Since the election of President Obama, Haitians in the U.S. have been anxiously awaiting a change in immigration policy which would grant undocumented Haitian immigrants temporary protected status (TPS). TPS is a temporary immigration status that is available to individuals from a small number of federally-designated countries suffering armed conflicts, natural disasters, or other extraordinary circumstances. Haitian immigrants in the U.S. probably should’ve been granted TPS long before yesterday’s earthquake. Yet now, as Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) points out, it would be “not only immoral, but irresponsible” not to.
Haiti’s recent woes come after enduring four consecutive tropical cyclones in 2008 that left 800 people dead and from which the country has yet to recover. The Miami Herald has reported that the Haitian city of Gonaives, is still “uninhabitable.” That same year, Port-Au-Prince was “shattered” as even 9,000 United Nation peacekeepers were unable to halt the looting and violence that ravaged Haiti’s capital. In March, USAID estimated that 2.3 million Haitians were facing “food insecurity” as a result of high food prices. Political instability continues to devastate the country.
Haitian immigrants had high hopes with the election of President Obama. Yet, many have since become frustrated with the administration’s “failure to deliver one of their top goals.” In March 2009, the Obama administration indicated that it would continue deporting undocumented Haitians, “despite appeals by the Haitian government, which says deportations could destabilize a country where food, water and housing have been in extremely short supply since major storms last summer.” One month later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that the Obama administration hadn’t granted Haitians TPS because “we don’t want to encourage other Haitians to make the dangerous journey across the water.” In July, five U.S. senators, including the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), personally wrote to President Obama, urging him to grant Haitian immigrants TPS. The senators countered criticisms that such a move would spark an unmanageable influx of Haitian immigrants by pointing out that TPS is only available to those already living in the U.S.
This morning, Obama affirmed that Haiti “will have a friend and partner in the people of the United States today, and going forward.” Continuing to deport thousands of Haitian immigrants back to their ravaged home country rather than letting them stay in the U.S. to help their families in Haiti get back on their feet is inconsistent with the promises the Obama administration has already made to the people of Haiti. The U.S. generously granted and extended TPS for 82,000 Hondurans and 5,000 Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to 260,000 Salvadorans after an earthquake in 2001. There’s no reason why Haitians should be treated any different.