Immigrants From Battered Haiti Should Be Able to Stay in the U.S.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

HAITI WAS already an island of unimaginable suffering, a country ravaged by war and roving gangs where four out of five residents lived in extreme poverty. Then, in less than a month last year, four vicious storms lashed it, killing up to 800 people, leaving as many as 1 million homeless and inflicting at least $1 billion in damage -- 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The State Department cautions visitors that there are no "safe areas" in Haiti, and that "kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, break-ins and carjackings are common." Yet, it is U.S. policy to deport the estimated 30,000 Haitians in this country back to this hotbed of violence and squalor. The United States grants temporary protected status (TPS) to immigrants from countries with extreme economic or political conditions; Haitian immigrants more than qualify.

Haitians in the United States are one of the few sources of stability for their home country, sending back remittances that total an estimated one-fourth of the Haiti's GDP. Deporting Haitians, and thereby diminishing millions of dollars in what is essentially foreign aid, would devastate a country that can ill afford to take more economic hits. A surge of deportees, who would arrive without either homes or jobs, would also place an impossible burden on Haiti's skeletal social services.

Critics say that granting TPS would bring a rush of Haitians to the United States in search of citizenship. But TPS would apply only to Haitians in the United States at the time the order is issued. As the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in Florida wrote recently in a letter to President Obama, there was no "mass exodus" of Haitians to the United States after the Clinton administration granted a stay of deportation in 1998.

The Bush administration was consistently inflexible on the issue, turning down Haitian applications for TPS with minimal explanation. After last year's storms, the Bush administration temporarily suspended the deportations, only to resume them months later, while the country was still reeling from the disasters. The Obama administration has so far maintained the Bush administration's policy, but advocates have met with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and were encouraged by her response.

Mr. Obama recently issued an order that allowed Liberian immigrants to stay temporarily in the United States. Immigrants from Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras have also been granted TPS in recent years. Why are immigrants from a disaster-wracked country that is the poorest in the hemisphere less deserving?


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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