Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday that the department would extend temporary immigration protections for an additional eighteen months for Haitians currently residing in the United States.

In a press release Napolitano announced the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti beneficiaries effective July 23, 2011 and for an additional 18 months.

The protections were offered in January 2010, in response to the tragic earthquake that the struck the country. Thousands of Hatians who fled the disaster sought refuge in the United States, and many of them settled in South Florida. According to the release, there are now 48,000 Hatians living in the U.S. under the temporary protections.

The release also notes that the department is actively turning away Hatians who try to enter the country illegally, and that the protections will not apply to people who arrive in the country after that time.

The Immigration Policy Center stated that the extension of TPS decision by the Secretary is evidence of the power of the Executive branch to shape the implementation of existing immigration law.

The IPC contends that Napolitano could have declined to extend TPS or make more people eligible, because the law did not require her to do so. But because she had the discretion to revisit the original determination, and ultimately used it to expand the range of people eligible for this protection, the U.S. will be able to help thousands of people who might otherwise have faced deportation to Haiti and enormous suffering.

According the 2009 American Community Survey (pdf.) at least 376,000 people of Haitian ancestry live in Florida; an estimated 830,000 live in the U.S. The survey adds that 59 percent are foreign born.

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