Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily halted deportations Wednesday of some Haitians illegally in the U.S. in response to the Caribbean nation's devastating earthquake.
Those with deportation orders will be allowed to remain in U.S. Those held in detention centers will remain jailed, Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler said.
The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti Tuesday is believed to have left thousands dead. Corpses were piled in the streets near flattened buildings as the world relief response got under way.
About 30,000 Haitians have orders to leave the U.S. and about 160 are in detention, according to the Homeland Security Department.
The U.S. deported 1,570 Haitians in 2008, Homeland Security statistics show.
The federal government has suspended deportations following previous disasters. Deportation flights to Haiti were suspended in September 2008 because of hurricane damage in the country. Those flights resumed in March for deportees with criminal records, according to members of Congress and immigration advocates.
Several members of Congress who represent Haitian communities have been pressuring the Obama administration to give temporary protected status to Haitians illegally in the U.S.
The designation would allow Haitians to remain and work legally in the U.S. and send some of their earnings to back home.
Matthew Chandler, a Homeland Security Department spokesman, said temporary protected status is an option that DHS considers in a disaster, "but our focus remains on saving lives."
On a conference call with grassroots leaders and business officials, White House political director Patrick Gaspard told the listeners "the conversation around TPS is one that informs our thinking" on the U.S. earthquake response.
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