By Jacqueline Charles

January 17, 2018

The Trump administration has slapped Haiti again.

As of Thursday, Haitian farmers and other laborers seeking to come to the United States as temporary, seasonal workers under the federal H-2A and H-2B guest worker program, will no longer be eligible.

The temporary workers’ visa has for decades allowed hundreds of U.S. farmers, hoteliers and other business owners to hire thousands of foreign seasonal workers.

But citing Haitians’ “extremely high rates of refusal…high levels of fraud and abuse and a high rate of overstaying the terms of their H-2 admission,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Haiti’s inclusion on the lists of eligible countries for 2018 “is no longer in the U.S. interest.” It also announced that the English-speaking Central American country of Belize will be banned, as well as Samoa in the central South Pacific Ocean.

“Eliminating this visa eliminates the only lawful channel some Haitians have to come temporarily work in the United States,” said Michael Clemens, an economist with the Center for Global Development, who has studied Haiti-U.S. labor migration since 2010. “That is not the way to address illegal migration. That is a way to encourage illegal migration.”

The decision, set to be published Thursday in the Federal Registrar, comes amid a push by the Trump administration to restrict immigration, and a public outcry over the president’s alleged characterization of Haiti and Haitians in recent weeks.

In December, the New York Times reported that Trump in a June immigration meeting described some Haitian migrants entering the United States as having AIDS. Last week, the Washington Post reported that Trump, during a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, asked why “all these people from shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations were coming to the U.S.

Trump and the White House have denied that he made the remarks.

Haitians, as well as their supporters, have condemned the comments, with Haiti’s Ambassador to the U.S., Paul Altidor, inviting Trump to go with him to Boston, New York and Florida “where there are large concentrations of Haitians, and to come discover, come meet those Haitian immigrants who are contributing to their local communities.”

Katie Waldman, a DHS spokeswoman, said “the decision to remove Haiti, Belize and Samoa from the H-2A & H-2B lists was made as a result of inter-agency coordination between DHS and the Department of State.”

Clemens, who has studied the guest worker program for Haitians, doesn’t dispute that some have sought to defraud the program. But the initial 65 Haitians who qualified for the program and remained in it until the change by DHS, were thoroughly vetted under a program put together by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration and the U.S. charity, Protect the People, Clemens said.

He noted that in 2014, Haiti’s foreign ministry wrote to the U.S. embassy asking that guest worker visas be given only to individuals vetted under the IOM/Protect the People initiative. But the request, Clemens said, was ignored.

Haitian guest workers, Clemens said, have been employed in Alabama and Washington state, and earn 15 times more an hour in the U.S. than they would have in Haiti, contributing an average of $4,000 per worker, per month to the U.S. economy.

“In Haiti, they can build a new house, pay their kids’ schools fees for the whole year and just do wonderful things for themselves and their families — not because an aid group gave them money but because they added value to the U.S. economy,” Clemens said.

Thursday’s scheduled release of the new guest worker regulation is expected to come on the same day that DHS is scheduled to finally release guidelines for Haitians enrolled in the special humanitarian program known as Temporary Protected Status to re-register. The program allows Haitians in the U.S. to legally live and work in the country.

In November, the U.S government announced an end to TPS for nearly 60,000 Haitians in July 2019, but Haitians must apply for re-authorization to remain in the country until then. Haitians have been waiting for the notice on reapplying to extend their TPS documents since the November announcement.

But DHS’ failure to publish the guidelines until now has created panic. Many Haitians are worried that they could lose their jobs and ability to drive because their Florida driver’s license is tied to their work authorization.

Sharon Scheidhauer, a DHS spokeswoman, said the TPS Haiti Federal Register notice will provide details about the re-registration period — including the required forms, filing period and ways to extend the employment authorization document. DHS, she said, will automatically extend the validity of employment authorizations for Haitians with TPS for 180 days through July 21, 2018.

“This delay is really putting people’s jobs and livelihood in jeopardy,” said Adonia Simpson, a lawyer with the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice.

Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services, said there is no reason for the delay and the guidelines could have been released at the same time DHS announced it would permanently end TPS for nearly 60,000 Haitians as of July 22, 2019.

“They think they can fix their incompetence by giving an automatic work authorization of six months, but a lot of employers won’t accept it,” McGrorty said. “They want to see a card. There are still going to be people who are going to be fired despite the automatic extension.”

Also worrying, McGrorty said, is whether states like Florida will accept the federal notice as proof of authorization to allow TPS holders to renew their driver’s licenses.

On the latest decision to remove Haiti from the list of eligible guest worker countries, McGrorty said: “I think the president’s word speaks for itself. He wants Haitians out.”

“I would say if you ask any employer, they are very happy to have Haitian employees. They are hardworking, they are honest, they are timely and there is absolutely no reason for this,” he said.

Read it on The Miami Herald here.