By Jacqueline Charles and Trenton Daniel
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Haitian President Rene Preval said his storm-ravaged country will no longer be able to accept U.S. deportees and has called on the Bush administration to allow undocumented Haitians living in the United States to remain until their homeland recovers.
“Haiti will no longer be able to receive the deported individuals that the United States sends us on a regular basis,” Preval said Friday at the closing address at the Americas Conference in Coral Gables, Fla. “This is the occasion for the United States administration to put in place for Haitians the benefit of TPS, the Temporary Protected Status, that has already been granted to other countries in the region such as El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.”
After Hurricane Mitch in 1998, Washington granted the Central American countries TPS, which was recently renewed.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month temporarily halted deportations to Haiti but said it would review its decision on a day-to-day basis.
Temporary Protected Status is a designation approved by Congress in 1990 for foreign nationals fleeing civil war and natural disasters.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not comment on Preval’s TPS request.
In an attempt to slow down deportations, Haitian government officials in the United States have said that they stopped issuing travel documents to deportees after last month’s Hurricane Ike.
Preval’s TPS plea came during a rare appearance in South Florida. The day before, he visited Haiti’s northwest port city of Gonaives, which remains encased in mud, weeks after Tropical Storm Hanna submerged it in water.
Preval repeated his call at a meeting Friday night with more than 50 Haitian community activists. He shared firsthand knowledge of the food shortage and other humanitarian issues facing Haiti because of the natural disasters.
At the Americas Conference, Preval said that while he had seen TV images and read the reports on the storm damage, nothing prepared him for the sight and smell of the devastation. Friday, Haitian authorities increased the official toll to 793 dead and 310 missing.
Preval called on Haitians and friends of Haiti to assist the country in its reconstruction, saying four back-to-back storms in three weeks had set the country back several years and “compromised our chance for development.”
Haiti, he said, doesn’t just need financial aid but investments of capital, expertise and desire to help the country. The two hurricanes and two tropical storms collapsed major roads and bridges, destroyed more than $180 million in crops and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Preval encouraged Haitians living abroad to come back and contribute. “We are waiting for you,” he said.