Nelson, others question termination of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians

May 8, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) today led a group of a dozen U.S. senators in calling on the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to explain what they call a “deeply troubling and potentially politically motivated” decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians in the United States. 

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and USCIS Director Lee Francis Cissna, the senators point to an Oct. 2017 USCIS report that described current conditions in Haiti as “vulnerable to external shocks and internal fragility,” and further concluded that Haiti is “unable to adequately respond to a wide range of persistent humanitarian needs.”

Yet, despite its own assessment, one month later USCIS and Homeland Security rescinded TPS for 58,000 Haitians in the U.S and characterized the situation on the island as no longer needing the designation.

“The November 2017 decision to terminate Haiti’s TPS designation marked a stunning reversal of this assessment of the conditions in Haiti,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, in light of the president’s widely reported offensive comments about Haiti and African nations being ‘s***hole countries,’ these documents raise serious questions regarding whether the Administration’s decision to terminate Haiti’s TPS was based on the conditions in Haiti – as required by law – or whether the decision resulted from broader political concerns, including an animus towards the country and its nationals.” 

The senators called for the immediate reconsideration of the administration’s decision to terminate Haiti’s TPS designation. 

In addition to Nelson and Markey, the letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN) Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). 

Below is text of the letter and a copy of the lawmakers’ letter can be found here.

May 8, 2018
The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20528

The Honorable Lee Francis Cissna
Director
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
20 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20529

Dear Secretary Nielsen and Director Cissna:

We write concerning newly released United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) documents that raise serious questions about the integrity of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) justification for terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti. 

TPS was first extended to Haiti in January 2010, several days after a catastrophic, magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the country. The disaster caused billions of dollars in infrastructure damages and losses, claimed more than 220,000 lives, and displaced more than 1.5 million people. At the time of the initial TPS designation, then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano called the earthquake “a disaster of historic proportions.”[1] Until as recently as May 2017, DHS continually renewed and extended TPS for eligible Haitian nationals, recognizing the “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that persist in Haiti as a result of the 2010 earthquake.[2]

The November 2017 decision to terminate Haiti’s TPS designation marked a stunning reversal of this assessment of the conditions in Haiti. The decision also resulted in a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against DHS and other parties seeking records to “shed light on the legality of the termination, the reasons for the termination, and the adequacy of the review of relevant conditions.”[3] Documents that DHS recently produced in the litigation are deeply troubling and raise suspicions that the termination of TPS for Haiti was unjustified and politically motivated.

For example, an internal USCIS report entitled “TPS Considerations: Haiti (October 2017)” states that “[m]any of the conditions prompting the original January 2010 TPS designation persist, and the country remains vulnerable to external shocks and internal fragility.”[4] The report goes on to explain that “Haiti has also experienced various setbacks that have impeded its recovery, including a cholera epidemic and the impact of Hurricane Matthew—the latter of which struck Haiti in October 2016 and “severely worsened the pre-existing humanitarian situation” in the country.”[5] And the report further notes that “food insecurity, internal displacement, an influx of returnees from the Dominican Republic, the persistence of cholera, and the lingering impact of various natural disasters” continue to impede Haiti’s recovery.[6]The report concludes that Haiti currently is “unable to adequately respond to a wide range of persistent humanitarian needs” and characterizes the island nation’s recovery as a “tragic pattern of ‘one step forward, two steps back.’”[7]

Yet, in a November 3, 2017 memorandum to then-Acting DHS Secretary Duke entitled “Haiti’s Designation for Temporary Protected Status,” Director Cissna wrote: “In summary, Haiti has made significant progress in recovering from the 2010 earthquake, and no longer continues to meet the conditions for designation,”[8] citing the internal USCIS report as the basis for his assessment. In the same recommendation memorandum, Director Cissna further ignored his own agency’s report, arguing that significant progress has been made in response to the earthquake, and citing the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers, the completion of the 2017 presidential election, low levels of cholera, and the increased closure of camps for internally displaced persons.[9] DHS later used those justifications in its termination notice published in the Federal Register.[10]

At best, the discrepancies between the internal USCIS report and the deliberative memorandum reveal that the memorandum is based on a mistaken reading of the report; at worst, they reveal that the Administration is intentionally distorting the TPS-renewal assessment for political purposes. Either way, the documents reflect a callous disregard for how this TPS decision affects the approximately 58,000 Haitians set to lose protections. Moreover, in light of the president’s widely reported offensive comments about Haiti and African nations being “s***hole countries,”[11] these documents raise serious questions regarding whether the Administration’s decision to terminate Haiti’s TPS was based on the conditions in Haiti — as required by law — or whether the decision resulted from broader political concerns, including an animus towards the country and its nationals. 

Accordingly, we ask that, by May 31, 2018, you provide in writing (1) a detailed factual basis for the determination that Haiti no longer meets the conditions for TPS designation and (2) the reason(s) for the disparities between the October 2017 USCIS report and Director Cissna’s assessment in his November 3, 2017 memorandum. We also ask that you immediately commit to a reconsideration of the termination of Haiti’s TPS designation based on the facts and the law.

 

Sincerely,

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