The Honorable Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Clinton and Secretary Napolitano,
On behalf of Refugee Council USA, a coalition of 25 U.S. non-governmental organizations that provide assistance to refugees and advocate for their rights and protection, I write to urge you to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haitians as part of a comprehensive response to the emergency situation in Haiti following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.
While the full extent of casualties and destruction is still unknown, initial reports from Haiti following the 7.0 magnitude quake located 10 miles southwest of the capital city of Port-au-Prince highlight widespread structural damage and a precarious humanitarian situation, with basic infrastructure and livelihoods severely damaged or destroyed. Schools, hospitals, houses, government offices, and even the Presidential Palace and the UN mission crumbled in the wake of the earthquake, which is believed to be the most powerful to ever hit the area.
We welcome the rapid expressions of support and assistance by President Obama and Secretary Clinton in light of the precarious situation in Haiti. As the Department of State, USAID, and other agencies assess the situation and develop a comprehensive assistance strategy in Haiti, it is critical that the strategy include a TPS designation for Haitians in the United States, who are unable to return to their homeland because of the devastation, and are likely to be a main source of economic and social support for family members in Haiti. This should be accompanied by a stay of the current Coast Guard interdiction and return policy of Haitians fleeing by sea to the United States.
As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the Haitian government does not have the necessary funds or infrastructure to undertake relief and reconstruction efforts on its own. Before this latest disaster, Haiti was still in the process of rebuilding following a series of hurricanes that hit the country in September of 2008. Haitian President Rene Preval requested that the United States grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitians following the 2008 storms, in order to better allow the Haitian government to focus on providing lifesaving assistance to those persons affected by the disaster within their own borders.
Now, the call to grant TPS to Haitians is all the more urgent. Haiti’s current circumstances fall well within the criteria for granting TPS, since it may be granted when requested by a foreign state that temporarily cannot handle the return of nationals due to an environmental disaster. TPS has been granted in similar situations to nationals of Honduras and Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to Salvadorans after an earthquake in 2001.We urge that Temporary Protected Status be extended to Haitians stranded within our borders as Haiti struggles to recover from yesterday’s earthquake.
We welcome an opportunity for further dialogue, and request an opportunity to meet with you and your staff to discuss this issue.
Robert J. Carey
Chair, Refugee Council USA