Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Help Haitians Help Haiti

New York Times Editorial
January 14, 2010

Editor’s Note, Jan. 15, 2010: In a statement today, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that Haitians in the United States as of Jan. 12, the day of the earthquake, could apply for temporary protected status.

President Obama made a promise to the people of Haiti on Thursday. “You will not be forsaken,” he said. “You will not be forgotten.” He said those words at the end of a short White House speech detailing the many ways the United States was rushing food, water, medicine and other aid to that stricken country.

We wish he had added that his administration had found the courage, in this emergency, to take a basic but politically difficult step — to grant temporary protected status to undocumented Haitians in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security occasionally grants such status to immigrants stranded in this country by war, famine, earthquake or some other disaster back home. Protected immigrants are allowed to work legally and cannot be detained or deported. It’s a temporary amnesty, given in 18-month increments to those who qualify, and is currently available to citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan.

Earthquakes and hurricanes have routinely prompted the United States to grant and extend protected status to Central Americans. Similar pleas by Haitians have always been rebuffed, even after a devastating series of storms in 2008 left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Advocates for Haitian immigrants, whose diaspora is centered in Miami, have waged a long and fruitless campaign for protected status, arguing that remittances by Haitians in the United States are a vital source of aid — more than $1 billion each year. Now that Haiti has suffered its worst disaster in centuries, the argument for a temporary amnesty is overwhelming.

It was not enough for the administration to announce this week that the Department of Homeland Security would halt the pending deportations of the 30,000 or so undocumented Haitians. Burdening a collapsed country with destitute deportees would be a true crime. But all that does is leave the potential deportees in limbo, unable to work without fear.

Tuesday’s earthquake has caused a global outpouring of giving. But that will inevitably subside as fatigue sets in and new crises arise. What will help keep Haiti going for the long haul is Haitians helping Haitians. The Obama administration should give undocumented Haitians in the United States the simple thing they desperately want: not charity, but the chance to work.

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