Feds must find a fix for Haitian migrants

Today’s front-page report by Seth Daniel on the plight facing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Haitian refugees now living in the Boston area should compel elected leaders and policy makers to find a solution to an increasingly urgent problem in Boston and across the country.

In December, the Biden administration announced that it would extend its existing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians already granted legal status here to remain for at least an additional 18 months. It was the just and humane thing to do given the continuing political and economic instability on the ground in Port-au-Prince and across much of Haiti. The assassination of the nation’s president Jovenel Moise in July 2021 made matters even worse.

Thousands of Haitians who were granted entry to the US through our southern border in Texas are now living in cities like Boston and New York and Chicago. A large percentage of them have TPS status, but as Daniel reports today, they do not have authorization to work here. The process of greenlighting their applications has been hopelessly bogged down by a backlog that started under the Trump regime, but still has not seen appreciable improvement under Biden’s watch. The president should take executive action to correct that as soon as possible.

The idea that our nation would admit thousands of asylum-seekers to our cities and then expect them to exist purely on the charity of others and their own survival skills without legal income is absurd. It’s particularly infuriating since our city and Commonwealth are in dire need of workers to fuel our own economy and the tax base.

Keeping these men and women, who are more than willing to join the workforce to support their own families and live stable lives in a new and strange land, in perpetual limbo is cruel. It’s also a hardship on local families— mainly of Haitian descent— who’ve taken in refugees with the idea that their hospitality would be temporary in nature, until the new arrivals can derive income and house and care for themselves. Many local families in Dorchester and Mattapan are in the precarious position of housing and feeding refugees without any sense of how long it will take for their guests to become self-sufficient. That’s a lot to ask for households, many of which are already struggling in an expensive city.

As it endeavors to catch up on the backlog of applications, the Biden administration should immediately create a bridge to a more permanent solution along these lines: Anyone who has been granted TPS status should automatically get a temporary work permit – perhaps for a duration of six months – as federal officials review the case for a more permanent document. That would be welcome news to industries in Massachusetts, too, many of whom cannot find people willing to fill lower-paying jobs in manufacturing, hospitality, and public transit sectors.

For those concerned about an influx of more refugees, it’s important to note that the most recent TPS extension only applies to people who were admitted legally to the US prior to Nov. 6, 2022. These men and women are already here in our community— and many of them have been here for several years. They are our neighbors and likely will be for years to come. Let’s get them working, paying into the tax base, caring for themselves and their families in a humane, considerate and just manner. We hope President Biden will act.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter