US bishops have welcomed the re-designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The decision was announced on May 22 by the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.
TPS is a temporary status afforded by US authorities to citizens from some designated countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster, allowing them to live and work in the United States. It is valid for a period of eighteen months and can be renewed.
The decision acknowledges “the serious challenges” facing Haiti
In a statement released on May 24, Bishop Mario Dorsonville, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration; and Bishop David Malloy, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, commended Biden Administration’s decision to include Haitian citizens in the list of people eligible for TPS, which they say acknowledges “the serious challenges” facing the island nation.
Widespread violence and kidnappings affecting the Haitian Church too
For over a year now Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been marred by widespread violence, civil unrest and an unprecedented wave of kidnappings by armed gangs, in the context of political instability, a serious economic crisis and food insecurity worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement recalls that the Church in Haiti has also been directly impacted by the violence, with targeted kidnappings of clergy, religious and lay persons in recent months “adding to the need for an urgent response”. In this regard, US bishops join the Haitian bishops in condemning the lawlessness and in their solidarity with the victims.
The call on President Moïse to act “in the best interests of the Haitian people”
They also call on President Jovenel Moïse, “to act in the best interests of the Haitian people by respecting and upholding their rights and dignity”.
Moïse has been ruling by decree since he dissolved Parliament in January 2020, when lawmakers’ terms expired without elections; he is accused of being a corrupt autocrat who has not done enough to curb the kidnappings. He refused to leave power on February 7, arguing that an interim government occupied the first year of his five-year term.
Against this political background, the country is facing a worsening economic situation which has contributed to the increase of crime and insecurity. High rates of inflation and low crop yields due to abnormal rainfall and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced the purchasing power of the poorest households and their access to food. According to the Haiti Humanitarian Needs Overview for 2021, 4.4 million people will need humanitarian assistance during the year.
The need for diplomatic and humanitarian measures
In the face of this situation, the statement calls on the Biden Administration “to address the desperate conditions plaguing the country through diplomatic and humanitarian measures”.
Repeated calls by Haitian Bishops to address political unrest and growing insecurity
On April 11, five priests, two nuns and three laypeople were abducted on their way to a parish near the capital Port-au-Prince, spurring a strong protest from the Haitian Bishop’s Conference (CEH), who decided to close Catholic schools and universities for three days. All 10 people were later released.
Over the last months the Haitian bishops have repeatedly called for political dialogue to prevent Haiti from “sinking into the abyss”, while urging concrete action against growing insecurity.