The Obama Administration made two symbolic moves regarding Haitian immigrants since the Tuesday earthquake. It granted TPS to Haitians already in the U.S. It also gave former president’s Clinton and Bush highly visible roles in the Haitian relief efforts. Looking at immigration history during their administrations, I get a queasy feeling that Obama is not going to extend immigration relief to Haitians fleeing the current catastrophe, which might well taint Obama beyond the initial generosity of his response to this crisis.
When DHS granted TPS status to Haitians who had been in the U.S. on or before January 12, it was the latest act in a long running drama about Haitian refugees in the U.S.
Like most immigration programs directed at Haitians, TPS is– in itself– insufficient to address the much larger need that Haitians have had since the earthquake for safe haven in the U.S. So, don’t get excited by TPS, which the Administration was correct in awarding. It doesn’t go far enough; it ignores the needs that tens of thousands of Haitians are going to have in the coming days, weeks, months, for safe haven.
During the Carter Administration, Haitians, along with Marielitos from Cuba were labeled “Cuban-Haitian entrants.” Awarding such status was a discretionary act of the AG. In 1986, Congress added an adjustment of status provision in IRCA, which allowed Haitian-Cuban entrants to become legal permanent residents, on path to citizenship.
But once Reagan entered office in 1981, he implemented a Haitian interdiction program. Rather than permit Haitians to stay, Reagan instructed the Coast Guard and INS to board Haitian vessels, interrogate the passengers and send them back to Haitian ports. This was the agreement Reagan made with Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier.
Following the 1991 coup that overthrew Haiti’s first democratically elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide, President Bush (41) worked w/ the UNHCR to have other countries (incl. Honduras, Belize…) take in the interdicted Haitians and provide temporary safe haven. The number of Haitians fleeing during overwhelmed resources, which led the US to take them to Gitmo for an asylum prescreening. Haitians with a credible fear of persecution were paroled in the US (about 10,490 Haitians). By summer 1992, Bush compassion fatigue led him to reverse course, interdict Haitians at sea and once again return them to port. The Bush Administration established in -country refugee processing but never provided adequate resources nor a commitment to bring eligible Haitians to the U.S.
The Clinton Administration continued interdiction and forced repatriation, and helped Haitians with a credible fear of persecution to leave for third countries– not the U.S..
In 1998, Congress enacted the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA), which enabled Haitians who had been paroled in the US or received asylum to adjust their status to become permanent residents.
Following enactment of IIRIRA in 1996, undocumented Haitians were subjected to expedited removal. Haitians with a ‘credible fear” of persecution would be detained until an immigration judge could examine their case (asylum and removal hearing)
In 2002 and 2003, The Bush (43) Administration issued a notice that declared Haitians– and others interdicted at sea — a risk to national security. Since 9/11 it has been Administration police to not parole Haitians into the United States. The voiced concern has been that paroling some Haitians will encourage others to make the life-endangering voyage to get to the U.S., which the US government opposes. Thus thousands of Haitians in fear for their life have been returned to Haiti.
Hence the past’s challenge to the present.
This policy is even more restrictive than already restrictive laws are against other groups of migrants and asylum seekers.
Now, several days after the Haitian earthquake, it is becoming apparent that the Obama Administration wants to play by the same rules as his predecessors Bush (41/43) and Clinton and Reagan.
In part, the symbolism of naming Clinton and W. to help raise money and concern for Haiti helps suggests approval of past policy. . Comments made by DHS Secry Napolitano when TPS was announced implies the Obama policy is not likely to change much from previous program. The pattern of 3 decades of unfair immigration treatment of Haitians makes this concern of vital importance.
Perhaps more than at any time since 1981, the US government has a moral and international law obligation to end its embargo of Haitians, and to parole Haitians into the country. Whereas TPS was a good start, it looked into the rearview mirror at immigrants already here. Parole is forward looking. As the Administration endeavors to rebuild its reputation in the international community; parole would dovetail nicely with USAID’s relief programs.