Activists Criticize Homeland Security Chief’s ‘Unconscionable’ Trip To Haiti

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Immigration and international development groups blasted Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly’s visit to Haiti Wednesday, complaining that his stop in Port-au-Prince is far too brief to get an understanding of conditions on the ground.

Activists say that without visiting Haiti’s tent cities, cholera treatment centers or storm-battered southern coast, Kelly can’t see for himself why it is unable to repatriate the 60,000 Haitians currently living in the U.S. under temporary protected status (TPS) granted after an earthquake devastated the island in 2010.

Kelly’s visit will last just four hours, and the secretary will stay the grounds of the National Palace for meeting with Haitian officials, the Miami Herald reported. He is scheduled to meet with Haitian President Jovenel Moïse to discuss international cooperation and issues related to repatriation of Haitian nationals living in the U.S., according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) news release.

Those discussions are not enough for Kelly to grasp the challenges that Haiti faces, critics say.

“Learning about the extraordinary blows Haitians have suffered requires an open mind and more than a quick ‘in-and-out’ visit to the palace,” Steven Forester, a Miami-based immigration advocate with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, told the Miami Herald.

Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson said that Kelly’s brief visit was a “horrible” way to learn more about local conditions and make future decisions about TPS for Haitians.

“You don’t survey the conditions of a country by going from the airport to the palace, stay there for four hours, and then get back on an airplane and come back to the United States of America,” Wilson said. “It’s unconscionable and not fair.”

Following the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. government granted TPS to thousands of Haitian refugees fleeing the devastated island. DHS has extended the designation several times, most recently on May 24 when it pushed the expiration date back another six months to Jan. 22, 2018.

Immigration groups criticized Kelly for agreeing to a six-month extension instead of a minimum 18 month — or, in some cases, indefinite — period they had requested. Others have also demanded that the U.S. halt deportations of illegal immigrants to Haiti, which it resumed in September under the Obama administration. (RELATED: AP: DHS Is Looking At Criminality Of Haitian Amnesty Recipients)

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) says that a longer extension of TPS is necessary because it “offers an important refuge for a group that has been victimized by natural disasters and harmful Western interventions.”

“America has a moral obligation to support Haitian immigrants by extending Temporary Protected Status without delay and ending deportations to Haiti,” said BAJI executive director Opal Tometi in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security must also fundamentally alter its perception of Black immigrants as criminals and instead implement long term programs that allow immigrant families to live and thrive in the U.S.”

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