Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Commentary: Haitians snubbed again in bid for TPS

Miami Herald Editorial

The Bush administration continued its policy of cruelty and bias to Haitians with the recent rejection of President Rene Preval’s request that undocumented Haitians be allowed to remain in the United States until their country recovers from last summer’s devastating storms.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Preval, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff acknowledged that the four storms that drowned low-lying parts of Haiti in mud and misery had been “severe.” He reminded Preval of the tons of humanitarian relief supplies the United States has sent, including “food, water, bed linens, medical supplies, hygienic items and clothing” to help the country get back on its feet.

In the end, though, the rules for granting Haitians Temporary Protected Status are just too narrow, and Haitians don’t qualify, Chertoff said. The rules were not so narrow in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch tore through Honduras and Nicaragua, nor in 2001 when an earthquake ripped through El Salvador. The United States granted TPS to more than 100,000 undocumented immigrants from those countries – as it should have. More than 10 years after those disasters, the Bush administration granted Hondurans, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans a renewal of TPS.

Why the administration chooses to treat Haitians differently is baffling. Chertoff’s detailed explanation of the “opportunities” available to Haitian parolees and non-immigrant lawful Haitians offers a clue.

The point is to discourage Haitians from leaving the island by not offering any help to undocumented Haitians who already are here. However, this is a rationale that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Haitians send nearly $1 billion in remittances back to Haiti, which accounts for almost a third of Haiti’s annual GDP. A policy of aggressive repatriation makes matters worse in Haiti, increasing – not decreasing – the likelihood of mass departures.

Moreover, giving undocumented Haitians some status through TPS increases the chance that they will work, pay U.S. taxes and send money back to relatives in Haiti. Then, there is the matter of U.S. Coast Guard vessels that relentlessly patrol waters near the Haitian coast. U.S. maritime vigilance reduces the odds of an exodus from the island.

Considering the widespread destruction of homes, schools, roads, bridges and businesses in Haiti, it is highly unlikely that enough repairs can be made in time to protect many thousands of Haitians in the next hurricane season. All of which adds up to a U.S. policy that is needlessly cruel or deliberately biased. Haitians can hope that the next administration is better at applying the rules fairly to all.

© 2009, The Miami Herald.

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