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The Trump administration continues to take steps to shrink immigration protections, amplifying fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities throughout the country and in San Diego.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would end Temporary Protected Status for Haitians.
The program, part of the Immigration Act of 1990, aimed to help people from countries without properly functioning governments due to things like civil war or natural disasters. Right now, it includes El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
DHS’s recent decision ends the program for Nicaraguans and Haitians, giving Nicaraguan participants 12 months to transition by either leaving the United States or finding an alternate route to a visa; Haitians here under the program have 18 months.
After the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the United States granted TPS to all Haitians already in the United States because of the earthquake or for humanitarian reasons in the year following the earthquake.
TPS doesn’t grant its participants a visa or a route to legal citizenship, but people here who had TPS wouldn’t be targets for deportations.
I sat down with Johny Oxeda, the minister of the First Haitian Baptist church in San Diego and a TPS recipient, to talk about what the decision means for him and for the Haitian community in San Diego.
Oxeda had worked for an international non-governmental organization in Haiti and came to the United States when people trying to make money illegally off the NGO tried to kill him, he said.
“Everybody is just scared,” Oxeda said. “We all love our country, but how we gonna go back? There’s no infrastructure, no electricity, no security, nothing. Nothing.”
Oxeda said he estimates that 3,000 Haitians were in San Diego this summer, mostly asylum-seekers. But when they got wind that the administration was considering ending TPS, many fled to Canada or elsewhere. He believes there may be only about 1,000 Haitians still in San Diego.
Attendance at his church has plummeted from roughly 200 people each week to fewer than 50 because people have either left or fear being targeted for immigration enforcement.
Oxeda said the administration’s decision caught him off guard. He was a fan of President Donald Trump during the election and appreciated his straightforwardness, though he cannot vote.
Oxeda said he has worked in security in the United States and still dreams of being a police officer in San Diego if he can become a legal citizen. But he’s had to change his plans with the uncertainty of the end of TPS. Oxeda says he is pursuing an asylum case and has moved from North Park to National City to save money. He considered leaving for Canada, he said, but didn’t have the heart to leave his church.
“I just want [the administration] to know that a lot of us know what this country means to them,” he said. “Since I got here, I’ve never stopped trying to help people. If I had my work permit, I would have become a police officer. I would’ve gone to the university to study criminology. We want to be a part of this community.”
Overall, there are very few TPS recipients in San Diego, said Tom Wong, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and a former adviser to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under the Obama administration. There are, however, an estimated 55,000 TPS recipients in California, according to research from the Journal on Migration and Human Security.
What is important to understand about the TPS decision, Wong said, regardless of its local impact, is what it reinforces about the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
“We’re uprooting individuals who are no longer newcomers to the country, no longer foreigners to the country because of the roots that they have established,” Wong said.
According to the Center for Migration Studies, 81 percent of Haitian TPS holders are employed and have a mortgage. They have 27,000 American-born children and at least 16 percent of them have been in the United States for at least two decades. On average, Haitian TPS holders have been here for 13 years.
Those from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua who were granted TPS after Hurricane Mitch hit Central America in 1998, have been here even longer. On average, recipients from Honduras have lived in the United States for 22 years, recipients from El Salvador an average of 21 years. Those are the two largest groups of TPS recipients currently in the country.
“The TPS call is a continuation of the administration’s call to end DACA,” Wong told me. “It’s very consistent with this administration’s playbook to essentially close our golden door.”