May 22 (UPI) -- The U.S. government will continue to protect Haitians living in the United States since the 2010 earthquake from deportation for another six months, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Monday.
The temporary protected status program was set to expire on July 22, but will extend through Jan. 22, the Department of Homeland Security announced.
A total of 58,706 recipients of TPS from Haiti are living in the United States, the officials said. Some may be eligible for other immigration statuses.
Kelly determined that conditions in Haiti were improving since the earthquake seven years ago and the program could be terminated instead of extended again.
"This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients," Kelly said in a statement. "We plan to continue to work closely with the Haitian government, including assisting the government in proactively providing travel documents for its citizens."
DHS grants the special protection to countries that experience natural disasters and civil war. Individuals from those countries living in the United States are protected from detention and deportation, and are able to apply for work authorizations. Other countries now under TPS include Sudan, Syria and some Central American countries.
The designation only applies to those living in the United States since the designation. Recipients are not eligible for federal benefits.
"Haiti has made progress across several fronts since the devastating earthquake in 2010," Kelly said. "The Haitian economy continues to recover and grow, and 96 percent of people displaced by the earthquake and living in internally displaced person camps have left those camps. Even more encouraging is that over 98 percent of these camps have closed. Also indicative of Haiti's success in recovering from the earthquake seven years ago is the Haitian government's stated plans to rebuild the Haitian president's residence at the National Palace in Port-au-Prince, and the withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti."
Before the extension expires, Kelly will re-evaluate the designation and decide "whether extension, re-designation or termination is warranted."
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, had been fighting for an 18-month extension.
Wilson said she wants Kelly to travel with her to Haiti to see why sending the Haitians back is "unconscionable."
"We just can't deport people back to those conditions. Tent cities still remain from the earthquake," she told The Miami Herald. "I want them to go with me because... They will take you and you will never see the tent cities. I want someone to go with me. I will be sure to take them to the places to see, so that they will be more inclined to extend it even further."