Hundreds of Haitians on Long Island are among tens of thousands of immigrants who will lose Temporary Protected Status, a designation that had allowed them to stay and work here legally since 2010.
The Department of Homeland Security has been reviewing, and so far shortening or terminating, the protection known as TPS as expiration dates have come up for immigrant groups given work permits under the program.
Haitians got an additional 18 months after an upcoming January deadline to plan their departure, according to an agency statement issued Monday night.
The program’s end was characterized as heartless and inhumane by immigrant advocates who had been trying to make the case that Haiti is not in good shape to send people back.
For those immigrants, the decision puts them in a difficult predicament: If they comply with the new cutoff date, they have to return to their homeland; if they don’t and stay, they fall into illegality.
Jean Claude Mompoint, a Valley Stream resident who has a cleaning job at a Brooklyn home for disabled people and has worked a second job transporting people in wheelchairs at LaGuardia Airport, said the prospects are scary without TPS. He said he’ll go back to Haiti if he must, but doesn’t know how he’ll support his wife and three children there.
“It’s very hard for me because, now, to go back to Haiti . . .,” he said, his voice trailing off. “If I go back to Haiti, what job am I going to do? It’s very hard for me, for my responsibility,” said Mompoint, 58. “Here, we need people to do these jobs.”
According to DHS figures, 58,706 people from Haiti were protected under the status nationwide.
TPS is a form of relief granted under the discretion of the president to immigrants from nations destabilized by natural disasters, armed conflict and other turmoil. But the administration said the conditions created by Haiti’s earthquake “no longer exist,” according to the DHS statement.
“The decision to terminate TPS for Haiti was made after a review of the conditions upon which the country’s original designation were based and whether those extraordinary but temporary conditions prevented Haiti from adequately handling the return of their nationals, as required by statute,” said the statement issued Monday night by DHS.
The decision came as a blow in Haitian neighborhoods from Miami to Brooklyn, including more than 23,000 Haitian immigrants living on Long Island and concentrated in Nassau County areas such as Elmont and Valley Stream.
“We are creating illegality for a segment of people,” said Mimi Pierre Johnson, a Haitian-American community activist who hosts a political discussion show on Radio Kreyol 89.7 FM. “This infuriates me, because you have children here now whose parents are on TPS, and what are you going to do about them? . . . What are you going to say to these children?”
The program’s termination leaves many Salvadorans — the largest group here under TPS and also Long Island’s largest immigrant community — treading on shaky ground.
“The community is very worried,” said Andrés Zaldivar, a South Hempstead resident and former TPS recipient who was granted political amnesty and is now a U.S. citizen. Many others haven’t had that luck, he said, and in his community they have come to be known as “tepeiseros,” after TPS, perpetually in limbo and in danger of losing their permits.
“No one wants to live with that uncertainty,” said Zaldivar, 58. “There shouldn’t be just an extension but a viable solution for permanent residence for those people.”
Some Haitians see the delayed termination as a glass half-full, thinking the transition period buys them time to lobby Congress for lasting immigration programs before their permits expire on July 22, 2019.
“It’s not a defeat and it’s not a victory,” said New York Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), who is Haitian-American and represents a Nassau County district where many Haitians reside. “We have now 18 months to galvanize our community and push . . . to request a path for citizenship.”