Haiti on the horizon

By Michelle Chen Jan 30, 2009

Rocked by disaster and social upheaval, Haiti stands at the center of several political storms. Currently, thousands of Haitian immigrants are hoping the government will grant temporary protection from deportation so they can avoid returning to the ravages of the summer storm season. Last month, outgoing Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff rejected a petition from Haitian President René Préval to grant Temporary Protect Status to undocumented Haitian immigrants, stating in a letter that “Haiti does not currently warrant” such a policy. The denial prompted outrage from advocates for the Haitian community, who continue to put pressure on the Obama administration for a sea change in US-Haiti policy. The Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network issued a policy statement:

“Immigration advocates estimate that there are 20,000 Haitians living in the United States illegally who could benefit from TPS entitling them to temporary residency and work permits for up to 18 months. The remittances these workers provide to their families in Haiti are critical lifelines in these hard economic times of high food and fuel prices, hurricane devastations, flood damages and the destruction of Haiti’s rice and other crops by the back-to-back 2008 storms and floods.”

More broadly, Haiti activists seek policies to help the country recover not only from storm damage but from a disastrous legacy of political and economic oppression: more equitable international trade policies, the cancellation of crippling debt to foreign banks, and aid to foster grassroots change in Haiti’s embattled political system. Many activists are pinning hopes on the Obama administration to confront longstanding tensions between the Haitian diaspora and Washington. But in the immediate term, according to advocates, change may come too slowly for Haitians living in the US now being threatened with deportation–apparently continuing the Bush administration’s status quo. Following Chertoff’s rebuff, the Herald quoted Randy McGrorty, executive director Catholic Legal Services:

“It’s incomprehensible to me that the conditions don’t warrant TPS for Haiti… They are not basing it on the reality of the situation on the ground but other considerations when applying the law to Haiti. But frankly, after eight years of dealing with this administration and their policy toward Haiti, one of those considerations is racism.”