By Maria Cramer
Hundreds of doctors signed a letter Tuesday calling on the Department of Homeland Security to allow about 58,000 Haitians affected by the country’s 2010 earthquake to stay in the United States for at least another year.
The letter, signed by 552 doctors from across the country, asked Secretary John F. Kelly to extend their participation in a program known as temporary protected status for another 18 months. Under the program, immigrants living in the United States can stay and work here legally if they are unable to return to their native countries because of violence or a natural disaster.
“Haiti reports some of the world’s worst health indicators, which continue to inhibit the country’s development,” the doctors wrote. “These deadly health threats jeopardize the safety and well-being of 50,000 Haitians currently in the United States under [temporary protected status]. We urge you to extend the protection . . . to ensure that these Haitians are shielded from the disastrous health conditions currently confronting Haiti.”
The doctors’s letter was the latest in a series of efforts by politicians, union leaders, and prominent religious figures to convince the Trump administration to extend the program for affected Haitians, whose status is set to expire July 22.
The federal government has until May 22 to decide whether to extend the program for Haitians or let it lapse. If Kelly decides not to extend the program, those Haitians with the status will lose their right to work legally in the country and will face possible deportation.
Kelly has not made a decision, according to his office.
In their brief, two-page letter, the doctors pointed to the devastating effects of the earthquake, which killed at least 200,000 people, as well as the cholera outbreak that followed and the destruction brought on by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
They described the destruction of 50 health centers in Haiti and the partial damage to the its primary teaching hospital.
“Significant challenges remain to increase access to and utilization of improved water and sanitation services that are key to improving health and well-being,” they wrote.
The doctors are members of the Service Employees International Union, which represents a wide swath of health care workers including physicians and home care workers.
Filaine Deronnette, vice president of health systems for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, helped mobilize the effort and reached out to doctors in Boston. Many members of the union are Haitians who have temporary protected status and work in the mental health care field, in nursing, and as home health aides.
“We have members with children who would be separated, young children who would be separated from their parents,” Deronnette said.
Michelle Morse, a Brigham and Women’s doctor who signed the letter, said she has visited Haiti since 2009, helping after the hurricane and then during the cholera outbreak.
“I know how shaky and vulnerable the Haitian health care system is right now,’’ said Morse, who stressed she was not speaking for Brigham. “And it would be irresponsible of the United States to send 60,000 Haitians back to the country.”
The Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents more than 400 facilities that care for the elderly, also sent a letter imploring an extension.
Many Haitians work as home care workers and in nursing homes, which are facing a shortage of employees.
“The elimination of TPS will further exacerbate our challenge to recruit and retain skilled workers,” wrote Tara M. Gregorio, president of the association.