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President Obama should implement the “Most Effective Way” to help Haiti recover

It took a 7.0 earthquake, one of the worst natural disasters in history, for the Obama Administration to grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which commentators long before said was merited due to four storms which devastated Haiti in 2008.

Now an issue of equal importance requires administration action, one on which stalwart allies like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator John Kerry, Rep. Jim McGovern and other Commonwealth congressional delegation members can help.

In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program bringing thousands of beneficiaries of approved immigrant visa petitions to the United States despite the visa backlog which keeps similarly- approved beneficiaries from Haiti and elsewhere waiting interminably back home.

After the January 12 quake, former Reagan and Bush Administration official Elliot Abrams urged increasing legal immigration from Haiti to generate millions in additional remittances. (“What Haiti Needs: A Haitian Diaspora,” Washington Post, January 22.) He noted the centrality of remittances to Haiti’s economy and accurately predicted that pledges from donor nations would never materialize.

The Washington Post‘s editorial board then urged President Obama to promptly parole (bring in) 55,000 Haitian beneficiaries of already-DHS-approved visa petitions, noting that their remittances could support ten times their number in Haiti, and citing as precedent our past parole of hundreds of thousands of Cuban and other refugees. It noted the 55,000 will otherwise languish senselessly another four to eleven years in Haiti due to the visa backlog as part of the burden on its government and the international community, instead of being part of the recovery solution as they should be. The World Bank confirmed their analysis in its May 17 report, “Haiti Remittances Key to Earthquake Recovery.”

But despite the president’s positive actions and promise to lead in helping Haiti recover -—and at least ten more editorials from eight editorial boards, a unanimous June 14 U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution, a congressional letter, a letter from 75 organizations, and other op-eds, all urging the President to promptly parole the 55,000 to help Haiti via the remittances they would generate — the White House so far has been silent.

For example, the Globe called it “the most effective way” to help Haiti recover” and the Los Angeles Times cited the ongoing Cuban program and asked, “why the disparate treatment?” (“Helping Haitians help themselves”). The Inquirer urged a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program like the Cuban one (“Don’t forget Haiti”), and the Post ‘s latest editorial lamented the White House’s silence (“President Obama could rapidly aid Haitian asylum seekers”).

“No congressional act is needed for the president to expedite the handling of these immigration cases,” urged the Inquirer. “The sooner he does that, the sooner the Haitians will be able to find employment in this country that allows them to send help home. That aid over time will improve Haiti’s ability to stand on its own legs without as much foreign assistance.”

Officials at the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services appear willing to act. But they need White House approval, which is where the Commonwealth’s congressional legislation can play a key role.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry and Representative Jim McGovern are stalwart champions who have stood by Haiti in the past. Readers are encouraged to contact their offices to ask them to personally call the president’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emmanuel, to urge the president to instruct DHS Secretary Napolitano to finally go ahead now and promptly parole the 55,000 Haitian approved beneficiaries. They might privately urge the Chief of Staff that if electoral considerations prevent this just now, DHS at least should be instructed to do this right after the November election.

Their prompt parole is the most effective, cost-free way to speed recovery by generating a flow of additional remittances into the indefinite future, and the ongoing Cuban program’s rationale — saving lives at sea and fostering orderly migration – justifies giving similarly-situated Haitians the same treatment.
Readers of this article are there
fore encouraged to ask Senator Kerry, Rep. McGovern, and other Commonwealth legislators to weigh in at the White House to urge the President to instruct DHS Secretary Napolitano to parole the 55,000.

Steven Forester is Immigration Policy Coordinator for the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).