As Martin Luther King Day reminds us all of Dr. King's call for equality and justice, our thoughts and prayers remain with the people of Haiti as they strive to recover from last week's earthquake. Here is the news on immigration from Monday, January 11 to Monday, January 18.
On Friday, January 15, the Obama administration granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States. Thank you to everyone who participated in FCNL's action alert and signed FCNL's interfaith letter of support for TPS. Because of your actions, Haitian immigrants will not be deported and will instead be allowed to stay in the United States and work here for at least 18 months while Haiti stabilizes from Tuesday's devastating earthquake.
The Haitian economy depends significantly on remittances. TPS will enable Haitian immigrants to contribute to the country's recovery by sending their earnings to support their families and communities in Haiti. However, Haiti still has a long way to go, and the recovery will involve not only short-term relief work or U.S. military presence, but an international commitment to long-term development.
The Department of Homeland Security also instituted a humanitarian parole policy for certain Haitian orphans. This policy will allow certain orphans to temporarily enter the United States to receive medical care. While individuals will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, the only eligible orphans are those in the process of being adopted by U.S. citizens.
While this is another small but welcome step, it stands in stark contrast to the broader message that the U.S. government is sending to the people of Haiti, which is: Don't try to come to the United States. Every day, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane has been flying over Haiti for five hours transmitting this message from Haiti's ambassador in Washington. Officials say they fear that Haitians will take to boats and cause a refugee crisis in Florida. However, with fuel prices in Haiti rising to astronomical levels and all efforts desperately needed for aid distribution, these daily five-hour flights are not the best use of U.S. personnel and resources at this critical time.
In other news, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that it will close the Varick St detention center in Manhattan and transfer immigrant detainees to another facility with outdoor recreation and visitation services. The agency is portraying this move as part of its broader overhaul of the U.S. immigration detention system. However, immigration attorneys and activists have significant concerns. Detainees will be moved to the Hudson County Correctional Facility, a county jail an hour away from Manhattan. These transfers will make it much more challenging for families and lawyers to visit detainees. In addition, attorneys and activists have recently drawn attention to misconduct and poor conditions at Varick St. Instead of fixing these problems, the administration has decided to transfer the detainees to a more remote location. Constant transfers and an ongoing reliance on county jails are no substitute for case-by-case reviews of whether immigrants need to be detained in the first place.
Finally, I'll leave you with a brief update on comprehensive immigration reform. On Friday, Politico ran an article describing how legislation on immigration and climate change are competing for space this spring. Senator Schumer (NY), who is writing a bipartisan bill on immigration reform, and Senator Kerry (MA), who is the lead negotiator on climate change, are both trying to push forward their issues. Both are in conversation with Senator Graham (SC) to try to gain his support. While both of these issues are hard to take up in an election year, the immigration advocacy community continues to insist that the time of waiting is over -- the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed so that immigrants can live with dignity.