The Trump administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti, originally granted through a humanitarian program begun under the administration of Republican President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, is morally reprehensible. Almost 60,000 Haitians relocated to the United States in the aftermath of 2010’s devastating earthquake — a natural disaster that left thousands dead, and crippled the island’s transportation and material infrastructure. Now the Department of Homeland Security has ordered that they have to leave by July 2019 (or else face deportation if they do not, as John Kelly suggested in May, find another way to apply to stay in the United States).
The Haitians now facing threat of expulsion are some of the hardest working, loyal, and decent people our nation has. I write these words as both a historian and a proud Haitian-American whose mother taught me to revere America for offering boundless opportunities.
This decision is bad politics and worse policy, since 30,000 children, who are American citizens, have been born in the ensuing seven years and thus are being asked to leave the only country they have ever known.
President Trump should intervene immediately to reverse this controversial decision. Mr. Trump recently displayed at least a modest willingness to reconsider unpopular policy changes. After an uproar over the announcement that the United States would allow the importing of elephant trophies hunted from Africa, the President, in an apparent change of heart, decided to put the decision on hold for further review. The scourge of big game elephant hunting, while serious, surely should not outweigh the value of the lives of so many Haitian families whose fates have been displaced by a disaster from which their country is still recovering.
Ending TPS for Haitians sends a chilling message to the over 400,000 immigrants from multiple nations living in the United States under this status. Perniciously, it dovetails with Mr. Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric, which buoyed his candidacy during the presidential election season and has been a feature of controversial executive order restrictions that continue to be litigated in the courts.
The President’s actions betray the very ideals that make the United States a great nation: the notion that America serves as liberty’s surest guardian, not because of the strength of our military or the vastness of our economic and material resources, but through the reach of our mercy.
America also has a complex and tortured history with Haiti, still too often described as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Behind that stubborn poverty is a history that is too often forgotten, one in which America is deeply implicated.
Haiti’s evolution from a French colony of slaves to a republic of citizens between 1791 and 1804 made it the stuff of legend, one whose independence was deemed threatening by the architects of American democracy — including President Thomas Jefferson, who refused to officially recognize a nation ruled by free blacks. African-Americans, then and later, looked toward Haiti as a beacon of hope. Among them was Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist who served as US ambassador to Haiti and for whom Mr. Trump professed public admiration earlier this year.
As millions of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, the very idea of America seems to be under threat — not from external enemies but from within. Abandoning our shared moral values and humanitarian vision does not make us stronger, just the opposite. America’s collective moral imagination recognizes the inherent dignity of the relatively small numbers of Haitian families being targeted by an administration that seems capable of showing more outrage about elephants than the futures of tens of thousands of women, children, and men who have found sanctuary in a nation that proudly claims to be not only a beacon of liberty and democracy, but of humanity as well.