Chicago Tribune Editorial
As each misery compounded the last, relief efforts have been set back. The January earthquake killed 250,000 and left 1.3 million living in crowded tent cities with little access to medical care or clean water. That stoked the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 and sickened an additional 18,000. Haitians considered themselves blessed that a weakened Hurricane Tomas killed only 20, but thousands more families were displaced and almost a third of the tents were destroyed.
The earthquake rubble still hasn’t been cleared from the capital of Port-au-Prince. Few houses have been rebuilt.
Think back to the days and weeks after the earthquake, when the world reached out to help Haiti. The U.S. sent more than $1 billion in emergency aid. School kids sent nickels and dimes. Doctors and construction crews and church groups headed to the island to help; some of them are still there. But Haiti isn’t back on its feet. Not even close.
What more can be done? For starters, foreign governments that pledged more than $5.3 billion to help rebuild Haiti should make good on their promises. Only about one-fifth of that money has been delivered.
The U.S. is among the nations that haven’t come through. The State Department is still haggling with Congress over how to make sure more than $1 billion intended for reconstruction isn’t hijacked by Haiti’s historically corrupt government. That is a legitimate concern, but eight months have passed since the money was pledged and thousands of hungry people are still sleeping in the streets. Where is the sense of urgency?
There is another step the Obama administration can take, easily and inexpensively, to help relieve suffering in Haiti. It can expedite the immigration visas of more than 55,000 Haitians who have already been approved to come to the U.S.
Once here, they can earn money to support their relatives in Haiti who have no food, no homes, no jobs. Cash remittances from Haitians working in the U.S. totaled more than $1.5 billion last year.
These are all people who have followed the rules, completing the necessary paperwork and waiting in line. All have sponsors here who have agreed to ensure the newcomers don’t become a burden to taxpayers.
But immigration quotas limit the number of Haitians who can come here each year. The wait can be as long as 11 years.
The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to expedite those visas, and should have done so months ago. At its July meeting in Oklahoma City, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously urged the administration to do just that.
The rules have been adjusted during other crises to admit tens of thousands of refugees from Cuba, Kosovo and Vietnam. Haitians deserve no less.
Haiti still needs help, and lots of it. One of the most compassionate (and cost-effective) things our government can do is to let Haitians help themselves.
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