Haiti is still struggling to recover from the earthquake that rocked the nation years ago. Haitians who have taken refuge here may have to return soon.
Seven years ago a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the small island nation of Haiti. This already destitute country suffered from devastation that most of us can not even dream up. Honestly, not even in the darkest corners of my mind can I put myself in a place of such suffering. I remember watching the earthquake aftermath on television and thinking to myself, “Holy Hell! There is nothing left.” Some 200,000 plus Haitians lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. After the natural disaster wreaked havoc on the already unstable and impoverished country, former President Obama granted “temporary protection status” to droves of suffering Haitians.
The order allowed these people to remain on US soil legally, and has been renewed year after year while the country of Haiti continues to struggle with the recovery process. Even with tens of billions of dollars gifted in aid, Haiti still has a long way to go to not be considered hell on earth. Temporary Protection Status is offered to foreign nationals who cannot return to their native country because of armed conflict, natural disasters and other “temporary” conditions. The United States is currently providing such protection to 13 countries from around the world: El Salvador, Haiti, Guinea, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yeman.
From a Humanitarian perspective this is a beautiful and generous thing for the ever powerful United States to offer countries far less fortunate than us. Come aboard and let us protect you, nurture you and shelter you from the chaos and turmoil that you have unfortunately encountered in your homeland. It’s a lovely thought, but we are talking a lot of people here. It’s kind of like when I have too many cocktails and get on my soapbox with my husband. “Babe, we are so fortunate. Look at our sweet girls, our home, our little Suburban wonderland. Let’s adopt!”
He always looks at me with a mix of she-is-so-sweet and what-in-the-hell-is-wrong-with-this-woman! At some point you have to close the gates, whether those be the baby-making gates or the Temporary-Protection-Status Gates. And really when you step back and look at the world outside of our privileged safety net where does the buck stop? So many countries around the would are falling into complete devastation. Who will be granted access to the Land of The Free, and when does our generosity spilleth over into a chaos of our own making?
On Monday the Department of Homeland security announced that it would be extending the protection of some 58,000 Haitians living on US soil for another six months, but after that there are no guarantees. Furthermore, the department urged those Haitians currently under protection to return to their native island home in the near future. That sounds a bit like when your old boyfriend told you he had to work early in the morning and you should just sleep at your own place. Excuses aside, you were getting the boot, and so are the Haitians.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, six months is ample time for such displaced people to obtain all pertinent documentations, make necessary arrangements and get out of Dodge for good. Not everyone is in agreement over the six month timeline, however. The current Haitian ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, recently wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelley encouraging him to extend the timeline out to eighteen months. One concern (out of many I am sure) is that a premature transition back to the struggling nation will create such strain that the United States could very well see a surge in illegal immigrants attempting to re-enter the United States.
Is six months a reasonable amount of time? With the conditions in Haiti still subpar, would 18 months or longer be a more humanitarian length of time for such a process? Opinions and reactions to the news are mixed, to say the least. Activist Marleine Bastian thinks six months is appalling. “And then what? This is not a win for us,” Bastien said. “This is gravely disappointing. We are urging everyone to call our lawmakers, [Sens.] Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and others in the Trump administration. We are leaving people hanging. It’s cruel and inhumane. The conditions in Haiti are horrible enough for them to renew TPS for 18 months to 24 months.”
Time will tell what is in store for these tens of thousands of people who live here in the United States on borrowed time. President Trump, who vowed to be Haiti’s greatest champion back in September, might be changing his tune within the next six months. It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t sound nice, but with the unrest in the world it also doesn’t seem possible or responsible to shelter hundreds of thousands (or more) humans indefinitely.
After all the term is temporary protection.