End of protected status could mean deportation for some Haitian students

The Department of Homeland Security will decide whether to extend or terminate the program in November.


Debris in the streets of the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Bel-Air, in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Photo courtesy of Marcello Casal Jr/ABr.

Katrina Scales, News Editor

Haitian immigrant students at FAU granted temporary U.S. citizenship may be forced to return to an island that has yet to recover from devastating natural disasters and disease outbreak.

The Department of Homeland Security granted Haitian residents “temporary protected status” in 2010 after an earthquake killed more than 250,000 people and a subsequent cholera epidemic killed thousands more.

In May of this year, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who now serves as President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, granted a six-month extension (instead of the usual 18) of TPS designation and advised recipients to make arrangements for departure from the U.S.

This announcement sent a wave through the Haitian community and forced families to consider difficult decisions.

Konbit Kreyol is an FAU student organization seeking to promote awareness of Haitian culture while serving the community. Their Oct. 4 meeting was held specifically to inform students and deliberate TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policies.

President Jennifer Deneus led the discussion and addressed points about limitations on immigration, why they think certain immigrants are treated differently and if they should be held accountable for the decisions their parents made for them.

When she asked the group if they were affected by DACA or TPS or is close to someone who is, half the hands in the room went up.

According to data from the FAU Provost office, FAU hosts a total of 360 Haitian immigrant students.

An executive board member of Konbit Kreyol who wished to remain anonymous wrote to the University Press in an email and said that life as an adult immigrant student involves a lot of money and limited opportunity.

“I’ve lived in Boca Raton since I was 2 years old. Like most DREAMers, I was not aware of my status and how it would affect me. Most of my household got TPS after the earthquake but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I realized how limited I really was here.”

In March, Florida lawmakers including both U.S. senators and five congressmen signed a letter to Washington pleading for DHS to extend the protection citing the damage from hurricane Matthew that destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure and decimated crops.

Senior English major Elin Eugene was in attendance at the Konbit Kreyol meeting.

Senior English major Elin Eugene is a member of Konbit Kreyol and plans to graduate next spring. Katrina Scales | News Editor

“In middle school, high school I didn’t really have to worry … it was like, to me, I saw myself as an American,” Eugene said. “Then you get to that point where you have to get a job and then you find out your status and you get that shock where you’re like, ‘Wait, OK, so I am different.’”

Eugene’s parents were nervous that their family would be targets for theft and kidnapping because of their middle-income status in Haiti.

“The way I look at it is, when I first came into this country, I was very young I didn’t know what was going on. To me it was like, ‘Oh we’re going on vacation.’ We went on vacation to the U.S. every summer to Florida,” he said. “Then in 2006, I remember I had a conversation with my uncle and he was like, ‘How would you like to stay here?’ and I was young so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to stay.’ Then later on when I became older, I found out the real reason why I stayed.”

When asked about TPS students losing their visas, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions Anna van Dam said their status at the university would not change.

“If they are current students at the university, we don’t see an issue with admitting our current student population.”

South Florida is home to the nation’s largest population of Haitian immigrants and would see the greatest economic impact of a termination. According to the Migration Policy institute website, 213,000 documented Haitian immigrants live in West Palm Beach to Miami, making up nearly four percent of the metropolitan population.

TPS recipients also pay taxes. In addition, each extension comes with a renewal fee of $495 meaning they would pay almost $1,000 in one year if the program is granted another six months.

The anonymous student said, “It definitely is a struggle. Especially when most people within your household are submitting the same payments. My household currently has 4 TPS recipients. We also have to pay the person that does the paperwork for us.”

Many believe that Haiti is in no way ready to accept more than half a million nationals, including the Haitian government. On Oct. 9, the government sent a formal request to the U.S. administration to extend TPS for another 18 months.

“Our research, as well as our conversations with U.S. law enforcement and elected officials, representing districts and states where Haitian TPS recipients reside, have shown that our nationals have been exemplary law-abiding residents and pose no threat to the security of the United States or its people,” Ambassador Paul Altidor wrote.

Two months before the election, then-Presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke cordially to residents in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, saying he wanted to build a better relationship with the community.

This led many Haitian voters to believe that the administration would be friendly to maintaining TPS after Trump promised he would be their “greatest champion.”

In May of this year, the Associated Press found that immigration policy chief Kathy Nuebel Kovarik was looking for crime statistics and information on how many Haitian immigrants may be receiving public welfare, sparking fears that the administration is building a case to end temporary protection.

Eugene has one semester left before he graduates and said he’s not sure what he would do if the program ended in January. He hopes that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will recognize and protect the law-abiding people who are in the country only trying to work and get an education.

“You have thousands of people in a society and they are working, they have children, they have a house, they have a car,” Eugene said. “And they’d be taking them from a stable environment and moving them to an unstable environment.”

The Department of Homeland Security has until mid-November to make a decision. In the meantime, Haitian activists in South Florida push for another deportation reprieve.

While students receiving TPS would retain their status as FAU Owls, the future is uncertain for their place in American society. The Konbit Kreyol executive concluded,

“Many people have TPS without those that are close to them…ending this program will tear apart families and relationships. We have to live in fear because we can be deported and taken away from everything that we know.”

Katrina Scales is the news editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected].