In terms of natural disasters, 2008 was catastrophic for Haiti. It was hit by four back-to-back hurricanes that killed hundreds of people and made tens of thousands of others homeless. Roads were wiped out and crops were destroyed, leaving 300,000 children facing malnutrition. Dirty flood waters have put thousands of residents at risk of cholera, hepatitis and malaria. On top of all that, a wrecked economy, high crime and political turmoil have made this Caribbean nation a place of extreme human misery, forcing thousands to flee to the United States for relief.
Given these circumstances, it's hard to understand why the Department of Homeland Security has ordered the deportation of 30,000 undocumented Haitians and has refused to grant them "temporary protected status," or TPS. With TPS, Haitians could live and work here legally while their country tries to recover and build its economy. Yet the Obama administration told advocates this week that the Department of Homeland Security intends to continue to deport Haitians. The administration needs to reconsider.
Temporary protected status, which is granted in 18-month increments to those without criminal histories, isn't new. The United States gives it to immigrants from countries torn apart by natural disaster and violence. It's been granted to thousands of Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans who fled hurricanes, earthquakes and war. Some of these nationals have been in the United States for 10 years, because their 18-month stints always are renewed.
President Bush stopped deporting Haitians temporarily last September while Homeland Security considered a TPS request from the Haitian government. The request was denied in December, and the deportations resumed at a faster pace. Haiti's president, Rene Preval, and U.S. lawmakers — including U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Kendrick Meek of Miami, are urging President Obama to reconsider the TPS request. For its part, the Haitian government refuses to issue travel papers to deportees, leaving thousands in limbo here and causing confusion and desperation on the island.
This is a humanitarian crisis that will grow worse if the United States remains calloused and shortsighted in its treatment of citizens of one of its nearest neighbors, which happens to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. There is no good reason to deny temporary protected status to Haitians while their country struggles to recover.