Welcoming the Haitians

Our view: Beyond aid, earthquake victims need open arms -- and U.S. doors

January 29, 2010

Could you imagine a country so cruel and intolerant that it would deport undocumented immigrants from Haiti to their island home in the wake of the devastation there? President Obama's recent decision to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians ensured that the U.S. is not such a place.

The widespread death and destruction in Haiti has clearly struck a chord in Americans' hearts. Last weekend's celebrity-filled telethon raised $57 million, and total U.S. giving has already exceeded an unprecedented $569 million as of Thursday thanks in no small measure to both wall-to-wall television coverage and Web sites, text messages and other advances of modern telecommunications. What a contrast to the rubble and hardships of Port-au-Prince.

But it is one thing to care about Haitians today when the images of the suffering are inescapable, it may be another for the U.S. to stand by the victims in the years to come -- as it will surely take a long time to repair the damage, care for the wounded and put the country's economy on anything close to a self-sustaining track.

Granting an 18-month-long reprieve to illegal immigrants is a meaningful first step. So was last week's decision to help Haitian orphans by expediting adoptions in the U.S.. That will help about 900 children who were already in the adoption pipeline.

What's needed, however, is to go many steps further and at least temporarily suspend certain restrictions on emigration to the U.S. from Haiti so that thousands of the earthquake victims can be reunited with family members in this country. An estimated 55,000 Haitians with U.S. ties are already approved and on waiting lists for visas. Their entry could easily be expedited -- if Congress is willing to loosen quotas.

Lessening immigration restrictions is bound to stir the usual anti-immigration opponents in Congress. Even granting the 18-month TPS to undocumented Haitians raised hackles. Take, for example, Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, who issued a statement suggesting deported Haitians might be useful relief workers -- as if there was some glut of relief jobs available (not to mention housing, food, and medical care) in Haiti.

They will offer the usual excuses. The U.S. can't be so soft-hearted as to help every suffering nation, they'll say. Or perhaps they'll point to the tens of thousands of undocumented Haitians already in this country as a strain on the social safety net.

But such a short-sighted view cannot be allowed to prevail. Hardship and desperation are bound to spawn bold attempts to escape Haiti and reach U.S. shores by whatever means necessary. There has to be a more humane alternative.

Once in the U.S., Haitian refugees will be able to send more aid back home. That is the kind of sustained help the country will need for many years to come.

The distance from Port-au-Prince to Miami is less than the distance from Baltimore to Milwaukee. If the U.S. turns its back on victims at our doorstep, if we reflexively refuse them because immigration is too difficult a subject in an election year, what does that say about us?

Americans can be proud of the help we've offered the people of Haiti. Let us take the next step and extend a reprieve to more than the relative handful of the sick and orphaned we've brought home so far.

Readers respond

What kind of idiotic liberal drivel is this to suggest that refusing to let in hordes of Haitians is a blot on American honor? We are one of 200 countries in the world. Why can't they go to France? Or Africa? or better yet stay and build up their country. Now that would be a concept, instead of everyone fleeing here they can actually invest sweat into rebuilding their land.

Americans have opened up their wallets and in some cases their homes to help Haitians, and your sanctimonious rant doesn't change that.


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