May 10, 2008
Help for a neighbor
President Bush has received an urgent plea from this hemisphere’s poorest country. Haitian President Rene Preval wants the U.S. to put a temporary stop to the deportation of Haitian immigrants. Preval’s case for help is exceptionally strong.
He seeks something called “temporary protected status.” It is a designation that the U.S. grants from time to time to immigrants who cannot be sent home safely because of political upheaval, widespread violence or natural disasters. Haiti’s great tragedy is that it qualifies on all three counts.
United Nations peacekeepers have been assisting Haiti’s government since President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was displaced by a coup in early 2004. That same year, Hurricane Jeanne, an earthquake and rain-driven floods killed more than 5,000 people and left thousands homeless. Hundreds of people died in Hurricane Dean and Hurricane Noel in 2007. Haiti’s cities are plagued by so much kidnapping, drug trafficking and violent crime that the State Department warns Americans to stay away.
Hence, Preval’s request. In essence, he’s saying, allow Haitians in the U.S. to stay while we grapple with these disasters.
Temporary protected status is provided only for up to 18 months, unless U.S. officials decide it should be renewed. The designation would affect an estimated 20,000 Haitians who are here illegally or whose legal residency is about to expire. The protection would apply only to those who are here now, so it would not create an incentive for more illegal immigrants to come here.
Immigrants from Somalia, Burundi, Honduras and Sudan have temporary protection. Nicaraguans have had it since 1998 because of Hurricane Mitch. El Salvadorans have had it since earthquakes hit in 2001. There has been no flood of new immigrants from those countries because of this humanitarian gesture.
That’s what this would be for Haiti: a humanitarian gesture. It would also extend an economic benefit for the bereft nation. Haitians in the United States sent an estimated $1.2 billion in remittances to their home island in 2007, according to the World Bank. That was almost a fourth of Haiti’s gross domestic product and almost 10 times the assistance that the nation received from the U. S. Agency for International Development.
President Bush should grant President Preval’s request. He can do so through executive action. No congressional approval is necessary. It would be a modest gesture for the U.S., but a great help to Haiti.
Copyright 2008, Chicago Tribune