A Country That Can Afford To Vagazzle Itself Can Afford To Let Haitians Work on its Shores

What Women Really Think
Jan. 15 2010 1:33 PM

A Country That Can Afford To Vagazzle Itself Can Afford To Let Haitians Work on its Shores

"Temporary Protective Status" is a designation the U.S. government grants to immigrants from countries in particularly dire circumstances, allowing them to live and work freely for up to 18 months. Immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan are eligible. For quite a while now, immigration advocates have been asking the Obama administration to revisit its policy toward Haitians. The hope was that the administration, in all its can-do generosity, would give them a break. It didn’t. In the wake of this earthquake, it still hasn’t .

The recent history of U.S. policy toward Haitian immigrants is pretty ugly, as this fact sheet from the Migration Policy Institute drily details:

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Haitian refugees interdicted by the US Coast Guard are not screened to see if they may have valid claims to refugee status. Only those who take the initiative to clearly proclaim their fear of return to Haiti will be allowed to make an asylum claim. Only three of more than 1,000 Haitians intercepted since February 1 have been screened as a result of their protestations, and these three were returned to Haiti without a full asylum hearing. Haitians who reach the United States without being interdicted are put into fast-track removal procedures, during which they are subject to mandatory detention and are not eligible for release on bond. This package of measures is applied only to Haitians.

The emphasis is mine. The disparity between the treatment of Haitians and the treatment of similarly positioned, non-Haitian migrants was glaring even before the earthquake. Both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration tried to craft a more humane refugee policy with regard to Haitians, only to revert back to the initial repatriation policy for fear of triggering an unsightly wave of migrants. You can only read this history through that particular fear; anything less than large-scale repatriation will bring black, poor, unskilled immigrants to American shores in numbers no politician wants to deal with.

The Obama administration has at least agreed to stop deporting Haitians for the time being, which is a start, though it’s worth noting that Canada didn’t require an earthquake to stop sending Haitians back to the poorest country in the hemisphere. I’m of the opinion that a country that can afford to vagazzle itself can afford to allow refugees from a small country in ruins to work on its shores. And when disaster cash dries up-when Americans stop texting their $5 pledges- remittances remain .

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.

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