(CN) — The Trump administration announced late Monday night that it is ending a temporary residency permit program that has allowed almost 60,000 citizens from Haiti to live and work in the United States since a powerful earthquake shook the Caribbean nation in 2010.
In a follow-up statement released in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the Homeland Security Department said conditions on the ground in Haiti have improved significantly over the past 8 years, so the temporary residency program is no longer needed.
It will be extended one last time — until July 2019 — to give Haitians time to prepare to return home, the administration said.
“Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent,” the department said, “Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.”
Advocates for the Haitian community in the U.S. and members of Congress from both parties had asked the Trump administration for an 18-month extension of the program, known as Temporary Protected Status. Haitian President Jovenel Moise’s government also requested the extension.
And there was some reason to expect they would get it. Haitians living in South Florida came out in large numbers for President Trump on election day, many critical of the Clinton Foundation’s efforts in Haiti since the earthquake and hoping Trump would do more to speed the island’s recovery.
Those who had hoped for an 18-month extension of the program were quick to criticize the Trump administration’s move Tuesday morning.
Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, said forcing the Haitian refuges to leave the United States would be “detrimental.”
“Almost eight years later, Haiti remains in total disarray and still requires much rebuilding,” he said.
Amanda Baran, policy consultant at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, called the termination of the status a “heartless decision” and said the Trump administration has no plan in place for the U.S.-born children who may now lose their Haitian parents and caregivers to deportation.
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 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.
The temporary status covers some 435,000 people from nine countries ravaged by natural disasters or war, who came to the U.S. legally or otherwise. Days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti in January 2010, President Barack Obama granted the 18-month protection status for Haitians in America who would otherwise have had to go home. Obama renewed it every time it ran out.
Since taking office, Trump has ended temporary permit programs for Sudan and Nicaragua. He postponed until next July a decision on how to deal with a similar program for 86,000 residents from Honduras.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.