janet_napolitano.jpgWASHINGTON—Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday the extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haitian refugees in the United States.

The extension is effective July 23 and will stay in place for an additional 18 months, allowing the refugees to remain in the country through Jan. 22, 2013.

The designation of TPS for eligible Haitian nationals who had continuously resided in the United States since Jan. 12, 2010, was originally announced by Napolitano on Jan. 15, 2010, and became effective on Jan. 21, 2010. Currently, about 48,000 Haitian nationals with TPS live in the U.S., A Homeland Security statement said.

“In the extended aftermath of the devastating earthquakes in Haiti, the United States has remained fully committed to upholding our responsibility to assist individuals affected by this tragedy by using tools available under the law,” Napolitano said in the statement. “Providing a temporary refuge for Haitian nationals who are currently in the United States and whose personal safety would be endangered by returning to Haiti is part of this administration’s continuing efforts to support Haiti’s recovery.”

The decision was immediately welcomed by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.,  who represents the congressional district with the  largest concentration of Haitian Americans and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

During a meeting at the White House last week, Wilson hand-delivered a letter to President Barack Obama, signed by more than 50 members of Congress, making the TPS request, Wilson’s office said.

Wilson in a statement described the announcement as “nothing short of a lifeline for tens of thousands of Haitians living in the U.S., especially South Florida.”

Wilson recently returned from a trip to Haiti, where she observed conditions on the ground and met with then President-elect Michel Martelly and members of Parliament.

Wilson’s office said Haitians who are eligible to apply for TPS should call 1-800-375-5283 or visit www.uscis.gov/tps.