Posted on Wed, Oct. 08, 2008
Granting protected status to Haitians is a moral duty
By MYRIAM MARQUEZ
Marleine Bastien calls it post-traumatic stress syndrome. Without gun or bomb, nature pulled a shocker on Haiti.
With one million homeless and more than 1,000 dead or missing after four back-to-back storms, Haitians everywhere are struggling to hope. It all seems so overwhelming, whole towns under water, broken bridges to nowhere.
Bastien, a Haitian community activist, sees the aftershocks every day in South Florida. A souring economy and fear of being deported are making it difficult for undocumented Haitians to eke out a living and help family in Haiti. And she witnessed it, too, in the dull eyes of Hurricane Ike survivors during a tour of Haiti's devastation.
''What I saw really, really, really was beyond anything I could have imagined,'' said Bastien, head of Haitian Women of Miami, a nonprofit group.
At one shelter in Port-au-Prince, there were 160 people crammed into a tiny room. ''There were babies lying on benches, with nothing on, no diapers,'' Bastien said. ``Babies are screaming, but you can hardly hear the cries, they're so weak.''
Natural catastrophes and civil wars in Central America prompted the White House in the 1990s to grant temporary protected status, or TPS, to thousands who fled to the United States. The Bush administration has renewed TPS for Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans, yet Haitians can't catch a break.
We keep rounding up Haitians whose only crime was to overstay a visa or make something of themselves after fleeing a crisis for the land of opportunity. We've broken up families and taken working and church-going people into an immigration court maze that considers the migrants' U.S.-born children an afterthought.
U.S. benevolence after this latest catastrophe was to order a lull in deportations, take it day by day. That still leaves worried Haitians in status limbo.
And for what? To pack detention centers with people who otherwise would be contributing to our economy and helping family back in Haiti.
President Bush has nothing to lose by granting TPS. He's not running for office, his popularity ratings tanked long ago, and he's always saying he's a compassionate conservative who doesn't look at polls but simply does what's right.
And now Haitian President René Preval is begging the president to act. What will it take? It's both morally right and practical to grant TPS. It saves taxpayer money better directed toward catching real criminals -- rapists, robbers and killers, undocumented or made-in-the-USA.
FEAR OF FLOODGATES
The policy won't cause a mass exodus from Haiti, but it will help more people send money and goods home. When the Clinton Administration and Congress allowed 50,000 Haitians to stay in this country in the 1990s, there was no big crush of new migrants.
''There's a consistent message: we're afraid of a floodgate,'' Bastien said of resistence to granting TPS. ''But there's no precedent for that -- not one single Haitian came here because they knew that 50,000'' were now legal.
Think trade and investment, trickle down. Haitian immigrants send $1.2 billion a year to their homeland -- almost a third of Haiti's economy.
So what's the U.S. strategy at this time of crisis for a country we consider a friend? Detain, harass and cut the last lifeline that struggling Haitians can count on -- family. Disgraceful.
© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved. http://www.miamiherald.com
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