Helping Haitians

by Henry Farrell on January 15, 2010

“Chris Blattman”: passes on a suggestion (for American readers).

Giving money to Haiti doesn’t seem like enough? Katmanda have another suggestion: grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status.

TPS is a form of temporary humanitarian immigration relief given to nationals of countries that have suffered severe disasters, natural or man-made. (For example, El Salvador got TPS was after the country was hit by a terrible earthquake in 2001, Honduras after Hurricane Mitch in 1999, and Burundi, Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia were designated because of ongoing armed conflicts.)

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization (a very useful thing to have if, say, one needs to send money home to family members in need of medical care or a house that has not been reduced to rubble), can’t be deported or put into immigration detention (also quite handy if you’re trying to work and send money home), and can apply for travel authorization, which allows them to visit their home country and return to the US, even if they wouldn’t otherwise have a visa that would allow them back into the country (incredibly important if you have loved ones who have been badly hurt and need to visit them, or if you need to go home to attend funerals).

To support TPS, contact the White House “here”: You’ll need to select “I have a policy comment”, and “Immigration” from the drop-down menu.



Daniel 01.15.10 at 3:38 am

I believe that Obama has already instructed the INS to suspend deportation proceedings. I am sure that TPS will followl


Matt 01.15.10 at 4:08 am

Daniel is right that deportations to Haiti have been stopped, and that this is likely the first step towards putting a TPS order in place. Still, it would be great if people would publicly support this. (Although TPS is not a perfect system and sometimes fails quite spectacularly(*), something like it at least is the right response to generalized disasters or breakdowns in cases like this, as it doesn’t require any particularized showing as asylum statutes do.)

(*)The most amazing such case was when the Bush administration ended TPS for natives of Montserrat, which had basically been destroyed by a volcano, not on the grounds that it was safe to return, but rather that it was never going to be safe to return, so they obviously didn’t need temporary protected status anymore…


Shmoe 01.15.10 at 5:06 am

I know I’m tacking into the prevailing winds here at CT, and I’ll try not to let my lunch-bucket show too much, but it seems this would be a bad precedent. I just don’t think letting in tens of thousands of poor, low skilled workers every time there’s a disaster (in a society where inequality is still to growing) is a good idea. I would much prefer some sort of temporary special trade status for them, perhaps even subsidizing certain industries (in return for enforcing a living wage).

I realize, however, that in Haiti’s case, in particular, this is just not a viable solution. The country was in a shambles before this happened, and it going to take quite a while to get them back to something even resembling normal; if there is a “normal” in Haiti. Furthermore, they are practically our next-door neighbors. So, if one were able to convince me that this was a one off, I might just decide not to object. Not support it, mind you, but I would, happily, keep my gob shut.


dilbert dogbert 01.15.10 at 5:22 am

Yikes! Would TPS have some limit on numbers accepted? Can Florida support about 8 million new folks? Maybe not that many would apply to come to the US but it would be a lot. At 10% unemployment TPS sounds like a losing political idea.
I hope someone has better ideas about how to help.


Brian Weatherson 01.15.10 at 6:10 am

While this is a good idea for American readers to do, the White House website doesn’t seem to be for Americans only. I’m sure they take more seriously comments with a U.S. address, but there’s no obvious harm in non-Americans writing to them as well.


Zamfir 01.15.10 at 7:31 am

Matt, I don’t know the detail of the Montserrat situation, but in general keeping the temporary measure temporary is not a bad thing. It’s exactly because it is temporary and sort of reversible that it can be invoked quickly after a disaster, without too much consideration.

There is of course the second question later on whether to give the people real asylum, but it is probably a good idea too keep this relatively separate from the temporary status.


Stuart 01.15.10 at 11:18 am

Yikes! Would TPS have some limit on numbers accepted? Can Florida support about 8 million new folks?

There are 8 million Haitians in Florida right now? That should be fairly newsworthy, surely there must be barely anyone left in the country to be hit by natural disasters if they were all in the US at the time they got hit.


Matt 01.15.10 at 11:34 am

Zamfir- you’re right that TPS is possible because it’s temporary. The Montserrat situation was a breakdown, I’d still insist, because it involved a fairly small number of people who would likely never be able to return home, a population that wasn’t growing (there were no more people on Montserrat to come in), who had lived in the US for many years under TPS at that point, (between 6 and 8, mostly) who were then all of a sudden told to get out. Where? They were told to apply for British citizenship. They had no right to British citizenship, as I understood the British citizenship laws of the time. (This is what the British said, too.) I’m not sure what happened to them, though I think the order was softened under public outrage at the time. To my mind what it showed was that mere TPS can’t be enough by itself- it needs to involve further analysis at various points.

Shmoe- TPS primarily benefits those already in the country. It benefits people whose other option is usually to die. The answer to other worries about number is burden-sharing programs among countries rather than telling people that we’re sorry, they’ll just have to die. In many cases it’s easier and cheaper to help those in need “in place” rather than move them out. That might still be the case for the majority of Haitians, though I don’t know enough details to say. Most Hatians could not before, and nearly none now, can leave on their own so you don’t have to worry about them showing up in large numbers. But the alternative to their showing up in large numbers or dying is making their country livable again.


Gareth Rees 01.15.10 at 12:49 pm

I’m not sure what happened to [the Montserratians]

They were given permanent residency in the UK in 1998, and granted British citizenship by the British Overseas Territories Act 2002.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 01.15.10 at 1:20 pm

Haiti did make a pact with the devil. The devil in this case being France which had the gall to demand ‘reparations’ from the freed slaves to recompense the French state for the cost of kidnapping them and involuntarily shipping them out to Haiti. The country was paying up to 80% of government receipts to the French and was still paying the ‘reparations’ in 1947.

While it is tempting to suggest that part of the solution should be for the foreign powers to forgive Haiti’s loans, this does not go nearly far enough. France should be made to disgorge some of the profits it sucked out of Haiti for over a century and a half.


Witt 01.15.10 at 2:13 pm

It’s been said above, but bears repeating:

Once a country has been given TPS, its nationals who are in the United States can apply for work authorization […], can’t be deported or put into immigration detention […], and can apply for travel authorization

So TPS is for business travelers who happened to be in the U.S. when the earthquake stuck, for tourists who were here visiting family, for international students who would otherwise have to return home to devastation when their student visas run out, etc.

It’s not a blanket authorization allowing all people in Haiti to come to the U.S.; it’s an official recognition of the extraordinary situation that Haitians already here now find themselves in. Again, remember that anybody here on a business, tourist, student etc. visa generally is not legally allowed to work. TPS lets them apply for work authorization to earn money to send home.

It is not a perfect solution by any means — there are Liberians and Salvadorans who have been lingering in the category for years due to U.S. political infighting, for example. And TPS creates a whole new set of incentives and disincentives for Haitian nationals. But it was created as a kind of “emergency response” immigration status, and this is certainly an emergency.


rcriii 01.15.10 at 7:22 pm

I just did this at the White house, both US senators (Democrats), and my local congresswoman (Republican). Interestingly, all had a field for salutation (Mr., Mrs, etc) on the web form. Only the congresswoman had the field default to Mr.


Matt 01.16.10 at 12:08 am

As of 6pm tonight TPS has been granted for 18 months (the longest it can be granted at one time) to Haitians in the US. Given the situation and the steps that had been taken already, this was in any case a likely and obvious move, but I’d not be surprised if the public support for the move helped it happen quicker, so my thanks to everyone who contacted the Obama administration.


Susan Turner 01.16.10 at 11:27 pm

Like it or not, there are a few necessary conditions for the possible existence of a state. They are no longer satisfied for the people of the country formerly known as Haiti. Haiti now exists in the same way Atlantis existed eons ago for a time after the natural disaster that destroyed it; the same way Enron existed in the minds of the Enron rank and file after it was dismantled.

There should be a dearth of smiling, friendly, caring etc. boots on the street in the area. The entire civilian population should be evacuated as quickly as possible by global authority to geologically safe places. Every individual should get the benefit of the doubt if he or she wants to go. This includes on an equal footing the mentally ill, the physically infirm, children and the elderly. It also includes the incarcerated population. Organize them then get them out of there.

Non civilians remaining should fall under the authority of the global authority commanding the evacuation. The fair and functional articulation of external and internal authority is crucial to containing the damage; in particular the sort that the water used to put out fires causes; the sort Delaire is alleged to have caused in Rwanda. Fair and functional articulation is, of course, where many of the delays occur in the delivery of justice. There are no standard models or strategies for building this political machine because the assumption in such cases that the injured state continues to exist as a source of civil authority is pragmatically useful but practically false.

Once the area is secure, experts should ensure all historic, national etc.treasures, sacred places and so on, are identified and dealt with at a higher level of protection. Moveables should be removed according to expert judgement. Also, the usual hasmat, environmental assessments and so on should take place.

The evacuees should know they are not going back in the foreseeable future and that their country might be just a memory however moving, vivid and patriotic. Of course, as the land is reclaimed and prepared for development (and believe me the speculators are already at the door), the evacuees and their descendants should have a significant public voice in determining the ongoing reclamation of the area for more limited human habitation as well as first crack at returning, financial assistance and so on.

I know that most people, even many smart people, will worry that an open arms policy sets a terrible, ‘tragedy of the commons’ precendent where denying any subsequent displaced group will be impossible leading to unnecessarily rapid depletion of available resources hastening the extinction of the species.

I am increasingly persuaded that someday, perhaps soon, we will have to simply deny a group safe harbour on the grounds doing so will immediately be seen as driven by the same principle of ‘enough to share.’ But we’re not there yet. Not by a mile.


scholz 01.17.10 at 9:23 pm

I don’t understand Susan’s point at all. The earthquake impacted the capital city and surrounding area. Other parts of the country are completely untouched. Neighboring Dominican Republic had no damage. This is not some tiny spec on the map that was completely destroyed. I agree that drastic measures have to be taken, but to relocate a populations of millions and dissolving a country while delivering its resources to some benevolent international presence is beyond ridiculous.


Matt 01.19.10 at 1:10 am

It’s a pretty small thing, all things considered, but another small step here is that “humanitarian parole” has been ordered for certain Haitian orphans, both, it seems (from a not very clear press release) to receive medical treatment in the US and to be eligible for adoption if certified to be orphans. It looks like it applies to a pretty limited group, but I suppose that even small steps are better than none (so long as they don’t make people thing bigger steps are not needed, I guess.)


S. Turner 01.22.10 at 2:55 am

Yes, I am sorry for getting the geography fuzzy. But my point is not affected. And in the days that have followed, I see the consequences of having failed to evacuate the city. We will likely see another incident of civilian rioting and killing. No one can say there wasn’t enough attention in this case. Indeed I just heard an official on the ground say that most of the aid being airlifted in is for foreign rescuers.

Interestingly, I believe I heard the province of Quebec is actually placing additional restrictions of the immigration of children due to past problems with commercial trade in children when the policy was more liberal.

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