Unprotected status

By Michelle Chen Jul 22, 2009

Somali refugees in America can breathe a sigh of relief for now, but many Haitians are still holding their breath under the threat of deportation. According to news reports, the Obama administration has extended temporary protected status (TPS) for Somali refugees, enabling them to remain in the United States and work legally. The move seems to be a direct response to instability and violence currently exploding across their homeland. Much of the unrest is driven by the Islamist insurgent faction Al Shabab, which the U.S. has labeled a terrorist group. Meanwhile, another set of refugees in the African diaspora continues to struggle for recognition. Haiti was wrecked by storms in 2008, and the rebuilding effort has hobbled amid abysmal poverty, political unrest, and a longstanding food crisis rooted in destructive IMF liberalization policies. The tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants living in the United States have become an economic backbone for their struggling homeland, contributing a huge portion of Haiti’s GDP through remittances. Community activists and few lawmakers have called on the Obama administration to grant TPS to Haitians. The alternative, argues the Jesuit Refugee Service, could be lethal:

Deporting 30,000 people to Haiti under the current circumstances would only act to further aggravate the current humanitarian crisis and increase the stress on Haiti’s already weak economy. The destabilizing effects will be yet another blow to an already struggling democracy. This is a matter of life and death for Haitians.

This is not the first time Haitian migrants have been stonewalled. Several years ago, the Bush administration’s rejection of Haitian refugees arriving on U.S. shores by sea exposed gross inequities in Washington’s refugee policies. The granting of TPS to Somali immigrants may be one more example of how political posturing (under the rubric of the war on terror) dictates decisions about who deserves humanitarian relief. Advocates for the Haitian community say the government’s treatment of Haitian immigrants smacks of racism and political bias. Yet, more broadly, the plight of Haitian refugees parallels the country’s internal turmoil, which activists attribute in large part to neo-colonialist manipulation by rich industrialized nations. Bill Clinton, the newly (and controversially) appointed U.N. special envoy to Haiti, expressed dismay at the destitution plaguing the country during a recent diplomatic visit:

"If it is a question of money that’s my problem, but if it is not about money, that’s something Haitians need to resolve among themselves… That’s a little surprising to me. But everybody is eager to do it."

Why so surprised? Global powers have openly starved Haiti of both the money and the political capacity needed to resolve its problems. And, despite diplomatic overtures, nobody seems eager to help Haitian immigrants change that status quo. (h/t ImmigrationProf) image: John A. Carroll, Dying in Haiti