Protection for Haitians

Thirty thousand Haitians in Florida face deportation back to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The United States should grant them temporary protected status—which allows people from a designated nation to reside here legally and qualify for work authorization—until the country recovers from four back-to-back hurricanes and tropical storms that ravaged it last summer. These killed 800 people and left nearly one million homeless, with crops wiped out and an estimated $1 billion in damages. Increased costs for food and fuel led to riots a year ago. For children, the consequences have been especially dire. Many eat so-called mud cookies, made from dirt, salt and vegetable shortening. According to Unicef, Haiti has the highest rates in the Western Hemisphere of mortality of infants, children under 5 and mothers. Suspending the deportations, moreover, would allow remittances to continue to flow from Haitians in the United States. Remittances account for approximately a quarter of Haiti’s gross domestic product.

After the storms, Haitian president René Préval asked President George W. Bush to grant temporary protected status. Congress approved this in 1990 for foreign nationals fleeing in the wake of civil war and natural disasters like Hurricane Mitch in 2004. Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador have all received regular 18-month increments of this status, and now Haiti should receive it too. Writing on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George said in a letter to President Bush dated Oct. 8, 2008, that “Haiti meets the standards of T.P.S. because it had experienced political turmoil, four natural disasters and severe food shortages in the previous eight months alone.” The letter also pointed out that conditions there were comparable to or worse than those in countries that received the designation. In mid-March the cardinal wrote again, calling temporary protected status “a mantle of protection...the United States can make toward alleviating the suffering of the Haitian people.”


Fears that granting T.P.S. would bring a large exodus from Haiti to U.S. shores are groundless. It would be available only to people who are already here. Nevertheless, the former Homeland Security Department secretary, Michael Chertoff, denied Mr. Préval’s request, and the new secretary, Janet Napolitano, has not addressed the Haitian deportation issue apart from a Feb. 25 letter from the department’s director of policy, Susan Cullen, stating that the department planned “to continue to coordinate the removal of Haitian nationals to Haiti.”

Deportations also lead to the breakup of families. One recent example concerns a 35-year-old undocumented Haitian mother, Vialine Jean Paul. She married a U.S. citizen in the United States and had a child who, being born here, is also a U.S. citizen. The case is on appeal. Family breakup has long been a major concern of the U.S.C.C.B. and is a major motivation for immigrant advocates’ efforts toward comprehensive immigration reform.

Over the past decades, people on Haiti’s neighbor island, Cuba, received far more generous treatment from the United States. Through a lottery program, 20,000 Cubans receive visas annually to emigrate here through the Special Cuban Migration Program of 1994. Other Cubans who manage to reach U.S. shores by sea can remain if they touch land—the so-called wet foot, dry foot policy. Once on U.S. soil, Cubans are automatically eligible for asylum.

By contrast, the policy toward Haiti has been harsh, marked by mandatory detention and lack of access to counsel. There is a double standard, with Haitians treated as economic migrants and generally deported back home in a blatantly exclusionary manner. Cheryl Little, an attorney who is executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, told America that the inequity “represents the two extremes of our immigration policy.” She added, “I don’t know of any other group that has been singled out for discriminatory treatment decade after decade.” To its credit, Canada has imposed a moratorium on the deportation of Haitians.

So far, Haiti’s plight has not appeared on Mr. Obama’s radar screen. Until it does, members of families like Ms. Jean Paul’s will continue to face separation. Temporary protected status is the humane way to prevent deportations that would not only unravel family bonds but would also create an influx of Haitians back into a desperately poor country that even before the four disastrous storms of last year was unable to provide basic food and shelter for its people. The new administration ought to show its humanitarian side by granting Haiti temporary protected status, sparing Haitians in the United States from deportation back to a country ill-prepared to receive them.

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9 years 9 months ago
9 years 9 months ago
I am sorry but this country cannot continue to accept wave after wave of the poor and uneducated. The United States has a wonderful record of helping in this world in spite of those who believe different. We should be making sure our aid does not go into some Swiss bank account which has happened so often in the past. Aid works only when it is tied to goals and continuing aid on makes them dependent, not independent. We as well as Europe and others(such as China) need to cease supporting our producers to the detriment of the native producers. Our social system whether we want to admit it or not are bankrupt and our seniors are losing essential services such as food and medicines. I firmly believe in immigration but it is time to make these countries take step to reduce their poverty. It is the same appeal posters I remember in parochial school.....


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