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IMMIGRATION MATTERS: Undocumented Haitians Deserve to Stay Here

New America Media, Commentary, Gerald Lenoir Posted: Sep 15, 2009

Editor's Note: President Obama should grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians immediately before more Haitians die or are impacted by natural disasters, writes Gerald Lenoir, director of Black Alliance for Just Immigration. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of immigration experts and advocates.

Why doesnt President Obama grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to the estimated 30,000 undocumented Haitians residing in the United States?

Its been a year since Haiti was pummeled by four successive hurricanes and tropical stormsFaye, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. The United Nations called this the worst disaster to hit Haiti in 100 years.

Over 800 Haitians died, 600,000 houses were damaged or destroyed and over 3 million people were affected. Floods and mudslides wiped out food crops, and livestock were killed, condemning hundreds of thousands of people to acute hunger and malnutrition. Inadequate sanitation and clean water has meant that preventable diseases like malaria, hepatitis and cholera run rampant through the tiny island nation. The World Bank assessed the monetary costs at $1 billion, about 15 percent of Haitis Gross Domestic Product.

Even before the storms, Haitians were living a precarious existence, with 2.3 million people who had fallen into food insecurity, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In the face of this humanitarian crisis, the Obama administration has continued the policy of the Bush administrationthe deportation of Haitians who are without legal status in the United States. To continue this policy would mean condemning them to poverty, despair and in some cases, death. And it means that the already devastated country will be further overburdened.

What should the U.S. government do? The obvious thing that comes to mind is immediately halt all deportations and grant TPS to Haitians in the United States for 18 months. Those who are currently in detention should be released, and all legal and administrative proceedings against them should be dropped. All Haitians granted TPS should also be authorized to work in the United States. Working here has allowed Haitians to send money to family members in Haiti. In 2006, they sent $1.6 billion home. These remittances are critical to the survival of thousands of Haitian families.

TPS was granted to Hondurans and Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and to Salvadorans after an earthquake in 2001, 250,000 people in total. The protected status of undocumented people from these countries was renewed in September 2008. TPS has also been granted to nationals of Sudan, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Burundi, Bosnia-Herzegovina and other countries due to political unrest. What about Haitians?

It seems that President Obama is waiting to deal with the plight of Haitian immigrants as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but Haitians cant wait.

The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) has joined with Haiti Action Committee, the Haitian Women of Miami, the Florida Immigration Coalition, the American Friends Service Committee, the Latin American and Caribbean Community Center, and other organizations across the country to press the Obama Administration to grant TPS to undocumented Haitians.

After decades of supporting repressive regimes in Haiti, and participating in the toppling of the Aristide government in 2004, the United States government has the opportunity to do the right thing. Canada has had a moratorium on Haitian deportations for quite a while. It is time for the Obama administration to recognize that Haitians deserve to stay here.

Tomorrow, at the Federal Building at 301 Clay Street in Oakland, Calif., BAJI and Haiti Action Committee are sponsoring a rally in support of TPS for Haitians from 11:45 am to 1:00 pm. For more information call (510) 849-9940 or send an email to gerald@blackallaince.org.

And on Friday, Haitian Women of Miami, the Florida Immigration Coalition, Free Haiti Now and On Point Entertainment and Marketing are sponsoring a TPS Solidarity Vigil from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm at Virginia Key Beach, 4020 Virginia Beach Drive in Miami. For more information, call (305) 778-7073 or send and email to francesca@floridaimmigration.org.

Related Articles:

Supreme Court Opens a Door, Barely, for Immigrants Fighting Deportation

IMMIGRATION MATTERS: Reform to Help Economic Recovery?

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