[JURIST] Haitian nationals already present in the US on January 12 have been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and will be allowed to continue living and working in the US for the next 18 months regardless of their immigration status, Department of Homeland Security [official website] Secretary Janet Napolitano [official profile] announced [statement; update] Friday. Speaking days after a devastating earthquake hit the Caribbean nation Tuesday, Napolitano said that "[p]roviding a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this Administration's continuing efforts to support Haiti's recovery." Groups such as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the NAACP [advocacy websites] had called on the administration to grant Haitians TPS and halt any deportation or removal proceedings against some of them. The conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform [advocacy website] criticized [press release] the TPS as likely to "touch off a mass exodus" of Haitians and chastised the administration for having "no interdiction plan in place [nor any] off-shore holding facility to detain and repatriate large numbers of people heading for the U.S." TPS may be granted [USCIS factsheet] to foreign nationals when conditions in their country of origin temporarily prevent them from returning safely, such as during a civil war or natural disaster.
On January 12, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake [USGS backgrounder] caused at least 50,000 deaths and massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti. The most devastated city is the capital, Port-au-Prince, where the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti [official website] has said that up to 50% of buildings [statement] have been destroyed or damaged, including the country's presidential palace, the UN Mission headquarters, and the country's main prison [JURIST report].