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Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Jacqueline Charles

US issues 9-month extension of TPS benefits for Haitians and Central Americans

Haitian and immigration advocates hold a rally in this 2017 file image, demanding the Trump administration extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitians as they march in front of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Temporary protected status benefits, which were set to expire early next month for an estimated 400,000 immigrants from Haiti, Nepal and Central America, are being extended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for nine months.

The extension means that the TPS beneficiaries, including nationals of Sudan as well as Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, can continue to legally live and work in the United States for the next nine months and — for now — avoid being placed in deportation proceedings, which could have begun as early as March after their documents expire on Jan. 4, 2021.

"I am excited, elated," said Marleine Bastien, the founder and executive director of Miami-based Family Action Network Movement, or FANM. Bastien's organization is among several that sued the Trump administration after it canceled the program.

Bastien said she has been getting an unprecedented number of calls from frantic TPS holders from all over the U.S., seeking answers about whether they would lose their right to temporarily live and work in the country as of January. At the same time, they complained they faced the threat of losing their jobs, as employers pressured them about their soon-to-expire work authorization.

"They were facing so many challenges and yet they had to be thinking about this looming threat," Bastien said. "Many are essential workers (during the coronavirus pandemic) and it was painful to see that while in the midst of the pandemic they had to be concerned about the possibility of being separated from their loved ones. Now they will be able to celebrate the holidays in peace."

The reason for the nine-month extension has to do with the courts. On Monday, DHS said that although a U.S. appeals court in September overturned a Northern California lower district court's temporary injunction barring President Donald Trump from terminating TPS, the appellate court has not yet issued its directive to the district court to make that ruling effective.

As a result of the court's delay, the injunction ordered in the lawsuit Ramos vs. Nielsen on behalf of TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Sudan remains in place.

In the case of tens of thousands of Haitians who have benefited from the humanitarian reprieve ever since their country's devastating Jan. 10, 2010, earthquake, they were a part of two separate rulings that offered temporary injunctions against deportation.

There was the Ramos injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in California, and a New York lawsuit adjudicated by U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz of the Eastern District of New York. Bastien's Family Action Network Movement is among the plaintiffs in that suit.

In April 2019, Kuntz issued a 145-page federal ruling that accused the Trump administration of being motivated by politics and not facts, and blocked DHS from ending TPS.

That case is currently on appeal by DHS.

Due to the ongoing legal wrangling — there are several other TPS-related lawsuits in federal court, including one filed by the NAACP on behalf of Haitian TPS holders — DHS said the validity of TPS-related documents, which includes work authorizations and driver's licenses, will be automatically extended for the beneficiaries from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Sudan and Nepal.

"Even though it's a nine-month extension we think it's really a good step," Bastien said. "We hoped that it was longer, but it gives us time to continue our efforts for a permanent solution."

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