Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Help for Haiti The U.S. should temporarily stop deportations.

Washington Post Editorial

THE UNITED STATES occasionally grants immigrants from countries in extreme economic or political turmoil “temporary protected status,” or TPS, which means U.S. removals to those countries will stop for a specified period. The designation is given to people from countries or parts of countries that have ongoing armed conflicts, recent environmental disasters or other conditions that prevent nationals from being returned home safely.

On all these fronts, Haiti is a slam dunk. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it has been battered perennially by political instability, financial hardship, violence, hurricanes, earthquakes, AIDS, bad luck and worse leadership. The U.S. State Department warns Americans who are visiting Haiti about the “chronic danger of violent crime,” all the while repatriating Haitians to a death zone. Still, when Haiti applied in 2004 for TPS, it was turned down for undisclosed reasons. Last month, Haitian President Ren¿ Pr¿val wrote to President Bush requesting TPS for Haitians who are unlawfully in the United States, and Mr. Bush should grant the request.

Suspending deportations would allow Haiti to spend its limited resources on economic and political reconstruction rather than on social services for deported people. In Haiti’s fragile economy, remittances from nationals abroad equal about a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. Allowing Haitian nationals to temporarily stay in the United States, in other words, would be a sort of cheap foreign aid, leaving undisturbed one of the few things keeping the country afloat. This is not just a humanitarian issue, though the misery there makes a compelling case; stability in Haiti, which is only a boat trip from Florida‘s coastline, is in America’s interest, too.

Critics contend that granting temporary protected status to Haiti will open the floodgates to more undocumented Haitian immigrants. But TPS applies only to a country’s nationals who are already in the United States at the time TPS is declared, and the burden of proof is on them to verify their eligibility. TPS designations given to Somalia, Burundi, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Sudan don’t seem to have enabled more illegal immigration from those countries.

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) has introduced legislation to extend TPS to Haitians, and the proposal has obtained bipartisan support from politicians across his state, which has the largest Haitian-born population in the country. Immigration policy is too radioactive right now for anything to happen on Capitol Hill. Fortunately, under current law, TPS can be granted by the executive branch alone if the president feels a country would benefit from having some time to breathe. While a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would say only that Mr. Pr¿val’s letter is “being evaluated,” we hope Mr. Bush will take a positive stand. After all, on March 17, Citizenship and Immigration Services renewed Somalia’s TPS for another 18 months with little fanfare. The people of Haiti deserve the same generosity and sympathy granted to other deserving countries.

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