Boston Globe Editorial
LAST MONTH, Haiti’s president, René Préval, wrote to President Bush asking for a favor: For the time being, please stop deporting Haitians who are in the United States without legal status. It’s a controversial request – one that would affect perhaps 20,000 people who entered this country illegally, are seeking asylum, or are appealing immigration decisions. The proposal is a tough sell politically, but it makes global sense.
Préval wants Bush to grant Haitian immigrants “temporary protected status.” It’s a legal time-out for immigrants who come from countries facing crises such as armed conflicts and natural disasters. The status already applies to certain Nicaraguan immigrants, who are covered because of devastation caused in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch. Immigrants from El Salvador are covered because of earthquakes there in 2001.
To make his own case, Préval points to devastating storms that struck Haiti in 2004, causing thousands of deaths, widespread homelessness, and the destruction of fertile land. Préval does not say so in his letter, but as Bush knows, Haiti is also chronically racked by poverty, AIDS, violence, and illiteracy.
Haitian workers in the United States play a key role in combating those problems. Préval points to how much his country relies on money that Haitians earn in the United States and send to relatives at home.
In 2007, remittances to Haiti from the United States totaled an estimated $1.26 billion – about 24 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, which finances development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. It dwarfs the $129 million in foreign aid that Haiti got in 2007 from the US Agency for International Development.
Remittances act as an unofficial antipoverty program. Haitians use the money for food, clothes, medicine, educational costs, as well as opening bank accounts, building homes, and launching small businesses.
Given this economic benefit, granting temporary protected status for Haitians is a simple way to help their native country build a better future. Temporary status would only apply to Haitians who could prove they were in the United States before a set cutoff date. New immigrants would not be covered.
The plight of Haitians at risk of deportation only underscores the inadequacy of US immigration policy. Haiti now depends upon workers who have found a place in the US economy despite their lack of legal status. These Haitian immigrants probably would have gotten some protection last year. But immigration reform efforts in Congress failed.
Now, Bush should direct the Department of Homeland Security to grant temporary protected status, to help preserve the remittances that finance Haiti’s fragile quest for progress.