DHS Secretary John Kelly announced today that "Temporary Protected Status" for Haitians who were here illegally or on a visitor visa at the time of the 2010 earthquake would be extended yet again, for six months. In his statement he went to great pains to emphasize that this was really, for sure – probably; okay, well, maybe – the final extension:
This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.
No TPS grant to a large group of people has ever been allowed to end, so with high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to this is ventured.
The arguments for extending this "temporary" status stressed that Haiti's in no condition to take back the estimated 50,000 or so people benefitting from this amnesty program. But it's not like the expiration of the amnesty would mean all 50,000 would be rounded up and sent home the next day. Rather, they would all simply return to their prior status – mostly illegal aliens, plus some who were here on student or tourist visas when the earthquake hit. Those who were illegal and came to the attention of ICE would be deported, just like other Haitian illegal aliens.
In fact, we deport illegal aliens to Haiti all the time. ICE removed 459 Haitians in 2015 and 310 in 2016 – this tracks the decline in deportations at the end of the Obama administration but shows that the country is not "unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return" of its citizens, as the TPS law states. If we're deporting people who aren't covered by TPS to a country, what justification can there be to let others stay? TPS holders were just in the right place at the right time, and in effect won the lottery.
That said, the Trump administration might actually let Haitian TPS lapse after this latest extension. TPS for about 4,000 people from West Africa – granted because of the Ebola outbreak – was allowed to lapse as of yesterday. I used to say that no one was ever deported because his "temporary" status lapsed – because it never did. It's too early to tell, but soon that may no longer be true.
But what's really needed is a statutory change. The TPS statute allows the executive to keep renewing this temporary status indefinitely. Instead, we need to change the law, so that the administration can make an initial grant of TPS, but any extensions would require an act of Congress. Our lawmakers still might choose poorly, but at least they'd be on the record and could be pressured by voters. Rep. Mo Brooks introduced free-standing legislation to do just this in the last Congress; the Davis-Oliver Act, a broad measure to tighten up immigration enforcement that was taken up in the House Judiciary Committee last week, also contains a provision to this effect. It's long past time to fix the TPS statute so that "temporary" no longer means permanent.
(And on the occasion of National Memo Day yesterday, maybe Congress could require the president to add a cover sheet to any reports on TPS. That would be great.)