Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Open the door, Mr. President: Our Opinion: There are 55,000 reasons to be fair to Haitians

The Miami Herald, Editorial

As the first painful anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake approaches, recovery efforts are mired in a dysfunctional government, a cholera outbreak not of that nation’s making and a flawed election that has left Haitians understandably angry and frustrated.

The international community — from the United Nations to the Organization of American States, and, of course, the United States — is attempting to resolve the political impasse in the recent elections.

Health officials from around the world are helping Haitians fight the cholera killer likely brought from abroad.

But only the Obama administration can help Haitians help themselves by allowing the 55,000 Haitians who have approved U.S. visas from before the quake to join their families here.

Incredibly, the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t bothered to do right by those 55,000 Haitians.

Instead, Homeland Security is poised to send back undocumented Haitians to a country that’s stressed beyond most people’s imaginations and seems to be shutting the door on 55,000 legal — we repeat legal — immigrants whose families have promised to support them until they can find work.

Meantime, U.S. officials are opening another door to the Cuban spouses and minor children of legal Cuban immigrants here after a months-long delay that had put in jeopardy U.S. assistance to 3,200 Cuban migrants.

Why the double standard?

The 55,000 Haitians could work here legally and help their families or friends in Haiti, which would only improve the dismal life of those loved ones they left behind. In fact, without remittances, Haiti would be in much worse shape. In 2009, Haitians in the United States sent more than $1.5 billion to relatives there.

This delay is unnecessary and destructive. The 55,000 have been vetted by U.S. immigration officials. They are approved to go, but it could take four to 11 years to get them here because of a U.S. backlog of approved visa-holders.

Clearly, Haitians should be at the front of that line.

Their country has crumbled, and with the help of family in America they can become productive here while helping Haiti’s economy through remittances, which would aid Haitians start businesses there once the rebuilding is at full steam.

There are thousands more Haitians waiting for visa approvals whose cases merit expedited approval, too.

Lifting the quota system for Haitians because of extraordinary circumstances would be the humanitarian thing to do, requiring no special act of Congress because the 55,000 already have approved visas.

For months, immigration activists have been talking with White House officials to nudge Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to sign off on expediting those 55,000 approved visas. Still, nothing.

The United States has a long history of helping refugees facing chaos in their homelands. Haitians surely qualify. To condemn legal immigrants to more time in tent cities, with the potential of a cholera epidemic and more political unrest, is shameful.

America cannot take care of every person in the world facing catastrophe, but in this case there is no other moral option. They’re legal — let them in.

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