Immigration authorities consider criminal records of Haitians with Temporary Protected Status

Future of 50K Haitians depends on Homeland Security secretary

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer, Liane Morejon - Reporter

MIAMI - During a recent speech, The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the nation is under attack from criminals. 

This is why the retired U.S. Marine Corps general was reviewing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' programs that allow migrants from 13 countries to remain in the U.S. for humanitarian reasons. 

"We are under attack from criminals who think their greed justifies raping young girls at knife point, dealing poison to our youth, or killing just for fun," said Kelly, who led the U.S. Southern Command in Miami-Dade's Doral until last year. 

Kelly is concerned about the Temporary Protected Status' protection from deportation being granted to immigrants who have criminal records. The program protects migrants running from war, persecution or natural disasters and it excludes those with criminal records. 

Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, USCIS head of policy and strategy, requested information about how often Haitians with TPS were convicted of "crimes of any kind," according to e-mails obtained by The Associated Press. This was indicative of Kelly's criteria for deciding whether or not he will renew the TPS program for Haitians this year. 

"I know some of [the criminal data of Haitians with TPS] is not captured, but we'll have to figure out a way to squeeze more data out of our systems," Kovarik reportedly wrote April 27.

President Barack Obama included Haitians in the program after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. About 50,000 Haitian immigrants who were in the U.S. before Jan. 12, 2011, qualified for TPS, according to USCIS. They are only a fraction of the estimated 954,000 Haitians in the U.S.

"You should not craft a humanitarian policy based on the few," Maria Odom, a former USCIS ombudsman during the Obama administration, told the Associated Press. 

Rev. Luke Harrigan, of the Eglise Baptiste Haitienne de La Grace in South Florida, agrees with Odom. He said he has seen the suffering first hand during his regular missionary trips to the impoverished Caribbean country. 

"Sure, you have some bad apples, but the majority are hard working people," Harrigan said. "I was in Haiti in September and the need is still there."

In 2015, Janet Napolitano, the former DHS secretary, extended the TPS for qualifying Haitians to July 22, 2017. After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016, Haitians in South Florida were advocating for a change of date required for TPS and for Congress to allow them to be eligible to become legal permanent residents.

Earlier this year, James McCament, the USCIS acting director, recommended that Kelly allow the TPS for Haitians program to expire in July. This would prompt the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities to deport thousands of Haitians living in South Florida. 

INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC

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