A half dozen Democratic lawmakers met with Haiti’s ambassador in an intimate dinner on Tuesday night to craft a new strategy aimed at convincing the White House to extend a temporary program set to expire in January 2018 that allows thousands of Haitians to work and live in the U.S.
Over rum punch and pikliz, the Democrats said it’s time to tie what’s known as TPS for Haiti to recent activism over DACA, an executive order signed by Barack Obama that gave protections to undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as minors.
“We have to create the atmosphere where the man in the Oval Office says ‘I’m considering it,’” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said at the dinner.
Creating the atmosphere won’t come from signing letters or talking with administration officials about humanitarian concerns in Haiti. Instead, Democrats argue that repeatedly bringing up TPS during every DACA protest and getting business leaders to realize the disruption to labor markets if 58,000 Haitians are required to leave will increase public pressure on Trump to grant the TPS extension.
When Haiti’s TPS was up for renewal in May, Democrats asked then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to show “compassion.”
Kelly ultimately decided to extend Haiti’s status, but only for six months instead of the usual 18. He also said Haitians “need to start thinking about returning.”
“It’s all or nothing at this point given the time frame, the consequences, if nothing happens between now and November,” ambassador Paul Altidor said. “We’re trying to ensure that as many people from Capitol Hill, from either side of the aisle, are involved in this, and we’ve seen that from members of the Florida delegation.”
One Florida Republican, Rep. Brian Mast, was scheduled to attend Tuesday’s dinner but was unable, due to Hurricane Irma. His office confirmed to Miami Herald that he is in favor of extending Haiti’s TPS status by 18 months.
Mast joins Miami Republicans Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who all signed a letter in March urging Kelly to extend Haiti’s TPS status.
Tuesday’s dinner was organized by Altidor and Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., a longtime proponent of extending Haiti’s TPS status.
“We’re going to go to whomever we need to make the case,” Clarke said, adding that bringing TPS into the larger DACA debate will help combat the spread of misinformation, such as false reports that Canada was offering free residency to Haitians in the United States.
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