Much of Haiti remains unfit for human habitation more than a year after the devastating earthquake. Nearly half the 1.3 million people left homeless still live in camps and squalid tent cities. Reconstruction has barely begun. Clean clothing, fresh water and medicines remain in short supply. Security in many places does not exist. Neither does sanitation. Millions are less focused on rebuilding than on scraping to get by. That's why the Obama administration took a just and appropriate step by extending temporarily the right of displaced Haitians to remain in the United States.
Haiti's worst natural disaster only compounded the misery in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One-fifth of the nation's 10 million people lived in the areas most heavily damaged. The quake killed 316,000 people, leveled housing and schools and laid bare Haiti's already frayed infrastructure of medical, water and waste facilities. An ensuing epidemic of the foul water-borne illness, cholera — the first in Haiti in a century — has claimed nearly 5,000 additional lives. The Obama administration was right to recognize the situation as dire and unique and to explore how this nation could further help.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that it would extend a program first enacted in the days after the quake that granted temporary protections to Haitian nationals. The measure allowed Haitians who had lived continuously in the United States since the Jan. 12, 2010, quake to remain for an additional 18 months. Under the extension that deadline is pushed from this summer to January 2013. And it expands the pool of Haitians eligible to stay to those who arrived up to one year after the quake. They also could remain until 2013.
The program already has helped 48,000 Haitians — 30,000 of them in Florida — avoid the misery while not contributing to the humanitarian crisis at home. Church and social groups have done a wonderful job assisting Haitians, connecting them with family members and seeing to their everyday needs. With the expanded benefits, an additional 10,000 Haitians could remain. Haitians not currently in this country do not qualify, and those who enter illegally will be sent back to Haiti. Additionally, those convicted of a felony or at least two misdemeanors in the United States, or those determined to be a security threat, are not eligible. The U.S. has already removed 74 Haitians under the criminal provisions.
The administration was right to respond with a policy that opened a narrow door to needy Haitians without overwhelming American resources. This small act of decency befits America's role and promotes stability in the region.