Skip to main content

Haitians With Soon-Ending Protected Status In San Diego Face Uncertainty

Immigration advocates rally in front of the Jacob J. Javits Federal Building ...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Immigration advocates rally in front of the Jacob J. Javits Federal Building in New York to protest the decision from the Department of Homeland Security to terminate Temporary Protected Status for people from Haiti, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017.

Dozens of Haitians facing an end to their Temporary Protected Status in San Diego by the summer of 2019 have roots here: children, jobs, and friendships.

Jean Elisé Durandisse, a pastor for the Haitian Ministry of San Diego, said the Department of Homeland Security's announcement on Monday could affect at least 100 Haitians with the status in San Diego.

“Can you imagine people living here for 7 years, maybe longer than that. They have children born and raised (here), and right now you said ok they have to go back … some of the children they are U.S. citizens so it’s a big decision.”

Durandisse said he has been trying to console Haitians, telling them to have faith that officials may change their minds. He said Haitians in San Diego are feeling everything from relief to have almost a year and a half to figure out what to do, to panic about the idea of going back to Haiti.

The Trump administration said the situation in Haiti has much improved since the earthquake. But Durandisse said last year’s Hurricane Matthew and continued government disfunction make returning to Haiti seem like an impossible prospect for most Haitians.

Yolnick Jeune couldn't sleep for days, anxious over the fate of a program that has staved off the deportations of both herself and tens of thousands of other Haitians in the U.S.

When President Trump's administration announced one last 18-month extension of the Temporary Protected Status that has allowed her to work and provide for her five children, including a 7-year-old, U.S.-born girl.

"I can breathe a little and get some rest. This buys me time to figure out what's next," Jeune said Tuesday in Miami's Little Haiti community.

RELATED: US Ending Temporary Permits For Almost 60,000 Haitians

But at the same time, Jeune is upset that the government on Monday said she and nearly 60,000 Haitians must return home July 2019, ruling out any further extensions of the immigration benefits given to Haitians who came before and in the aftermath of the Caribbean country's 2010 earthquake.

"I am very depressed to know that within 18 months, I have to go back," she said.

Having been in Miami since 2009, Jeune has not returned to Haiti but hears from her sister and other relatives back in her native Port-de-Paix that conditions have not improved for those whose lives were upended by the earthquake.

RELATED: San Diego Volunteers Help Haitians Survive In Mexico

In Little Haiti, the mood was of both relief and anger. Many of the dozens lined up to receive turkeys at the cultural center were confused over whether the program was in fact extended or ended and were hesitant to speak about immigration.

"This decision has thrown these families in complete whirlwind," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the advocacy group Haitian Women of Miami, at a press conference Tuesday in Little Haiti.

"President Trump you did promise when you were campaigning that you would be Haiti's best champion," she said. "Is this your idea of being our champion? I beg to differ."

The Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that conditions in Haiti have improved significantly, citing a decrease of 97 percent in the number of displaced people. A statement said the benefit will be extended one last time — until July 2019 — to give Haitians time to prepare to return home.

RELATED: Mexicans Respond To Haitians, Africans With Unusual Hospitality

Advocates for Haitians quickly criticized the decision to make this the last extension, arguing the conditions in the island nation haven't improved nearly enough for Haitians to be deported.

While Haiti has made advances spurred by international aid since the quake, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world. More than 2.5 million people, roughly a quarter of the population, live on less than $1.23 a day, which authorities there consider extreme poverty.

The United Nations last month ended a peacekeeping mission in Haiti that, at its peak, included more than 10,000 troops. Its new mission is comprised of about 1,300 international civilian police officers and 350 civilians who will help the country try to reform a deeply troubled justice system.

The Homeland Security Department made its announcement 60 days before temporary status for the Haitians is set to expire. In May, the agency extended the program for only six months instead of the customary 18, and urged Haitians under the program to get their affairs in order and prepare to go home.

Jean Elisé Durandisse, a pastor for the Haitian Ministry of San Diego, says the government's decision to end their temporary protected status could affect at least 100 Haitians in San Diego.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.