Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke accused Gen. John Kelly, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, of “trying to pull a fast one” when he claimed in a recent interview that it is up to the House and Senate to come up with legislation to extend the Temporary Protected Status designation shielding Haitian refugees from deportation.
The federal government granted thousands of Haitians TPS, which provides sanctuary and work authorization to foreign nationals fleeing disaster or violence at home, in the aftermath of the Caribbean nation’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Kelly recently agreed to extend the program just six months, and warned citizens from the country to prepare to leave the U.S.
He told the Miami Herald last week that he would enforce the law as it currently reads, and that it was incumbent on the members of Congress who are interested in the issue to “sit down and talk about it and come up with some legislation to fix it,” asserting that it is “squarely on them.”
“I think that Secretary Kelly is really obfuscating his authority,” Clarke said during a call hosted by the New York Immigration Coalition about TPS for Haitians. “There is no doubt that under current law, the secretary of Homeland Security is endowed with the authority to provide Temporary Protected Status for individuals who are either in imminent danger from natural disasters or who are seeking refuge. So for him to put it back on the Congress passing legislation—well, I think clearly he is trying to pull a fast one.”
Clarke—co-chairwoman of the House Carribbean Caucus and the daughter of Jamaican immigrants—seemed to suggest that the comments were indicative of a general lack of interest on the part of the Trump administration and the Republican Party in human rights issues. The congresswoman, whose district includes many Haitian-Americans, has in fact sponsored a bill that would expand and prolong the program an extra year-and-a-half, but it has failed to gain traction in GOP-controlled Washington.
“It is very clear, when you look at the sentiment of this administration and a Republican-led House and Senate that there has not been any real human rights affinity,” she said. “And so for him to indicate in any way that that was a viable way given the current climate for us to address this climate for these individuals would be disingenuous.”
Activists and elected officials have maintained that the aftershocks of the 2010 earthquake, the subsequent cholera epidemic and last year’s Hurricane Matthew have left Haiti still unsafe for return. During the call, Clarke again voiced her frustration over Kelly’s brief, four-hour visit to Haiti, which he spent entirely within the National Palace.
The congresswoman previously blasted him for not visiting resettlement sites, and urged him to join her and the elected officials on a longer tour of the country.
She also said that Haitians have “the resilience to restore their civil society” but noted that the situation “remains extremely precarious,” arguing that TPS “has provided an invaluable support.” And she emphasized the importance of building and maintaining support at the local level.
“I believe in doing that, we will really make our point clear that we need a partner in the United States, not someone to add to the burden and disaster, a man-made disaster and have not really had an opportunity to take root in its recovery in a manner in which we believe is in the best interest of the nation and the people,” she said.
A DHS spokesman told the Observer that when Kelly mentioned possible legislation, he was referring to some individuals and groups who have called for TPS beneficiaries to receive “some type of quasi- or actual permanent status” instead of temporary protection against removal—even after conditions on the ground no longer warrant TPS under the law.
He also said that the purpose of Kelly’s visit to Haiti was not to visit certain sites or see the country’s conditions firsthand, noting that Kelly has visited Haiti more than 10 times in the last six and a half years, including the period following the 2010 earthquake—and that he has visited camps for displaced individuals. He also said he received information on the conditions in Haiti from government and non-government sources during the period leading up to his decision to extend TPS for Haiti.
Ninaj Raoul, executive director of advocacy group Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees—which is among groups fighting for TPS extension for Haitians—noted that many Haitians were pushed out of their country “because of the U.S. policies that were imposed on them.” She argued that former President Bill Clinton’s trade policies adversely affected rice farming in Haiti, noting that they “put farmers out of business and farmers that support their families.”
She noted that under former President Barack Obama’s administration, the number of Haitians deported jumped from 50 to 1,000 a month starting in November—and said that the Haitian government is often forced to accept deportees and repatriates, or the United States threatens to not assist them in other areas.
“Being a small country, when the U.S. comes in there—Secretary Kelly just went in there now—oftentimes we have a brand new president in Haiti who really doesn’t have much, any political experience,” Raoul said. “A lot of these things are imposed on them.”
This story has been updated to include a comment from the Department of Homeland Security.