Haitians relieved to stay in US for now, upset status to end

MIAMI (AP) — Yolnick Jeune couldn't sleep for days, anxious over the fate of a program that has staved off the deportations of both herself and tens of thousands of other Haitians in the U.S.

Then President Trump's administration this week announced one last 18-month extension of the Temporary Protected Status that has allowed her to work and provide for her five children, including a 7-year-old, U.S.-born girl.

"I can breathe a little and get some rest. This buys me time to figure out what's next," Jeune said Tuesday in Miami's Little Haiti community.

But at the same time, Jeune is upset that the government on Monday said she and nearly 60,000 Haitians must return home July 2019, ruling out any further extensions of the immigration benefits given to Haitians who came before and in the aftermath of the Caribbean country's 2010 earthquake.

"I am very depressed to know that within 18 months, I have to go back," she said.

Having been in Miami since 2009, Jeune has not returned to Haiti but hears from her sister and other relatives back in her native Port-de-Paix that conditions have not improved for those whose lives were upended by the earthquake.

In Little Haiti, the mood was of both relief and anger. Many of the dozens lined up to receive turkeys at the cultural center were confused over whether the program was in fact extended or ended and were hesitant to speak about immigration.

"This decision has thrown these families in complete whirlwind," said Marleine Bastien, executive director of the advocacy group Haitian Women of Miami, at a press conference Tuesday in Little Haiti.

"President Trump you did promise when you were campaigning that you would be Haiti's best champion," she said. "Is this your idea of being our champion? I beg to differ."

The Department of Homeland Security said on Monday that conditions in Haiti have improved significantly, citing a decrease of 97 percent in the number of displaced people. A statement said the benefit will be extended one last time — until July 2019 — to give Haitians time to prepare to return home.

Advocates for Haitians quickly criticized the decision to make this the last extension, arguing the conditions in the island nation haven't improved nearly enough for Haitians to be deported.

While Haiti has made advances spurred by international aid since the quake, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world. More than 2.5 million people, roughly a quarter of the population, live on less than $1.23 a day, which authorities there consider extreme poverty.

The United Nations last month ended a peacekeeping mission in Haiti that, at its peak, included more than 10,000 troops. Its new mission is comprised of about 1,300 international civilian police officers and 350 civilians who will help the country try to reform a deeply troubled justice system.

The Homeland Security Department made its announcement 60 days before temporary status for the Haitians is set to expire. In May, the agency extended the program for only six months instead of the customary 18, and urged Haitians under the program to get their affairs in order and prepare to go home.

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