Lesley Clark, Miami Herald
September 13, 2008
En route to Haiti to see storm devastation, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek assailed the White House Friday for continuing to deport Haitians in the United States to the storm-wracked island.
”It’s gone far beyond reason for the administration not to give Haiti some relief,” said the Miami Democrat, who has asked the Bush Administration to grant Haitians in the United States temporary protected status to keep them here while the island nation grapples with the effects of four hurricanes.
He suggested Haiti ”over-qualifies” for the designation, bestowed when the U.S. government determines eligible nationals are temporarily unable to safely return to their home country because of ongoing conflicts, environmental disasters or other “extraordinary and temporary conditions.”
”It is really cruel for the United States to do this, especially now under these circumstances,” said Meek, who has repeatedly asked for the designation.
Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, joined Meek at the Capitol and said his country is ill-prepared to receive deportees.
”This is no time for the U.S. to be sending back Haitians to the country,” Joseph said. “Where are they going to stay? They’re going to land in the water. We don’t even have beds for them.”
Meek also warned that Haiti’s ”fragile” state could pose a risk to the United States and South Florida in particular if desperate Haitians begin putting together boats to leave the island.
”We have to move in a proactive way so we can avoid that from happening,” he said.
He and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are asking for $300 million in emergency assistance to the island along with emergency bridges to help the island piece together flooded areas.
Joseph said he ran into Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a Sept. 11 ceremony and asked her about the bridges. ‘She said, `I talked to President Bush about it.’ So I expect to see those bridges.”
Meek said he hopes to share his experiences in Haiti with other members of Congress to shake out more aid to the island nation.
”Right now it’s about recovery,” Meek said. “We need assistance right now. People are saying they’ve never seen anything like this before. There are some parts of Haiti [where] you can’t even land a helicopter, let alone a plane. They’re cut off.”
House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he asked Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff for temporary protected status, noting that Haitians on the island receive significant amounts in remittances from family members living in the United States.
He said he’s also called for the United States, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank to cancel Haiti’s debt repayment.
Conyers noted the administration has pledged $19.5 million in aid and provided an amphibious vehicle, which he called a “step in the right direction but not nearly enough.”
”Haiti was already struggling economically prior to this barrage of four horrendous storms in a matter of weeks,” he said. “Piecemeal aid is insufficient. Comprehensive assistance must be provided immediately.”