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US Is Looking at Criminal Records of Haitian Asylum Seekers for Deportation

In this Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, file photo, Jean-Robert Lafortune, left foreground, talks to a reporter as Haitian-Americans protest against the deportation of Haitians, in the Little Haiti section of Miami. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016, that it was widening efforts to deport Haitians, a response to thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean nation who have overwhelmed California border crossings with Mexico in recent months. The move lifts special protections that shielded Haitians from deportation after their nation’s 2010 earthquake. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

Federal officials are looking into the criminal activity and use of public benefits by Haitian asylum seekers in the United States in determining whether to deport them back to Haiti, according to a new report.

About 50,000 Haitians are currently in the US under the Temporary Protected Status program, which grants asylum to individuals until their home countries have improved enough for them to return. They are a fraction of the nearly 1 million Haitians living in the US.

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The asylum program was opened to Haitians following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 that killed 300,000 and tore apart the poor island nation’s infrastructure.

But that program is set to expire in July.

While the program had been extended several times under President Barack Obama, President Donald Trump’s administration is reviewing whether to end it — and is apparently using criminal activity and use of public benefits to help make its determination.

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The Associated Press obtained emails showing officials inside the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department ordering a review of “any reports of criminal activity by any individual with TPS.”

"Even though it's only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than 'Haiti is really poor' stories,” wrote Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, the head of policy and strategy at the department, according to the AP.

She sent four separate emails asking for the data, along with information about about how many TPS individuals were using public benefits, how often they traveled to Haiti, and how much money they were sending home. The details of the emails and full report from the AP are worth reading.

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The news fits with the larger trend of the current administration’s attempts to toughen immigration laws and using criminal activity as a means for crafting immigration policy.

The TPS program typically allows individuals to stay in the US until their home country has improved. Haiti still struggles in some ways with endemic poverty and disease, though it has improved since the earthquake.

The acting director of the USCIS, James McCament, has recommended ending the program, though Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly will make the final recommendation about whether to continue or end the program, according to the AP.