The Biden administration on Monday granted more than 100,000 Haitians living in the United States the chance to apply for work permits and protection from deportation to their home country, which has been devastated by an earthquake, disease outbreaks and widespread violence.
The U.S. had previously granted this designation, known as temporary protected status, to Haitians in May 2021. Biden's move ensures that Haitians who have been in the country as of Nov. 6 this year will be eligible to apply for the status.
The Biden administration has also allowed Ukrainians and Afghans in the U.S. to apply for temporary protected status this year. Biden's expansion of TPS is a shift from his predecessor's practice.
Former President Trump repeatedly tried to shrink the number of immigrants eligible for the status, which is granted to people who cannot be deported safely because of war, natural disasters or other catastrophes in their countries of origin.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, estimates that Biden has offered TPS eligibility to an additional 575,000 immigrants since he took office. Conservatives and those who favor policies to restrict immigration claim that the extension of TPS has been overused and that the Trump administration sought to undo some of the previous designations.
"We are providing much-needed humanitarian relief to Haitian nationals already present in the United States," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement. "The conditions in Haiti, including socioeconomic challenges, political instability, and gang violence and crime - aggravated by environmental disaster - compelled the humanitarian relief we are providing today."
An estimated 101,000 Haitians have the protections, and another 53,000 have applications pending with the government. The expansion announced Monday makes about 110,000 newly eligible to apply for TPS. For those who currently have TPS, the administration also extended the protections to run through August 2024.
The pressure to expand the number of Haitians eligible for immigration protections has come predominantly from the left. Several members of Congress have sent letters to Mayorkas in recent weeks calling for the move. Sen. Charles E. Schumer voiced support for the expansion in a press call hosted by an immigrant advocacy organization last week.
Haiti has faced serious challenges after a magnitude-7.2 earthquake last year and the assassination of the country's president in July 2021. In recent months, armed gangs have seized control of the ports and limited Haitians' access to food. Nearly 5 million Haitians face food insecurity, the U.N. reported in November. Cholera has been documented.
"People are being killed by firearms. They are dying because they do not have access to safe drinking water, food, healthcare," Volker Turk, the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in November. "Women are being gang raped with impunity. The levels of insecurity and the dire humanitarian situation have been devastating for the people of Haiti."
In September 2021, the Biden administration came under fire from immigrant advocates for deporting thousands of Haitians who had formed a large camp under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. The administration relied heavily on Title 42, a measure that allows the Department of Homeland Security to rapidly deport individuals at the border, before scaling back deportations to the country. In recent months, the administration has been concerned that the worsening situation in Haiti could increase maritime migration from the country.
The government can renew a nationality's eligibility for TPS. Certain Haitians, for example, have been eligible, with repeated renewals, since an earthquake devastated their homeland in 2010. The Biden administration expanded the number of Haitians eligible for the protections last year.
The U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens not to travel to Haiti and does not allow U.S. Embassy staff to travel from the airport without official personnel. The agency also recommends that U.S. citizens leave the country.
"Do not travel to Haiti due to kidnapping, crime, and civil unrest. U.S. citizens should depart Haiti now in light of the current security and health situation and infrastructure challenges. U.S. citizens wishing to depart Port-au-Prince should monitor local news and only do so when considered safe," the State Department's official warning about the country reads.
Last week, the U.S. sanctioned a Haitian senator and a former Haitian senator for alleged drug trafficking. Some Biden administration officials are pushing for a multinational armed force to be sent to quell the situation in the country, the New York Times reported last week.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.