For years, activists have protested immigration laws that they say restrict Haitians’ hopes of building new lives in the US. Enduring dictatorship, natural disasters, and economic despair in their homeland, Haitians deserve a more sympathetic approach, they argued.
Now with Haiti facing the biggest humanitarian crisis of its history, reform advocates are pushing once more for a softening of America’s immigration rules. Haitian-Americans and immigration activists are calling on the US government to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to 30,000 undocumented Haitians currently living in America, in order to allow them to work and send money home to their loved ones.
Such remittances could throw a lifeline to hundreds of thousands on the island, providing them with the means and motivation to rebuild, discouraging potentially deadly self-evacuations on the high seas, and making an important gesture to demonstrate America’s commitment to Haiti’s future.
“Without TPS, these people cannot go to work here and feed their kids and send money to their family in Haiti. Keeping them in that condition is not helping anybody, they are not getting the same treatment that other nations have received,” complained Dr. Bernier Lauredan, president of the Washington DC-based Haitian League, which represents the Haitian diaspora in the US.
The US Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that it has temporarily halted deportation of Haitians in the wake of Tuesday’s earthquake. But officials did not say anything about granting TPS to Haitians.
TPS allows illegal aliens to live and work in the US if returning to their homeland would be unsafe due to conflict or national disaster. It was granted to Nicaraguans and Hondurans in the US after hurricane Mitch in 1998, and El Salvadorans in 2001 after a series of earthquakes, but has never been granted to Haitians despite multiple emergencies.
“Haitians deserve equal treatment and now, today, is the right time,” Dr Lauredan urged.
With the Red Cross estimating that up to 3 million people in Haiti have been left homeless by the earthquake, the issue of the TPS touches just the tip of the iceberg. Humanitarian and military planners are considering tent cities, refugee ships, and even the possibility of a temporary sanctuary at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
But redressing inequalities in immigration law is an important step, says Cheryl Little of the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center in Miami. “Haitians here in this country have enough to worry about right now. The least we can do is give them the ability to support their families…,” she said.
Temporary protection would also demonstrate a level of commitment to Haitians the US has previously not shown, says Dr. Lauredan.
“I am calling for the US to lead a Marshall Plan for Haiti’s reconstruction, like it was done in Europe,” he says, “Without it, we are going to see more refugees come to the shores of Miami. They will try to make it whether they live or they die, because where they are they don’t have hope.”
He adds: “This is the right time, at this moment of pain, to stand up and help us build this country.”
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