NOEL KING, HOST:
The Trump administration is expected to announce next week a decision on the fate of immigrants who have been granted visas under what's called Temporary Protective Status or TPS. There are around 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S. with this protected status. The Trump administration says conditions in Haiti have improved since that country's devastating 2010 earthquake. And he says those improvements mean there's no reason to extend the visas. I should say the administration says that. Carrie Kahn just came back from a reporting trip in Haiti, and she's with us now. Carrie, thanks for being here.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
KING: Let's talk about what you saw on the ground. U.N. peacekeeping troops have now withdrawn from Haiti. Are things considerably better? Are things - have things improved?
KAHN: They have, especially if you compare to the immediate aftermath of the quake seven years ago. You see reconstruction. You see economic activity, even saw construction cranes downtown. I have never seen that before. The Trump administration says the national palace has been demolished and point to the U.N. peacekeeping troops leaving as proof of progress. Yes, the National Palace is down and other government buildings are going up. But if you just go around the corner in downtown Port au Prince, it still looks like a disaster zone with crumbled buildings and now goods being sold on the sidewalk in front of those buildings. So it's - the U.N. withdrawal has left a huge challenge for Haitian police. So there's a lot that is concerning Haitians right now, especially the alarming poverty and the homelessness rate.
KING: You had a long interview with Haiti's new president, Jovenel Moise. What did he say about the prospect of 50,000 Haitians returning to Haiti from the U.S., possibly as early as January?
KAHN: He's very concerned, and I asked him that exact question. And let's just play a little bit of what he said.
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PRESIDENT JOVENEL MOISE: (Through interpreter) So Haiti's not ready to receive 50,000 Haitians. If they have to return to Haiti, they are our brothers and sisters. And we will welcome them back here.
KAHN: He's concerned about the loss of money that the Haitians living abroad send home. He gave us a startling figure that remittances by Haiti is 25 percent of the country's GDP.
KAHN: It's a quarter of all Haitian - entire output. He said he was expecting $2.5 billion next year, and that's the same as Haiti's total annual operating budget. And he said he's encouraging the U.S. to look at individual cases, not just to send home all 50,000 Haitians.
KING: Yeah and keep that money coming into Haiti. You know, you mentioned also that the president wants to reinstate Haiti's army. The army was disbanded in the 1990s after horrific human rights abuses. And I wonder, what has changed? What did the president tell you about why he wants and needs an army now?
KAHN: He says that the army will be more like a National Guard and help in times of national emergencies, especially with the pull-out of U.N. peacekeeping forces that have been in Haiti for more than 13 years. Here's what he said about that.
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MOISE: (Through interpreter) The U.N. could have helped and support the army so when they were leaving after 13 years, we could have like a very professional army. And I'm talking about an army that will be there to do military coup? No, a very professional army.
KAHN: That comment about the coup, I followed up on that with him because there is much concern that he's reinstating the army as a way to protect himself from the political turmoil or a possible coup. And I asked him, is that why he was doing it? And he said, absolutely not. The new army will be there only to help the Haitian people and not to protect him or his rule.
KING: Does the new president seem optimistic about the country's future?
KAHN: He's very strategic. He kept outlining a 10-point plan for this, a four-point plan for that. He has a big infrastructure plan that he's working on. But Haiti has so many challenges. I can't say he's optimistic, but I think he's taking up the challenges.
KING: NPR's Carrie Kahn just back from Haiti. Carrie, Thank you so much for joining us.
KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.