Photo via Haitian Times.

Jan. 12, 2010. The beginning of a new era for Haitian nationals in their modern history. 

Hundreds of thousands of Haitians were displaced after a devastating earthquake, with a registered magnitude of 7.0. It took tens of thousands.of lives and left many others severely injured, homeless and jobless. The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security can bestow temporary protected status (TPS) on immigrants from countries that face hardship from natural disasters, political turmoil, or issues beyond the government’s control. Thousands of Haitians were granted that protection.

January 2020 marked the 10-year anniversary of the natural disaster and many Haitian nationals still had nothing to go back to. It is no secret that life in Haiti is difficult, resources are scarce, and currently it is a daily challenge to escape violent political insurgents. This is true for Haitians living in Haiti, returning members of the diaspora and other visitors.

Despite those conditions, in November 2017 the administration of President Donald Trump announced the end of TPS for Haitians, as well as  immigrants from several other beleaguered nations. Many Haitians who found refuge in the United States after being granted TPS were facing return to a country where their lives would be in danger.

Those deportations were delayed by the courts and now, thankfully, President Joe Biden has announced an 18-month extension of TPS for Haitian nationals. This gives them until November 2022 before they must return to Haiti, unless they are given permanent residency status or there is another extension of TPS. 

Many of the Haitian refugees who moved here after the earthquake have made lives for themselves. They’ve started careers, gone to school, graduated, and started families. They have worked to succeed here. Just because this is a much more affluent country doesn't mean that success has come easily.

If November 2022 rolls around and TPS is not extended, where are the Haitian nationals supposed to go? Do they try to stay here in the U.S., where they face deportation but where they do have some degree of safety? Or do they go back to Haiti where their lives are much too often at risk?

Given recurring incidents of police brutality in this country, I suppose one could argue they aren't safe anywhere. But the difference is while the U.S. has a long way to go on social justice and racial issues, this country is not plagued by a toxic mix of -chronic instability, both widespread and extreme poverty, and  natural disasters. Many Haitians suffer from food insecurity and lack of water-- not even clean water, but just water.

I was born and raised in the U.S. I learned a lot about the differences in the two cultures when my cousins from Haiti came to live with us briefly after the earthquake. I was 15 then. Back in Haiti, they were a middle class family of five that lived a moderately decent life. Both parents were medical professionals—father, a doctor, and mother, a nurse—and their children received high marks in school. 

I’m sure to some that may resemble the ideal family structure. However, in Haiti, family structures like these are not immune to the difficulties that exist in the poorest countries.

Due to the earthquake, their schools were destroyed, so there was no means of completing the school year. In a rush to complete the academic year, they came here to live with us. At first, I thought we could relate. But, being a Black American and a Black immigrant are two different identities.

It was an interesting process to see them integrate into American society; from receiving countless shots, learning modern English lingo, and receiving the infamous “talk” most Black children in America receive. 

See, I’d never gotten this talk before. It was just assumed that I knew better than to get involved with the law. Besides, if I did, this was my home country and no one was going to deport me. I didn’t have anywhere worse than this to go to. For my cousins, it was different.. 

My father spoke to my cousins and drilled into them the importance of avoiding being sent back home from the U.S. because of misconduct. In many immigrant households, the ultimate fear isn’t simply prison, it’s deportation. Separation, the return to the unknown, to be stripped of the advantages of life in the U.S. that we take for granted. 

My cousins were brave enough to acclimate into a society that did not truly protect them, not only because they are Black people but because they were not citizens or legal permanent residents. 

Eventually, they finished the school year and went back to Haiti. But then, stores and schools had to shut down for months again, this time because of the political turmoil. Insurgents filled the streets often killing anyone they could get their hands on. This is the life that is waiting for many Haitian nationals, especially those less fortunate.

Recipients of TPS are not forbidden from applying for residency in the U.S. and eventually citizenship, but these options prove difficult for those who were previously undocumented, and impossible for those who lack U.S. sponsors. 

There should be an independent pathway to permanent legal status for those that have created lives and families in the United States as a result of TPS. They have positively contributed to the vibrant culture of the United States. It is simply the right thing to do.