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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 50,000 victims of Haiti's 2010 earthquake can remain in the United States until January, giving them time to prepare for a return to the Caribbean country in the new year, the Trump administration said on Monday.
The ruling by the Department of Homeland Security extended a status granted by President Barack Obama's administration to Haitians who arrived in the United States within a year of the devastating earthquake. Immigrant rights groups criticized the extension as insufficient.
Three DHS officials, who agreed to speak to reporters only on the condition of anonymity, said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly believed Haitians living in the United States deserved the extension until year-end, but conditions there were improving.
In a statement on Monday, Kelly raised the likelihood that the programme known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) would end in January if Haiti's recovery "continues at pace."
The extension should allow Haitians to obtain travel documents to leave the United States and for the Haitian government to prepare for repatriation, Kelly added.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. Congress have called for the preservation of TPS status for Haitians in the United States.
Immigrant rights groups, such as Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said remittances sent home by Haitians working in the United States under the programme provided important relief in the Caribbean country.
"These people are here, they are contributing, they are paying taxes, why uproot these families?" said Marleine Bastien, executive director of rights group Haitian Women of Miami. "It doesn't make sense."
About 40 percent of the Haitians in the United States under TPS are believed to live in Miami, she said.
U.S. law allows DHS to grant temporary protected status to citizens of countries ravaged by violence, disease and natural disasters. Other countries designated for temporary protected status include Sudan, Somalia, Syria, El Salvador, Nepal and Yemen.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Editing by Frank McGurty and Andrew Hay