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U.S.: Obama Urged to Grant Haitians “Protected Status”

Eli Clifton and Matthew Berger

WASHINGTON, Jan 14 2010 (IPS) - As U.S. and international relief efforts chugged toward Haiti Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an immediate investment of 100 million dollars in the relief efforts underway following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

Haitians wash in a public fountain after a powerful earthquake left their city, Port-au-Prince, devastated and with few water resources. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Haitians wash in a public fountain after a powerful earthquake left their city, Port-au-Prince, devastated and with few water resources. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

As U.S. and international relief efforts chugged toward Haiti Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced an immediate investment of 100 million dollars in the relief efforts underway following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

The investment, he said, “will grow over the coming year”.

“This morning, I can report that the first waves of our rescue and relief workers are on the ground and at work…Our military has secured the airport and prepared it to receive the heavy equipment and resources that are on the way, and to receive them around the clock, 24 hours a day. An airlift has been set up to deliver high-priority items like water and medicine,” Obama said from the White House.

The U.S. is sending up to 3,500 soldiers and 2,200 Marines. Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division are expected in Haiti Thursday, with more following on Friday. The aircraft USS Carl Vinson and hospital ship USNS Comfort are also on their way. Obama called this “one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history”.

U.S. residents trying to reach family members in Haiti have been told to contact the U.S. State Department for information. Haitians who had been living in the U.S. without proper documentation and were scheduled to be deported will be allowed to remain in the country for now, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.


But this action does not go far enough for some U.S. politicians and advocacy groups, who have long hoped that Haitians in the U.S. be granted “temporary protected status.”

TPS provides temporary work permits to illegal immigrants who are deemed unable to return to their countries due to natural disasters or war. It is currently available to citizens from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan.

Undocumented U.S. immigrants from Haiti – currently estimated at around 125,000 – have long called for TPS status given their country’s history of political turbulence and instability.

“[TPS] is a very important issue and to be honest it’s one that the Obama administration should have acted on already. By any measurement Haiti fits the requirements for TPS. It’s been a bit of disappointment that this wasn’t one of the first moves Obama made when coming to office,” Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programmes at the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, told IPS.

“The U.S. foreign policy establishment continues to have a deep-seated fear of anything that would lead to a wave of refugees leaving Haiti, but at this time this risk needs to be balanced against the severe needs of the people in Haiti and it would be inhumane to deport 30,000 [Haitian nationals] when Haiti clearly meets the requirements for TPS,” he added.

That turbulence has gotten worse in recent decades, but the Obama administration had been hoping to help the country – the poorest in the Western Hemisphere – recover.

“Few in the world have endured the hardships that you have known. Long before this tragedy, daily life itself was often a bitter struggle,” Obama said to the Haitian people Thursday.

Haiti’s independence in 1804 was preceded in the hemisphere only by the U.S. in 1776, but since then it has been plagued by political violence and poverty. In 2004, the U.S. played a controversial role in the exit from the country of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, following a rebellion and forced resignation.

Meanwhile, there had been an increase in emergency aid to Haiti under President George W. Bush in response to food shortages and political instability. In August and September 2008, the U.S. government committed over 30 million dollars to affected Haitians, following the four hurricanes the country experienced in that year.

In fiscal year 2009, the U.S. Congress provided another 100 million dollars for hurricane relief and reconstruction for Haiti, as well as other Caribbean countries.

Under that budget, the U.S. also allocated 287 million dollars for aid to Haiti. For fiscal year 2010, 292.8 million dollars are requested. Foreign aid is estimated to make up as much as 80 percent of Haiti’s GDP.

“The Obama administration has continued progress made under the Bush administration,” says Erikson. “The Obama administration has placed high priority on Haiti in its first year in office. [U.S. Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton had visited the country and President [Réné] Préval was the first head of state she visited with.”

Speaking in Honolulu Wednesday, Clinton said, “We had in the Obama administration set up a high-level team to coordinate across the government to work with the Haitian government to try to help them recover from the four hurricanes they were hit with last year and to attain a more stable economic situation.”

Her husband, former president U.S. Bill Clinton, is the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy to Haiti.

The 7.0 earthquake that rocked the Caribbean country Tuesday afternoon has caused extensive damage and an unknown number of deaths. The Red Cross estimates that there may be 45,000 to 50,000 dead, but other estimates have reached into the hundreds of thousands. They estimate that three million people have been “affected” by the disaster, or about one-third of the impoverished state’s population.

Along with the U.S.’s contribution, the World Bank has committed another 100 million dollars to the relief effort, the U.N. 10 million and the EU 4.4 million.

“The question is how effective these actions are going to be,” says Erikson. “The magnitude of the damage is so severe and the breakdown of any sort of infrastructure or communication systems in Haiti is so total that the U.S. is nearly going to have to work from scratch to come up with a workable humanitarian assistance plan.”

 
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