Some More Thoughts on the Intricacies of TPS for Illegal Haitian Migrants

By David North on January 28, 2010

Why should the application period for the Temporary Protected Status for Haitian illegals be extended over 180 days?

This was among my thoughts over the last few days as I attended a DHS "Stakeholders Meeting" on fee waivers for TPS applicants in Washington, and as I was interviewed by both NPR, on the left, and Fox News, on the right, regarding this program.

The TPS rules give all Haitian illegals in the nation on January 12 (the day of the earthquake) legal status for 18 months, during which they can join the legal U.S. labor market. The USCIS rules on the program are outlined here.

In retrospect, it appears to me that the immigration-management part of the government has over-reacted to the disaster in Haiti, in several ways.

The first announcement the government made was that it would not deport anyone to Haiti for 18 months. That's clearly good public policy. Why add to the population of Haiti a group of probably unhappy law-breakers who, by definition do not have jobs in Haiti?

Now, this is not a large population. According to the 2008 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Table 27, the U.S. removed 1,570 aliens to Haiti that year, about 30 percent of whom had criminal records over and above their violations of the immigration law. That's a flow of about 125 a month.

My question is that if these are the (totally appropriate) objectives – not adding to Haiti's problems and not sending the Haitian illegals into a truly grim situation – why not simply announce that for the next few months there would be no deportations or other removals to Haiti? There are provisions in the law for such a decision.

Why instead, give all 75,000-125,000 illegal Haitians in the country a temporary amnesty status? (This is the estimate of the size of the illegal alien population from that country made by my colleague, Steven Camarota.) Instead of an easy-to-administer deportation holiday, DHS launched a complex mini-amnesty program – perhaps a foretaste of other administratively created mini-amnesties. Interesting.

The next question that this raises is the timing of the application period. It is 180 days long. Obviously if one wants to open the gates, several months are needed to give the eligibles time to hear about the program and apply for it.

But this lengthy period just compounds the potential problems of fraud in the program. Almost all the first applications for TPS will probably be fraud-free, in that the criteria are so loose – essentially being from Haiti and being here on January 12. But as the months pass, and as post-January 12 arrivals start applying, the extent of fraud will only head in one direction – up. Why not a 90-day application window instead?

A third subject for worry is the decision-making process that DHS has created for this program, which is totally free of face-to-face contact. Again, this should not be much of a problem in the first weeks of the program but as time passes, and there is more room for fraud, this becomes troublesome.

In summary, the program now calls for TPS paper applications to be sent to a DHS computer center, called a lockbox; some obviously flawed applications are rejected at this point, and the rest are sent along to a DHS regional facility for adjudication – that is where a real human being looks at a real piece of paper. But there is no routine provision for real DHS people to look at real Haitians, as there was at least initially in the IRCA legalization program of the 1980s.

TPS, incidentally, is a sort of overlay immigration status, I learned. A Haitian can be in the U.S. legally, as a tourist or a foreign student, for example, and apply for TPS status. Then that person can use either or both of his or her statuses, whichever is more advantageous, as long as they both exist. Then, if one expires, they can still use the other.

The DHS staff, though strongly focused on the minutia of waiving their own fees for low-income Haitians, showed no interest in the concept that getting a TPS-generated work permit for $470, and thus access to the legal U.S. labor market, is a tremendous bargain. I should add that a Haitian of my age – I am (well) over 65 – can get the TPS status and the work permit for all of $130, an even better bargain.