Brooklyn Congresswoman Rips Homeland Security Secretary for Not Visiting Haitian Resettlement Camps

Elected officials and Haitian leaders rallied in Foley Square for the extension of Temporary Protected Status for 50,000 Haitians in the United States. Madina Toure/Observer

Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke blasted Department of Homeland Security Secretary Gen. John Kelly for not visiting resettlement sites during his brief trip to Haiti today, and urged him to join her and other elected officials on a longer tour of the beleaguered island country—an experience she insisted would illustrate the need for his agency to grant long-term residency status to refugees from the Caribbean nation.

In a statement released yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security said that Kelly would travel to Haiti today, and meet with President Jovenel Moïse and other senior government officials to discuss “international cooperation and issues related to repatriation.” The agency also said they would talk about building Haiti’s maritime law enforcement capacity as well as to “encourage cooperation between the Dominican Republic and Haiti” along their shared border.

The Miami Herald reported that the trip would last just four hours and that Kelly would stop only at the National Palace—not at any of the temporary shelters set up for those Haitians who have fled the disease and natural disaster that have wracked parts of the country.

“Despite calls from more than two dozen humanitarian organizations for Secretary Kelly to visit resettlement sites and areas impacted directly by the earthquake, Hurricane Matthew, and the cholera epidemic, reports indicate that he will spend the entirety of his brief trip in the National Palace,” Clarke said in a statement provided to the Observer.

Last week, Kelly announced his decision to extend Temporary Protected Status—which provides sanctuary and work authorization to arrivals from countries enduring an armed conflict or natural disaster—for Haitians for an additional six months past its originally scheduled expiration date.

But Clarke, the first congresswoman of Caribbean descent, maintained that the aftershocks of the 2010 earthquake, the subsequent cholera epidemic and last year’s Hurricane Matthew have made Haiti an unsafe place to live. She asserted a longer stay would force the general to appreciate the hardship.

“I sincerely doubt that such a cursory trip will provide Secretary Kelly with enough substantive knowledge to truly understand the conditions on the ground and properly inform his decision on whether to extend Temporary Protected Status in six months,” she said. “I instead invite him to travel with me and other members of Congress to spend several days in Haiti touring resettlement locations and learning from Haiti advocates about why this extension is so vital.”

The current extension will go into effect on July 23 and last through January 22, 2018.

Kelly said that before the expiration of the six-month period, he will again evaluate the designation for Haiti and decide how to proceed—and called on Haitian TPS recipients who do not have another immigration status to use the time before the deadline to plan their departure from the United States. He also suggested they apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.

In February, Clarke, co-chairwoman of the House Carribbean Caucus, introduced legislation that would expand TPS to include all Haitian nationals who were in the United States before November 4, 2016.

Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees—founded in 1992—supported hundreds of families who sought asylum in the United States after being persecuted in Haiti. The organization has been lobbying Kelly to extend TPS for the impacted immigrants.

Other local organizations that have been involved in the fight for TPS for Haitians include Haitian Americans United for Progress, the New York Legal Assistance Group, 32BJ SEIU, the New York Immigration Coalition and 1199 SEIU. Black Alliance for Just Immigration—which created an action kit to help people urge DHS over the phone and on social media to ask Kelly to extend TPS—said her organization supported Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees.

DHS insisted to the Observer that Kelly is fully familiar with the circumstances in Haiti.