The Biden administration announced it will grant temporary protected status to tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants living in the U.S. without legal status.
Haitian immigrants granted protected status will be exempt from deportation for 18 months, at which point the administration could extend or renew the designation.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited security concerns, social unrest, human right abuses and extreme poverty for the decision. Haitian immigrants in the U.S. were initially granted protected status in 2010 following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed 250,000 citizens.
“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home.”
Haiti is also going through a significant rise in kidnappings, which have become so common, Colombia’s anti-kidnapping unit is assisting Haitian police on how to respond.
“We are witnessing the making of a Somalia in the Americas,” Ralph P. Chevry, a board member of the Haiti Center for Socio Economic Policy in Port-au-Prince told The Washington Post.
According to NPR, only Haitian immigrants already in the U.S. are eligible for protected status. Anyone who comes into the U.S. after May 21 can still face deportation.
The Biden administration was slammed by immigrants rights groups earlier this year when ICE deported more than 100 Haitian and Jamaican immigrants on two flights in January. The protected status would not have kept those immigrants in the country, but the Biden administration was still criticized for sending people back to a war zone.
The term of President Jovenel Moïse seems to be at issue. On Sunday, Moïse said authorities arrested 23 people linked to a failed coup to install Supreme Court judge Yvcikel Dabresil as president. Dabresil was also arrested Sunday.
Both Moïse and opposition leaders disagree about the length of Moïse’s term. Opposition leaders say Moïse’s term as president ended Sunday.
Moïse was elected to a five-year term in 2016, but he wasn’t installed as president for a year due to disputed election results. The dispute has led to protests and violence against protestors by police.