People flee their homes during an attack by armed gangs in the Carrefour Feuille neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti on November 10, 2022. (Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images)

Over 400 Groups Urge Biden to Strengthen Protections for Haitian Migrants

Advocates are asking the administration to halt all deportations to Haiti, extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status for the crisis-ridden nation, and release all Haitians held in U.S. immigration custody.

As Haitians reel from more than a year of civil and political unrest, 422 advocacy groups on Tuesday asked the Biden administration to redesignate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status, under which people who are unable to safely return to their homeland can remain in the United States.

"We have stood as frontline workers knowing that there was a possibility of death. Despite this, I live in constant fear of deportation."

In a letter signed by immigration, human rights, faith-based, and civil rights organizations, advocates asked President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to halt all deportations to Haiti, extend and redesignate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti, and release all Haitians currently held in U.S. immigration custody.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended TPS for people from six countries--El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan--through June 30, 2024, a move that will allow nearly 400,000 people to remain in the United States. However, extensions apply to existing TPS recipients while a redesignation would open the door to prospective new applicants.

"Armed groups, many controlled by members of the Haitian government, are terrorizing Haiti's capital with kidnappings and other violent crimes, which have spilled into cities across the country," the groups' letter notes. "The country has experienced a nationwide lockdown for several weeks, with roads and businesses blocked by barricades erected by armed groups. Civilians are being threatened, injured, sexually assaulted, or killed, and homes are being looted and burned by gang violence."

"The U.N. estimates that 1.5 million people, or nearly 50% of the capital's population, are directly affected by gang violence, and 4.5 million need humanitarian assistance," the letter states. "Since June 2021, more than 50,000 people have been displaced and forced to leave their homes due to violence."

The letter continues:

A gang blockade at Haiti's principal fuel terminal has crippled day-to-day activity throughout the country, paralyzing the economy, interrupting movement, and restricting essential supplies of food, medicine, and fuel for over two months. The inflation rate is 30%, the value of the gourde dropped 32% from January to August 2022, and the price of food and gas has doubled, and in some cases increased tenfold on the black market. According to a recent report by the U.N., 4.7 million people in Haitian are facing acute hunger, including 19,000 in catastrophic famine conditions for the first time.

"All of the conditions leading to the Biden administration's original TPS redesignation on May 22, 2021--the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7, 2021, the August 14, 2021 earthquake and subsequent tropical storm, and the deteriorating crises as described herein--make a safe return to Haiti completely impossible," the signatories asserted.

"On November 3, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk echoed this sentiment and warned, 'In this context, it is clear that the systematic violations of rights in Haiti do not currently allow for the safe, dignified, and sustainable return of Haitians to the country,'" they added.

The Biden administration has drawn criticism from human rights advocates for using Title 42--a provision of the Public Health Safety Act first invoked by the Trump administration as the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020--to deport tens of thousands of Haitians, a policy that has exacerbated suffering in the hemisphere's poorest nation while endangering countless deportees.

The administration announced earlier this year that it would end Title 42 deportations, a move that was blocked in May by a federal judge and challenged in court by Republican-led states.

The groups' letter follows a similar plea earlier this month from 15 Democratic U.S. senators plus independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The lawmakers cited "the systemic collapse of the country's economy and the complete erosion of the rule of law," as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and slow recovery from natural disasters including the August 2021 magnitude 7.2 earthquake and, days later, the remnants of a hurricane, as reasons for strengthening protections for Haitian migrants.

The new letter cites the case of Rose Tilus, a nurse practitioner born in Haiti who contracted Covid-19 while working in nursing homes on the frontlines of the pandemic.

"In these difficult times, immigrants have shown their support and their devotion to this country," Tilus testified during a Senate hearing last year. "We have stood as frontline workers knowing that there was a possibility of death. Despite this, I live in constant fear of deportation and/or discontinuation of my Temporary Protected Status."

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