Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Haitian Tragedy and US Immigration Policy

The disaster in Haiti is having a big impact in our country as well as Haiti, as we are home to a large population of Haitian immigrants with friends and family back home. Many have been pushed here by other natural disasters, including 4 devastating hurricanes last year, a food security crisis, extreme poverty, and political instability (brought about in part by the US and European countries) in addition to the pull factor of better economic opportunities here and the well-entrenched and supportive Haitian communities in NYC and Florida. My heart goes out to them as they desperately seek word from loved ones in Haiti.

A large number of Haitians have been caught up in the inhumanely aggressive Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweeps of undocumented immigrants (Just Foreign Policy says 30,000, not sure where they got that number). These immigrants deserved to remain here even before the earthquake because of the dire situation in their country after the hurricanes. In addition, as the NY Times noted this past May, remittances from Haitian immigrants in the US sent to families back home are crucial to recovery from the hurricanes, providing $1.87 billion in support.

In 2008, Haiti asked the Bush administration to grant what's known as Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants after the hurricanes. This status allows immigrants who can't return to their country because of instability or natural disasters to remain in the US however they arrived here and work legally. In December of 2008, Bush rejected Haiti's request, and the Obama administration continued the Bush policy of deporting undocumented Haitians, despite the fact that the country was still reeling from natural disaster and ensuing food shortage (see above NY Times article).

Thankfully the Obama administration just decided to halt deportations in wake of the earthquake disaster. However, the Miami Herald article on the decision states that in such cases "deportations usually resume as soon as the emergencies end." The emergency in Haiti might end after several months, but it will be years before the country even recovers to the perilous situation it was in before the earthquake. No Haitian-American should be deported for several years until the situation truly improves to pre-hurricane status. Granting TPS to Haitian immigrants must be a component of our response to the tragedy if it is to be thorough and just.

The Haitian-American community and its allies in Congress are putting a ton of pressure on the Obama administration to grant TPS, as the Herald article documents. The NY Times piece from last May suggests that they were pretty close to getting TPS last spring, so there is some hope.

Just Foreign Policy is acting in solidarity with the Haitian-American and immigrant rights communities through an email action alert to President Obama and Congresspeople demanding that they grant TPS to Haitian immigrants. Please add your voice of solidarity here.

Note: I'm working on a longer piece on how US policies towards Haiti have helped cause the instability and poverty there that make the tragedy both more poignant and more difficult to recover from, so stay tuned.

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