Buying a house. Going to engineering school. Having a family.
Those were the dreams that Evens, a 31-year-old Haitian, thought were out of reach during his last two years living in Brooklyn as an undocumented immigrant.
But on Tuesday morning, everything could change for Evens and thousands more of the estimated 192,000 New Yorkers with roots in the turmoil-tossed Carribean nation.
That’s when the Biden administration is expected to publish amended guidelines extending and expanding Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals amid government upheaval and civil unrest sparked by the assassination of the country’s president last month.
Haitians who are accepted into the humanitarian program will be allowed temporary protection from deportation while living and working legally in the U.S. The new designation will allow Haitian nationals who arrived before July 29 to stay through Feb. 3, 2023.
The guidelines will also provide further stability for more than 5,000 current TPS holders in the city, and offer a way for over 100,000 more Haitians in New York and across the nation to apply for legal immigration status.
Evens said it was like “a gift from God” when a friend called to share the news.
“We were wishing that for the longest. And thank God it happened,” said Evens, who requested THE CITY not use his last name due to immigration status.
Evens is excited, and not just for him — six other members of his church will also be eligible. That’s why so many of the people he knew pushed for a Biden presidency, he said.
“We’re starting with much more hope,” he said.
Jodi Ziesemer, director of the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, called the Biden move “really timely, extremely needed.”
“TPS provides protection from deportation, provides work authorization, provides a way for people to enter the formal economy, to be able to receive job training and accreditation,” Ziesemer said. “Being able to apply for TPS helps them get credentialed, helps them get employment, lift themselves out of poverty. All of those things are very necessary and critical.”
In May, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month extension of TPS for 55,000 Haitian nationals. But the government stalled on publishing details in the Federal Register on how to apply for TPS.
After the July 7 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, Haitian-American elected officials and other advocates pushed for the Biden administration to further extend TPS in anticipation of further instability, THE CITY reported last month.
Advocates argued that the country was already experiencing consistent waves of violence even before its current political crisis –– including scrapped national elections, the president ruling by decree and frequent kidnappings orchestrated by gangs.
“This is a very important humanitarian gesture that acknowledges the socioeconomic hardships that Haiti continues to go through, even more so in light of recent tragic events,” Mathieu Eugene, a Haitian-American Council member whose district includes Brooklyn’s Little Haiti, said in a statement. “For the Haitian people to persevere and to overcome this adversity, it is important that they have the ongoing support of the international community, and the extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haiti is a significant part of the process.”
Haiti was first designated for TPS status after the January 2010 earthquake that killed up to 300,000 people and severely damaged several cities. The Trump administration moved to end the designation in January 2018, but court injunctions upheld the protected status through October 2021.
‘It’s Gonna Be Hard’
For Jennifer, a Brooklynite who was granted TPS seven years ago, receiving the immigration status was life-changing. She no longer was forced to depend on others, and could return to the independence she had felt as a working woman in Haiti before being forced to flee after the earthquake.
“Back home I used to go out, I used to work,” she said. “So I came here, and then not doing nothing and then sitting waiting on people to give you something. It’s gonna be hard.”
Ninaj Raoul, head of Brooklyn-based nonprofit Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees, noted that some Haitian immigrants wound long trails through South and Central America to get to the U.S.
“They’re a really resilient group that can just survive just about anywhere and so they would just jump in and find jobs right away… once they got authorized they became independent quickly,” Raoul said.
While advocates applauded the Biden administration’s decision, many said that they’re now focusing on seeking justice for thousands of Haitian immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. They’re pushing the administration and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would give TPS holders a pathway to citizenship.
Jennifer told THE CITY that a green card would mean everything to her: the ability to travel freely to visit sick relatives back home, a more certain future and even more joy.
“[In New York] I hang out with my son, go to the park, go to a restaurant, spend some time with him,” she said. “I would like to do more … I want to go to a different country like Paris, like Jamaica.”
‘Get Happiness Back’
A joint report from the UndocuBlack Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance and the Quixote Center found that the Biden administration has already deported more Haitians in the early months of 2021 than then-President Donald Trump did in all of 2020
Advocates have focused on getting the administration to stop the use of Title 42, a part of the United States Code that allows the U.S. to deport asylum seekers without a hearing due to COVID-related health concerns.
“We’re also concerned about the continuation of the use of Title 42 at the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s still negatively impacting Haitian immigrants who are coming up on foot from South America and from Central America. There are lots of Haitian families and individuals who are basically being denied their international and domestic right to seek asylum,” said Breanne Palmer, interim policy director at the UndocuBlack Network.
“So we’re thrilled about the TPS for Haiti announcement that is definitely going to help people who are already here and have begun to build their lives here, but we’re also concerned about our family members at the border,” Palmer added.
After multiple years of fear of deportations under both Trump and Biden administrations, Jean Kendell Joseph, who runs a Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees group for young immigrants, called Tuesday’s expected rules “a relief.”
“A lot of people are starting to get their happiness back,” Joseph added.