The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will start deporting thousands of Haitians after letting them stay for years following the country’s massive 2010 earthquake.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson announced the policy shift Thursday. Conditions are improving enough in the troubled Caribbean island country to justify sending Haitians back to their homeland, Johnson explains. Haitians would be sent packing in “as humane and minimally disruptive a manner as possible.”
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti January 12, 2010, which destroyed much of the island’s critical infrastructure and killed over 160,000 people. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and shares a border with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic.
Per an agency rule, Haitians who were illegally in the U.S. could not be deported immediately following the earthquake, up until about April 1, 2011, when some were deported after being deemed national security threats or found to be guilty of major crimes. Now that DHS has changed how it treats Haitians: the first to go will be those who are, “convicted felons, individuals convicted of significant or multiple misdemeanors, and individuals apprehended at or between ports of entry while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States.” U.S. immigration court judges have currently flagged 2,000 Haitians for deportation.
The U.S. is dealing with an “emergency situation” as a result of Haitian migration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldana testified before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. Haitians travelling to the U.S. illegally via Mexico have lately opted for the California border as their preferred point of entry as they try to get into the country. Forty-thousand Haitians are making their way north through Central America and then Mexico, according to Saldana.
Haitian migration was not particularly notable in fiscal year 2015 with Border Patrol only taking in 339 Haitians, standing in stark contrast to 2016, when 5,000 Haitian illegal immigrants entered California.
Despite DHS shifting gears when it comes to Haitian illegal immigrants, many will still be allowed to remain in the U.S. because Haiti is still a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) country, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Due to TPS, individuals from those designated countries cannot be deported by ICE officials and are allowed to live and work in the U.S. for an allotted period of time that their homeland is a TPS country. Haiti became a TPS country July 23, 2011 and that status expires July 22, 2017.
Some Haitians when caught attempting to illegally cross the border, lie to U.S. authorities about where they are from to increase chances of entering the country. A bus that broke down in Tijuana with 52 people on board who were suspected of trying to illegally immigrate to the U.S. included 45 Haitians claiming to be from Africa.
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