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Needed: More Relief for Haitians

Shortly after the January 12, 2010 earthquake that devastated much of Port-au-Prince, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspended deportations of Haitians and extended temporary protected status (TPS) to tens of thousands of undocumented Haitians already in the United States. TPS is granted by DHS to individuals already in the U.S. who are nationals of countries subject to environmental disaster, armed conflict or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Beneficiaries are granted employment authorization and a stay of removal while in TPS status. DHS also put into place new procedures to accommodate the thousands of Haitian orphans waiting to finalize their adoptions.

And, just recently, 200 critically injured children were given humanitarian visas to enter the United States for medical treatment. USCIS also has stated that it would take additional steps to assist Haitian foreign nationals during the crisis, and, where appropriate, would work to issue favorable adjudications for applications for change or extension of nonimmigrant status, grant an additional period for advance parole and authorize nonimmigrant students’ requests for off-campus employment and work authorization, among other measures.

But, what about the immediate relatives of Haitian U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who are still in Haiti? There are thousands of Haitians who could be eligible for immediate relief as close relatives of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

The majority of these close family members eventually will be allowed to obtain green cards and immigrate to the United States but many face years of waiting due to extensive visa backlogs. One option discussed during the weeks immediately after the catastrophe is the acceleration of the cases already approved. Another option could include offering humanitarian "parole" to those who have a future basis to become lawful permanent residents. These individual could live and work in the United States while they waited here for their visas to become available, rather than in Haiti. In addition, they could send money back to Haiti, an important source of foreign remittances and aid. Such an option would help alleviate the crisis in Haiti

On February 13, 2010 The News & Observer (Raleigh) featured the plight of 3 Haitians brought to North Carolina for medical treatment.

"The three burn patients entered the country as humanitarian parolees, a designation that lets them stay as long as care is needed. They were flown to North Carolina on January 26 when hospitals in Florida were strained with the massive influx of badly injured earthquake victims".

"Once treatment ends, however, the patients may find a difficult path to permanent residency, immigration experts said".

The American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Executive Director Crystal Williams said humanitarian parole can be renewed repeatedly, and the Haitian patients would likely remain in North Carolina for the long recovery period typical for burns. Even after they’re discharged from the hospital, Cairns said, the Haitians will need rigorous rehabilitation that probably would not be available in their crumbled homeland.

Jack Pinnix, senior partner in Allen and Pinnix, P.A., is quoted as noting: "A more permanent solution is less likely. The Haitians would probably have to follow the same steps all other immigrants go through to establish legal residency, tapping some sort of sponsorship through an employer or a close family member".

The News & Observer notes "Such avenues may not exist for the burn patients, who were plucked from the rubble almost randomly and, because of the nature of their injuries, hastened to the burn center in Chapel Hill."

Although much aid has been sent to Haiti from a myriad of countries and individuals, numerous obstacles impede delivering it. Moreover, there continues to be concern that if the situation in Haiti destabilizes further, a mass exodus will occur. Federal officials repeatedly have stated that they want to prevent desperate Haitians from risking the dangerous journey to the United States on small boats bound to Florida, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano cautioned that Haitians who arrived to the U.S. after January 12, 2010 will not be eligible for TPS and will be repatriated to Haiti.

Carving out additional immediate relief for Haitian nationals not only makes sense but is the right thing to do.

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