By: Allison Posner*
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti, killing 230,000, injuring 300,000 and leaving another million people homeless. The immediate response was overwhelming, with many countries and humanitarian organizations offering rescue and medical assistance, then food, shelter and other aid.
The United States government acted quickly to designate Haitians who were in the U.S. at the time of the earthquake for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This allowed them to remain safely in the U.S. and not have to return to their devastated home country. Individuals granted TPS are permitted to work in the United States so that they can support themselves and their families back home. In July, Alejandro Mayorkas, the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced that the agency had extended the deadline for Haitians filing applications for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) until January 18, 2011. This important decision ensured that as many eligible people as possible could apply for these important benefits. A generous policy for waiving the high application fees was implemented, and policies were put in place to speed the process of adopting Haitian children.
Though a year has passed, there are still pressing immigration needs among the Haitian community in the United States. CLINIC and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) continue to advocate for more liberal immigration policies toward Haitians, as recommended in the report they released after their July 2010 visit, titled The Displaced of Haiti: Long-Term Challenges and Needed Solutions. Some of the recommendations from the report include:
- Immediate family members of medical evacuees, especially children, should be paroled into the United States to reunify with their parent, spouse, or child;
- TPS for Haitians should be re-designated, to expand eligibility to Haitians who arrived up to six months following the earthquake;
- The process for applying for Deferred Action for post-earthquake arrivals should be simplified and shared with the public so that Haitians in the U.S. will be assured that that this form of temporary relief is a viable, safe option;
- The United States should work to facilitate the reuniting of families split up as a result of the earthquake. The 55,000 family members are currently in Haiti waiting to join their family members in the U.S., despite having already been approved for a U.S. visa. They should be permitted to come to this country to join their families while they await their priority dates and the last of their paperwork; and
- A lottery program, similar to the Cuban lottery system, should be established to permit a certain number of Haitians to enter the United States each year as permanent residents.
Haiti continues to suffer from a lack of infrastructure and as such, is still in a state of emergency. To make matters worse, the October 2010 outbreak of cholera in the country sickened 15,000 more people. As long as such safety concerns remain, Haitians in the U.S. cannot be expected to return.
As Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami (a member of CLINIC’s board of Directors) stated after one of his many visits to Haiti this summer, “The United States and the international community must re-focus their attention on Haiti to help ensure that the Haitian people maintain hope and that the situation in Haiti does not deteriorate. This includes ensuring that needed recovery and reconstruction funds are delivered and used properly; that civil society is included in planning efforts, and, importantly, that Haitian families are reunited and vulnerable Haitians, such as children, receive protection.”
He added that “The United States must revisit U.S. migration policies, so that Haitians are not returned to Haiti prematurely and that families are kept together.”
For pictures from the USCCB/MRS trip to Haiti that CLINIC’s executive director, Maria Odom, was a part of, click here.
*Ms. Posner is CLINIC’s Director of Advocacy