Whether you vote for me or you don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion. And I will be your champion, whether you vote for me or not.

AMY GOODMAN: That was candidate Donald Trump speaking last year in Little Haiti in Florida. If the Trump administration refuses to extend TPS after the six-month reprieve expires, up to 55,000 Haitians could be forcefully repatriated to their fragile, struggling homeland.

Last month, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, James McCament, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggesting the Haitians should be deported as early as January. In the letter, McCament said conditions in Haiti have improved considerably. His conclusion and recommendation contradicts an assessment done by the Obama administration in December. Under Obama, the State Department examined the same circumstances and recommended the Haitians be allowed to remain in the United States. Human rights advocates note Haiti is still reeling from Hurricane Matthew, which in October 2016 destroyed the country’s southwest peninsula. The hurricane killed more than a thousand people and decimated villages and farmland. Haiti is also suffering from a devastating cholera epidemic that erupted after the earthquake.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Jumaane Williams, New York city councilmember for District 45. His district represents one of the largest populations of Haitians in the country, in Brooklyn.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Councilman Williams.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me again.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response to this? Yes, it was a stay of deportation or an extended of TPS—an extension of TPS status, but not all that the Haitians were requesting.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think the expectations of this administration are so low that we have to say, "OK, we got something." But in any other circumstances, we really didn’t. We expected and hoped to get a lot more. Truth be told, we had concerns under the Obama administration. I don’t want people to think we didn’t have concerns then. But at least, when it came through, it was 18 months. We don’t—you don’t know what to expect with—I call him the orange man—with these type of things, and so I’m happy that there’s six months. But what does that really do when you have to live with a cloud over your head? I think this is really an extension of the assault on immigrant communities and the lack of recognizing the humanity of people. If they need to get a job and you say you may leave in six months, that’s hard. You want people to kind of live their life comfortably with their family, but you have a cloud over your head. This is a difficult thing to do. And I don’t think anyone that has any real sense of intelligence of what’s going on in Haiti, whether it’s the earthquake, cholera or the hurricane, can say it’s ready to accept people back right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what about that situation? What is the situation now, especially after the hurricane, the most recent major devastation there?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Sure. So, you remember, the pre-earthquake Haiti was not in a position to be as prosperous as it could have been or should have been. That’s a long history that we should discuss one day. Then the earthquake hit, and then cholera—many believe the U.N. brought the cholera with them—and then the hurricane. And so, many of the celebrities and the cameras have left, but the devastation still exists. And there’s not a lot that has been done to address those things the way we would want them to, even though a lot of people have sent money. That’s another story itself, where the money has gone. But it’s in no way ready to receive the people who left, for those same reasons. Just imagine, it’s been exacerbated by those things that we mentioned after the earthquake.

AMY GOODMAN: Some people are saying that this extension of six months instead of the typical 18 months is a chance to—for Haitians to get their affairs in order.

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: It’s a concern. Again, I believe this is just an assault on the immigrant communities, particularly black and brown immigrant communities. Eighteen months is the usual, what we expect. Six months, maybe people—well, say it again.

AMY GOODMAN: Your area of Flatbush, can you describe it for us?

JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely. I represent—combined with the 40th District, we represent the largest constituency of Haitian and Haitian Americans outside of Haiti. Some argue Florida; I think we have Florida beat. So, we have a huge constituency of folks who are very concerned. There’s 20,000 people across the state. A large portion of them are in my district.

They already are dealing with kind of mass hysteria around immigration policies in general. And now, if you’re Haitian or you have Haitian family with TPS, imagine that concern now. And so, how do you deal? People talk about public safety. How do you deal with those concerns when you have a community that’s reeling about what’s really going to happen with immigration in general? What’s going to happen? I may be deported in six months; do I have to go underground? Do I have to do this? Do I have to do that?

And you’re going to send them back to a country who really is not ready to receive them. There is no one with any kind of consciousness that can say Haiti is ready to receive 60,000 people. And the truth is, I don’t believe that this country can deport 60,000 people, just like I don’t believe they can deport millions of people. But what they can do is continue this kind of mass hysteria that I think benefits this country in a way that’s another type of discussion, to keep folks in kind of a second-class position for themselves, while benefiting from all the services and talent that they bring.

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