The Trump administration is seeking evidence of crimes committed by Haitian immigrants in the United States, according to internal emails, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The news comes as officials weigh whether to extend or terminate Haitian eligibility for the Temporary Protected Status program, which has given asylum to 50,000 Haitians since a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, killing up to 316,000 people.
"We should ... find any reports of criminal activity by any individual with TPS," Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, the head of policy and strategy for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote in April, according to the AP. "Even though it's only a snapshot and not representative of the entire situation, we need more than 'Haiti is really poor' stories."
Haitian eligibility for TPS is set to expire on July 22. It remains unclear whether the administration will use crime among Haitian beneficiaries to determine whether the group is allowed to stay in the U.S. longer, but it seems likely, considering President Donald Trump's dogged efforts to criminalize other immigrants.
The emails — sent between April 7 and May 1 — demonstrate the administration's continuing fixation on immigration-adjacent crime. President Donald Trump famously referred to Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and "rapists" during his campaign announcement in 2015, and has since signed executive orders empowering officials to intensify crackdowns on undocumented people.
In April, the administration set up an office and hotline to help those who have been victims of crimes committed by undocumented people. But much like Trump's attempts to bar immigration from Muslim-majority countries, these new efforts targeting Haitians aim to criminalize documented immigrants as well.
According to the AP, Haitians have been eligible for TPS for the past seven years. Their eligibility was extended several times under former-President Barack Obama. Continued access to the program — which also includes El Salvador, Honduras and others — depends on whether a recipient's home country has improved enough for them to go back.
Haiti has seen improvement in some areas, according to reports, but several years of cholera, drought and political turmoil have driven more than one-third of residents deeper into poverty and hunger, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The emails obtained by the AP show that officials are also seeking information about how many Haitian TPS recipients are illegally receiving public benefits, which they are not eligible for. If Haitian TPS eligibility is terminated, officials plan to let them stay until January so they have time to make arrangements to return home. After that, they could be deported. The administration has until May 23 to make a decision, the AP reported. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly will have the final say.