Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Helping the Haitians

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial

With so much else on his plate, President Obama can be forgiven for not giving Haiti the same attention it received after a devastating earthquake six months ago.

However, there is a step he should have taken before now that would go a long way toward relieving some of the additional economic stress that the disaster dumped on the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

Obama should ease immigration rules so more Haitians can live and work in this country and send money back to their homeland. Already such remittances are said to account for a third of Haiti’s gross domestic product.

There is ample precedent for Haitian immigrants to receive special consideration. The United States has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees over the years, including many who fled neighboring Cuba. Helping more Haitians to emigrate would represent a similar humanitarian effort.

There are about 55,000 Haitians who have already been approved for visas to join family members in the United States. But standard procedure requires them to wait from four to 11 years before they can come here and become legal U.S. residents. An additional almost 20,000 Haitians are waiting for visa approvals.

No congressional act is needed for the president to expedite the handling of these immigration cases. The sooner he does that, the sooner the Haitians will be able to find employment in this country that allows them to send help home. That aid over time will improve Haiti’s ability to stand on its own legs without as much foreign assistance.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has asked Obama to create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program, which would be similar to a program created by President George W. Bush in 2007 to allow Cubans to come and live in the United States while awaiting their visa approvals.

Haitians deserve the same consideration. Disparate treatment by foreign powers of this country birthed by rebellious slaves is one reason it is an economic basket case. The earthquake made matters worse. But our country promised to do all it could to help. Its next step should be to open its doors wider to Haitians.

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