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Jan 15th, 2010

Haitians in U.S. Illegally are Allowed to Stay

Obama administration gives temporary reprieve because of deadly quake

A man surveys hundreds of bodies of earthquake victims at the morgue in Port-au-Prince, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010. (Photo credit: Gregory Bull / AP)

January 15, 2010

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Friday it will allow Haitians who are in the United States illegally to remain because of this week’s catastrophic earthquake.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano granted the temporary protected status on Friday, two days after she temporarily halted deportations of Haitians, even those already in detention. The protection is available only to Haitians already in the country as of last Tuesday, when the quake struck their home island. They will be allowed to stay and work for 18 months.

Act of compassion

Napolitano told reporters that the temporary legal status is an act of compassion. …

Temporary protected status is granted to foreigners who may not be able to return safely to their country because of a natural disaster, armed conflict or other reasons.

Haitians in the United States illegally have pleaded for years for permission to stay, work and send money home to their loved ones in need after disasters at home, the treatment the federal government gave Central Americans in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch devastated their region.

The Haitians have been denied despite four tropical storms in 2008, massive floods almost every other year since 2000 and the long-running political strife that has prompted thousands to seek asylum in the United States.

About 30,000 Haitians have orders to leave the United States, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics. Many others are appealing their cases. Thousands of others live underground. …

Federal law permits Homeland Security to grant [illegal] immigrants temporary protected status in the event of a natural disaster or civil war. …

‘Backdoor to granting amnesty’

Those who favor a stricter U.S. immigration policy have in the past vehemently opposed giving temporary protected status because they argued it is a backdoor to granting amnesty. TPS given to Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Hondurans following Mitch was extended repeatedly for more than a decade, presumably long after those countries were able to rebuild. About 350,000 Central Americans have the designation, as do about 950 Somalis and Sudanese in the United States since 2001 and 2004.

“TPS was invented for this kind of situation, but it has been turned into something much more permanent” said Mark Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies. “And while we probably should grant TPS to Haitians who were here before the earthquake, we really need to make sure it’s temporary.”


1/25/2010 Update

Debate Grows in Aftermath of Quake: Should U.S. Let More Haitians Immigrate?

Image: Haitians hoping to gain access to the U.S. Embassy
A man stands in a crowd of several hundred people hoping to gain access to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. (Photo credit: Julie Jacobson / AP)

By Amy Goldstein and Peter Whoriskey
The Washington Post
January 25, 2010



Now that the earthquake’s initial shock is giving way to the realities of trying to cope in the ruins, a growing number of Haitians — and their relatives in the United States — are starting to chafe under the Obama administration’s edict to resist, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has put it, “an impulse to leave the island and to come here.”

The tension between U.S. policy and the desperation to leave is spawning a debate in Washington over whether the government should let more Haitians in. Immigration advocates and several members of Congress have begun pressing the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department to ease the rules. So far, the focus is on two groups: Haitians with relatives legally in the United States and a few hundred injured children who, in the judgment of doctors doing relief work in Haiti, could die without sophisticated medical care.

In the first days after the Jan. 12 quake, Napolitano announced that the government would admit Haitian children already on the cusp of adoption and that it would allow Haitians who were in the United States illegally to stay for 18 months. The administration has not eased restrictions for children newly orphaned or injured by the disaster, Haitians who had already been seeking U.S. visas, or any other earthquake victims who want to come. …

[A] groundswell is building in favor of letting certain Haitians emigrate. Advocates’ immediate focus is Haitians who, before the disaster, had applied — and in some cases been approved — for a kind of visa available to foreign relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents.

About 19,000 Haitians have pending applications for such visas, according to DHS. Nearly 55,000 Haitians have been approved for family visas but are on waiting lists to enter because Congress has set limits on how many may come each year, the State Department says. Given the quotas, “it can take years and years for families to be reunited,” said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center.

A spokesman for Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services said the agency would “put at the head of the line” applicants for relative visas from Haiti. But he and a State Department spokeswoman acknowledged that quicker visa approvals would not mean those Haitians could enter the United States more quickly unless Congress alters the quotas — something lawmakers are not discussing.

Lavinia Limon, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said that letting Haitians join U.S. relatives would relieve at least some of the humanitarian burden in Port-au-Prince. The United States, she said, has airlifted foreigners out of other emergencies, such as Albanians from Kosovo and refugees from the Vietnam War.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors tighter controls on immigration, countered that “poverty and underdevelopment can’t be criteria we use to pick immigrants. There are too many of them.” And he said that Haitian earthquake victims could consume U.S. social services and displace American workers — without generating enough income to send back to Haiti “to make a difference” there.

Still, Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that if the United States doubled for the next five years the 25,000 Haitians who have been coming to the United States annually, it would substantially increase the remittances sent back, providing critical help as the nation tries to rebuild. Such help streaming home to families is more reliable and more likely to be spent efficiently than the ebb and flow of foreign aid, he said. Abrams suggested that to satisfy critics of increased immigration, the United States could offset the influx of Haitians by temporarily slowing immigration from elsewhere.

Among Haitians and their U.S. relatives, Limon predicted, pressure on U.S. immigration policy will escalate in the coming weeks and months. “You need a boat, a captain, money. Nobody has that,” she said. “But in two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, they will.” …


Related report

Fear of chaos grows in Haiti’s capital … Looters roam streets of Port-au-Prince; death toll mounts …

Gerald Herbert / AP


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — January 15, 2009

War on Terror ‘Mistaken’

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that British foreign secretary David Miliband said the phrase “war on terror” — though capturing the urgency of the situation immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — is ultimately “misleading and mistaken,” because it gives the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

2 Responses to “Reprieve for Haitian Illegals”
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