WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States, responding to a surge in Haitian immigrants, will end special protections for them dating back to a 2010 earthquake that devastated that nation, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Thursday.
In a move that could send many back to an impoverished and violent country, the United States would now take steps to deport newly arrived Haitian migrants who do not have a case for seeking asylum, according to Department of Homeland Security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
More than 5,000 Haitian immigrants have entered the United States without visas this fiscal year through Oct. 1, said Department of Homeland Security officials, up from 339 in fiscal year 2015.
Deportations could be difficult if Haiti remains reluctant to issue documents needed to take back its residents.
"Haiti has not always issued travel documents as quickly as we would like," one official said. "Having said that, we are hopeful that they will live up to their international obligations and issue travel documents for people that have received the full measure of due process."
U.S. immigration authorities along the Mexico-California border have struggled to find enough resources to interview and temporarily detain Haitian migrants, most of whom are traveling from Brazil.
Many Haitians who found work in Brazil through a visa program offered after the earthquake are starting to leave because of Brazil's economic downturn and the shrinking work opportunities caused by the end of the summer Olympics.
Haitians who have been in the United States since January 12, 2011 and have Temporary Protected Status granted to earthquake victims will not be subject to deportation, Johnson said in a statement.
"The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State are working with the Government of Haiti and other key partners to resume removals in as humane and minimally disruptive a manner as possible," Johnson said.
Haitians who arrive on Thursday or later will be subject to "expedited removal" in which they are detained and ordered deported if they do not have a credible claim to asylum, Department of Homeland Security officials said.
Under previous protections, only Haitians who have been convicted of a serious crime or pose a national security threat have been ordered deported.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and David Gregorio)