Biden administration extends temporary legal status to 300,000 Haitians, drawing a contrast to Trump

SAN DIEGO (AP) — An additional 300,000 Haitians already in the United States will be eligible for temporary legal status because conditions in the strife-torn Caribbean nation are considered unsafe for them to return, the Homeland Security Department said Friday.

The major expansion of Temporary Protected Status applies to Haitians who were in the United States on June 3 and will last until Feb. 3, 2026. An extension to Feb. 3, 2026, is also being offered to an estimated 200,000 Haitians who already had TPS, which was created by Congress in 1990 to prevent deportations to countries suffering natural disasters or civil strife.

The move — one of the largest expansions of TPS — draws another sharp policy contrast on immigration between President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, who sought to end temporary status for many countries, including Haiti, during his tenure in the White House.

Gangs have pillaged their way through the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, killing, raping and kidnapping thousands of people in recent years and leaving hundreds of thousands of others homeless and unemployed, which in turn has deepened poverty.

“Several regions in Haiti continue to face violence or insecurity, and many have limited access to safety, health care, food, and water,” Homeland Security said in a press release. “Haiti is particularly prone to flooding and mudslides, and often experiences significant damage due to storms, flooding, and earthquakes. These overlapping humanitarian challenges have resulted in ongoing urgent humanitarian needs.”

Homeland Security estimated that an additional 309,000 Haitians will be eligible for TPS, the second expansion for Haitians. About 200,000 Haitians already have TPS under previous offers, according to the Congressional Research Service, the first one after a devastating earthquake in 2010 and the second amid political turmoil in 2021.

Nearly 900,000 people from 16 countries are currently registered for TPS, with the largest nationalities hailing from Haiti, Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras and Ukraine.

Haiti has been a thorny challenge for an administration that has sought to discourage illegal crossings, most recently by temporarily suspending asylum processing for people who cross the border illegally. The administration said this week that arrests for illegal crossings have fallen more than 40% since asylum was halted.

In 2021, about 16,000 predominantly Haitian migrants assembled on the banks of the Rio Grande in the small Texas town of Del Rio, triggering large-scale deportations. Then border arrests of Haitians fell sharply, even before January 2023, when the administration introduced an online app, called CBP One, which is needed to enter the country legally at land crossings with Mexico, and began allowing up to 30,000 people a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to fly to the country for two years if they have financial sponsors.

Haitians were arrested only 142 times for crossing the border illegally from Mexico in May, down from a peak of nearly 18,000 in September 2021, but some take the dangerous route by sea. On Wednesday, a group of more than 100 Haitians arrived in a sailboat off the lower Florida Keys.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance, like other advocacy groups, applauded the administration for “a crucial move,” while also urging that deportations to Haiti be halted. But Homeland Security signaled that deportations would continue for those who try entering illegally, saying it “will continue to enforce U.S. laws and policy throughout the Florida Straits and the Caribbean region, as well as at the southwest border.”

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