Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Let Haitian Immigrants Work in Dignity

By Steven Forester

Miami Herald Op-Ed

From jail in Birmingham in April, 1963, Martin Luther King stealthily wrote a now-immortal letter that then fell on deaf ears. He was replying to eight sympathetic clergy who had written urging him to be patient and not to use civil disobedience. No one — not the Kennedy administration, not progressives who favored equality — thought that King’s tactics were correct. But alone he stood up and was having none of it.

He raged against anyone “who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom,” and wrote that “shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” (See Pillars of Fire, by Taylor Branch, page 47.)

So, too, must we decry the paternalistic evasion that greets the universally acknowledged meritorious and patient request of 35,000 Haitian immigrants for equal treatment and the simple dignity not just of work itself but of the right merely to apply — at significant financial cost to themselves — for formal permission to even seek employment so that they can support themselves and their families.

In good conscience we must decry the hypocrisy and shallow understanding of people in this administration — not the Bush but the Obama administration — who hide behind a mantle of good will while continuing to ignore their pleas to be treated as human beings. More was expected and is required not merely for these patient deserving persons, but for all of us if righteousness and morality are to be given substance.

Hit by hurricanes

Months ago a Haitian-American leader said on television that President Bush was better than President Obama for Haitian immigrants. At the time I thought this was ludicrous. I’m no longer so sure. The dignity of work has been lauded by Democratic presidents at least as far back as FDR.

Last year four hurricanes and storms (equivalent to ten Hurricane Katrinas hitting here), struck Haiti in one month. Everyone from South Florida Republicans and mayors to the United Nations has urged the administration all year to temporarily grant Haitian immigrants the status accorded other similarly situated immigrants so they might support their families.

Obama administration officials privately acknowledge the complete merits of the case, but they shrink in fear of right-wing demagogues. They mask their interminable vacillations and obfuscations behind expressions of impotence. They disserve the president.

Justice denied

If moral cowardice and leadership are mutually exclusive, the president must decide which he wishes people of intelligence and good will to remember him for on this issue.

As the prophets intoned from Amos to King, justice delayed is justice denied.

As we approach the celebration of the Prince of Peace, Obama should succor the needy by letting them work — in good conscience, for the sake of the children and for all that he and the first lady believe.

Steven Forester directs the efforts of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti to secure Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.

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