The Trump Administration Is Reviewing Crime by Haitians as It Weighs Protected Status Eligibility

613833906-aerial-views-of-jeremie-188-km-west-of-port-au-prince Aerial views of Jeremie, 188 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Oct. 10, 2016, following the passage of Hurricane Matthew.Nicolas Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Trump administration is reviewing crimes committed by Haitians as it considers whether to extend the temporary protected status granted those fleeing the country after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. From the AP:

The inquiries into the community’s criminal history were made in internal U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services emails obtained by The Associated Press. They show the agency’s newly appointed policy chief also wanted to know how many of the roughly 50,000 Haitians enrolled in the Temporary Protected Status program were taking advantage of public benefits, which they are not eligible to receive.

The emails don’t make clear if Haitian misdeeds will be used to determine whether they can remain in the United States. The program is intended to help people from places beset by war or disasters and, normally, the decision to extend it depends on whether conditions in the immigrants’ home country have improved enough for them to return. But emails suggest Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who will make the decision, is looking at other criteria.

Haitian eligibility for temporary protected status has been renewed every 18 months since it was initially granted by President Obama in 2010. In an April memo to Kelly, Acting Citizenship and Immigration Services Director James McCament recommended extending eligibility for six additional months before a January termination. After the Miami Herald reported on the memo, 16 Democratic senators wrote to Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the preservation of eligibility. That followed a March bipartisan letter to Homeland Security from Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, along with members of South Florida’s congressional delegation, urging the same.

Letting eligibility expire would put an estimated 50,000 Haitians in the country at risk for deportation. Haiti is still coping with the impact of October’s Hurricane Matthew, which has left hundreds of thousands displaced and food insecure, as well as a cholera epidemic that has infected nearly 5,000 people this year alone. “Its government is ill-equipped to assimilate any deportees, much less 50,000,” the Miami Herald’s editorial board wrote in April. “And Haitians’ U.S.-born children should not be removed from the only home they’ve known to one where food, education and healthcare are inadequate.”

The AP reports that Homeland Security declined to comment to them about their deliberations. A decision is expected by May 23, a mandated 60 days before Haitian eligibility is scheduled to expire.

In September, President Trump campaigned in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, where he condemned the Clintons for allegedly mishandling aid to Haitian earthquake victims. “Taxpayer dollars intended for Haiti and the earthquake victims went to a lot of the Clinton cronies,” he said. “Whether you vote for me or not I really want to be your biggest champion.”

Osita Nwanevu is a Slate editorial assistant.


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