Obama Grants Haitians Illegally in U.S. 'Protected Status' for 18 Months

"Apparently, there's nothing temporary about a temporary protected status order, and we do not want to see millions of Haitian refugees permanently transplanted to the United States in the middle of the economic nightmare we're in the middle of," William Gheen, president of the conservative Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said.

Dr. Besser and Diane Sawyer reporting from Haiti.

Dan Stein, president of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement that while he supports temporary suspension of deportations to Haiti, temporary protective status has been abused in the past.

"It is incumbent upon our national leaders to not only act compassionately but to act responsibly," he said. "In some cases, such as TPS for citizens of El Salvador, the triggering event occurred nearly a decade ago."

While some of the most conservative opponents of illegal immigration oppose temporary protected status, several Republicans support its extension to Haitians. Shortly after Tuesday's quake, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart -- all GOP House members from Florida -- sent a letter to President Obama reiterating their earlier pleas for TPS for Haitians.

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"The combined destruction from today's catastrophic earthquake and the previous storms clearly makes forced repatriation of Haitians hazardous to their safety at this time. We strongly believe that it is for such a situation that Congress created TPS," the letter read.

Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, went further Wednesday, saying it is "not only immoral but irresponsible to continue to deny Haitians TPS."

Still, given the politically charged immigration debate, the administration's decision to grant even "temporary" relief to thousands of illegal immigrants was not made lightly.

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, had denied Haitians' repeated previous requests for temporary protective status since the fall of 2008, after four hurricanes and tropical storms killed hundreds of people, destroyed Haiti's food crops and caused nearly $1 billion in damage.

Refugees at Home

Napolitano called the administration's action today "an act of compassion among other things," signaling just how serious the circumstances on the ground in Haiti have become.

ABC News' Jason Ryan contributed to this report.

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