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How Biden could protect Haitian Refugees from Deportation

By now it has become painfully obvious to Donald Trump that no amount of legal challenge will undo the result of the presidential election. By all objective measures Joseph “Joe” Biden will take the oath of office on January 20, 2021 as the 46th President of the United States. The new president will have many pressing issues to address, including the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, race relations, climate change, and others. But to Haitian, Honduran, Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees in the Western Hemisphere, as well as those from six other countries in Africa and Asia whose TPS (Temporary Protected Status) had been terminated by Donald Trump, the best thing a new President Biden can do for them is to sign an immediate Executive Order, renewing TPS for the thousands of refugees in limbo.

The preamble to Biden’s policy statement on immigration reads as follow: “Generations of immigrants have come to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs, the hope in their heart, and a desire to claim their own piece of the American Dream. That’s the reason we have constantly been able to renew ourselves, to grow better and stronger as a nation, and to meet new challenges. Immigration is essential to who we are as a nation, our core values, and our aspirations for our future. Under a Biden Administration, we will never turn our backs on who we are or that which makes us uniquely and proudly American. The United States deserves an immigration policy that reflects our highest values as a nation.” 

Regarding to TPS, the policy  statement asserts that upon taking office President Biden will “Order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries ripped apart by violence or disaster.”  Does that include Haitian refugees? During the campaign, candidate Biden went to Little Haiti in Miami, and promised the Haitian American community he would support immigration reform that would alleviate their concerns. To be noted, Haitian Americans voted overwhelmingly for him, due to the groundwork done by Haitian-American political consultant  Karen André and the grassroots organization – the Haitian Power House of Florida with the assistance of community organizers such as Fritz Clairvil, Bernice Fidelia-Morris, Jensen Desrosiers and others. 

While the candidate specifically mentioned TPS for Venezuelans several times, he failed to mention Haitians or the hundreds of thousands of individuals from Central America and elsewhere. His statement clearly singles out Venezuelan for TPS protection but only “protection for others,” which means, the likes of Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and those from Africa or Asia, whose protection will come through a legislative solution. Presently, there is an expiration date of January 4, 2021 of TPS status for 2,500 refugees from Nicaragua, 46,000 from Haiti, 67,000 from Honduras, and 195,000 from El Salvador. Will President Trump, whose official mandate ends January 20, 2021,carry out their deportation before Mr. Biden is sworn-in? Needless to say, it is urgent that there be an Executive order to protect them immediately. Of course, the permanent status of all TPS holders eventually will be decided through legislation.   

Since he was sworn-in, President Trump, through Executive orders, has reduced legal immigration by nearly 50%, without enacting one single piece of legislation. He allowed TPS to expire and refused to renew it even after his 2016 promise to the Haitian community in Little Haiti, that he would be their “biggest champion” (sic). He banned people from Muslim countries from entering the United States; he sought to reverse DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program approved by the Obama administration. It took a Supreme Court ruling to protect the legal status of over six million DACA recipients. 

Immigration reform through legislation will take time and may not occur during the first term of a Biden administration,especially if Republicans retain control of the Senate. Currently, Democrats are locked into two runoff races in Georgia, the results of which will determine what party will control the Senate. If the Democrats control the Senate, ambitious immigration reform will be less challenging for President Biden who will have an opportunity to make significant changes to U.S. immigration policy. But regardless of who control the Senate the president must use Executive order to help those TPS holders, some of whom have lived in the United States for more than a decade.

President Trump changed immigration policies by Executive orders, proclamations, and regulations. President Biden can undo all of them by his own Executive orders and immigration proclamations. In addition to renewing TPS for all qualified refugees, President Biden should also remove the ban on entry of individuals from Muslim countries. All can be done within the first 100 days of the Biden administration.

Immigration reforms have a tortuous story, dated back to the first term of the Obama administration, and continued to the Trump administration. Indeed, legislative action could make it easier for people to gain legal status in the United States, but this may or may not happen so quickly. People who have been livingpeacefully here for many years should not have to put their lives on hold and be kept in limbo, while the president, with a stroke of a pen, can change the trajectory of their lives. 

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump tried to scarepeople in Minnesota about Joe Biden turning their state into a refugee camp. Using alarming tactics with white voters, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents plastered the faces of dark-skinned immigrants on billboards in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. That did not deter the majority of Americans from voting for change, and that change must include protection for Haitian refugees as well as for others. 

The Haitian American community may have reason to hope for positive change in immigration policy. Two staff members in the Biden campaign, Karen André and Karine Jean-Pierre, are ofHaitian descent, and both are expected to join the administration. Whether their voices will carry weight with the new administration is another matter. 


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