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TPS Announcement Raises Concerns Among Haitian Community Activists In South Florida

Holly Pretsky
Marleine Bastien directs FANM or Haitian Women of Miami.

Thousands of Haitians who are under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States received on Monday a six-month reprieve in what many advocates and activists in South Florida fear is the last extension of the immigration program. 

Marleine Bastien, director of  FANM or Haitian Women of Miami,  says it seems like this is a six-month notice for Haitians to prepare to leave the country. 

"It is a termination, basically. They were trying to frame it as though it was a big win," Bastien said. "What I'm hearing really is turning my blood cold."

Bastien says she's advising the Haitian community, especially those with young, U.S.-born children, to seek legal counsel.  

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly said in a statement on Monday that his department urges Haitians protected under TPS to "prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States... or to apply for other immigration benefits."

Kelly also said that the DHS will review the status again before January. Haitian advocates and activists were calling for an extension of at least  18 months. 

There are estimated to be between 50,000 and 60,000 Haitians living in the U.S. with TPS. Activists like Bastien worry that Haiti still isn't stable enough to support those people after the 2010 earthquake, Hurricane Matthew and a recent cholera outbreak.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat who led a grassroots lobbying campaign to maintain the temporary protected status for Haitians, called the Homeland Security decision a partial victory.

“While this news will give the tens of thousands of Haitians anxiously waiting to learn the program's fate some measure of relief, this is in fact a cup half full situation,” Wilson said. “The reality is that in six months Haiti will still be in no position to absorb and aid 58,000 unemployed people.”

Wilson urged Homeland Security officials to join her and other congressional leaders in the next six months in a “fact-finding mission” to personally assess conditions on the island before lifting the temporary status protections.

“I find it difficult to describe how gut-wrenchingly sad and difficult life is there,” said Wilson, who has visited the island several times. “People are still living in tent cities years after the earthquake, and thanks to the hurricane [last year] the nation is also dealing with a food crisis.”

Reports from News Service Florida were used In this story.