Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security, John Kelly, continues to cast uncertainty on the eventual fate of 58,000 undocumented Haitians who has been granted limited Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to remain in the US, according to reports.
Last week Monday, Kelly granted a six-month TPS extension, rather than the customary 18-month extension, to the Haitians. The extension, which becomes effective on Jul. 23, 2017, rans through Jan. 22, 2018.
But Kelly warned that the extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the US “time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”
However, he said on Thursday that the US Congress could ultimately resolve the matter by changing the legislation.
“This is squarely on them,” Kelly told the Miami Herald. “I have a law that I am supposed to enforce, and I think the members of Congress who are interested in this, and there are a lot of them, should probably sit down and talk about it and come up with some legislation to fix it. I think it’s on them.”
Kelly made a brief stop in Miami after a trip to Haiti on Wednesday, where he spent more than an hour discussing TPS and other Trump administration concerns with new Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and senior officials with the government and the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the Herald said.
It said the US Homeland Security Secretary urged Moïse to start thinking about how to bring Haiti’s TPS recipients back to their homeland by issuing travel documents or identification.
“TPS is not supposed to continue to be enforced until Haiti’s like Jamaica, or any country, with a very functioning democracy, [or] a relatively low unemployment rate. That’s not the point of it,” he said.
“TPS was granted based on the  earthquake,” Kelly added. “Things in Haiti were tough for decades prior to the earthquake, and will be tough for decades to come. But the reason TPS was granted was because of the earthquake.”
In April, the acting director of US Citizenship of Immigration Services, James McCament, recommended a final six-month extension for Haiti and then termination on Jan. 22, 2017.
But Kelly’s decision doesn’t put an absolute end date on the program, according to the Herald.
On Thursday, he said the argument that Haiti should keep receiving the benefit seven years after the cataclysmic earthquake left more than 300,000 dead, 1.5 million homeless and an equal number injured, is “questionable.”
“I looked at it real hard and decided to extend it for six months, which should give — in the event it’s not extended next time — opportunities for people that are living here in the United States to settle their issues here; and, by the same token, give the government of Haiti enough time to start thinking of how to reintegrate,” Kelly told the Herald.
Asked whether TPS would be extended now that he’s met with Moïse and other Haitian government officials, Kelly said: “I don’t know. I literally don’t know.”
He said one factor that will aid his decision-making in the coming months will be if the Haitian government starts the process of reintegrating or preparing to reintegrate TPS recipients by providing them with travel documents, according to the Herald.
Kelly said one challenge that he has faced in the top job at Homeland Security is that immigration benefits, like TPS, seemed to be automatically renewed.
“I go back to this issue of, the longer that people stay in the United States, the more of an argument they have that they have become Americanized and ‘Why do I have to leave?’” he said.
Kelly, the former head of US Southern Command in Miami, said he decided to travel to Haiti to speak to the president after meeting with the country’s ambassador to the US and the foreign minister on TPS, according to the Herald.
“Clearly, he would like to see it extended (for) at least another year,” Kelly said, referring to Moïse.