Haiti Shaken By Quake: What the U.S. Can Do

By Michelle Chen Jan 13, 2010

Yet another calamity has besieged Haiti. The poorest country in the Western hemisphere has been pummeled by a massive earthquake. The initial quake had a magnitude of 7.0, but New York Times reports that the disaster continues to reverberate:

There were at least a dozen aftershocks — the worst two were 5.9 and 5.5 magnitude — that followed in the next hour, and more were expected, according to David Wald, a seismologist with the survey. “The main issue here will probably be shaking,” Mr. Wald said, “and this is an area that is particularly vulnerable in terms of construction practice, and with a high population density. There could be a high number of casualties.” According to several news reports, a large hospital in the capital had collapsed, and people were screaming in streets full of rubble.

Haiti, where buildings have been known to suddenly collapse on their own, even without the help of a natural disaster, is needless to say facing a desperate situation. While U.S. officials have pledged rescue and relief efforts, some representatives of the Haitian-American diaspora community have renewed calls for short-term sanctuary through the provision of Temporary Protected Status. TPS basically grants emergency immigration relief for survivors of disaster, so people are not deported back home in the midst of crisis. The Miami Herald quotes a letter from several Florida congressional representatives:

"The combined destruction from today’s catastrophic earthquake and the previous storms clearly makes forced repatriation of Haitians hazardous to their safety at this time,” the congressmen wrote in a letter. "We strongly believe that it is for such a situation that Congress created TPS."

In 2009, Haitian community activists and officials called on the Obama administration to break the logjam that persisted under Bush by granting Haitians TPS. At that time, Haiti was still reeling from the devastation of a punishing tropical storm season, which had led to widespread food shortages, destruction of critical infrastructure, and a collapse of government services. Many suspected an underlying racial bias in the politics of immigration asylum for America’s Caribbean neighbors. Last Spring, when Haiti was struggling to recover from a disaster that had leveled hundreds of schools and left tens of thousands homeless, Washington was pushing deportation orders for some 30,000 Haitian immigrants. France Francois wrote in the Haitian Times:

The announcement perpetuates a history of oppressive and inhumane policies—originating with a 1981 agreement signed by then-President Ronald Reagan and the oppressive Haitian dictator Jean- Claude Duvalier—that can be summed up in three words: interdiction-detention-deportation. One may wonder why the U.S. government continues a policy agreement made with a Haitian dictator on one hand while condemning the Cuban dictator and offering Cubans an expedited process to citizenship on another?… I remain steadfast and optimistic that the American Dream which was been achieved by the Irish, German, Chinese, and Cuban immigrants before us, will finally apply to Haitians. Policies established with a dictatorial regime with no consideration for human rights almost three decades ago must now be replaced with policies that respect the dignity of desperate, impoverished, and frightened people fleeing their homeland. As a starting point, President Obama, TPS should be accorded to Haitians in light of the actual “conditions on the ground”: massive devastation caused by severe storms in 2008 and worsened by a food crisis and the global economic crisis.

Haiti had barely started picking up the shards of the last catastrophe before this latest one hit. There will be an outpouring of sympathy across borders, a spasm of humanitarian aid. Will there be an attitude shift in the power structures that have long compounded natural disaster with politically manufactured crisis? Follow the latest news on Haiti: http://twitter.com/Haitifeed earthquake.haiti911.com Relief Web Find resources for relief here.