Roosevelt Dume, 37, left, sits in a hospital in Port-a-Piment, Haiti, after hiking out of the town of Randel with his 3-year-old son, Roodley, right foreground, who was suffering from cholera in October. (Joshua Partlow/The Washington Post)
POVERTY IN Haiti, by far the most destitute country in the Americas, is so extreme that it defies most Americans’ imaginations. Nearly 60 percent of Haitians live on less than $2.42 per day; a quarter of Haitians scratch out a living on half that amount. That the United States would intentionally inflict a sudden, massive and unsustainable hardship on such a country — one already reeling from a series of natural and man-made disasters — defies common sense, morality and American principles. Yet that is exactly what Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly is now considering.
Incredibly, an agency under Mr. Kelly’s purview has recommended that some 50,000 Haitians now living legally in the United States be expelled en masse next January. If Mr. Kelly approves the expulsion, it would be a travesty. It would, at a stroke, compound the humanitarian suffering in a nation of 10.4 million already reeling from a huge earthquake in 2010, an ongoing cholera epidemic that is the world’s worst and a devastating hurricane that swept the island only last fall.
The recommendation from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security, involves Haitians who have lived in the United States since the 2010 earthquake and have been allowed to remain legally since then on humanitarian grounds, under a series of 18-month renewals.
Now, the agency proposes to revoke the “temporary protected status,” or TPS, under which those Haitians live and work in the United States, a move that would trigger an exodus into a country ill-equipped to absorb them. It would also sever a major source of income on which several hundred thousand Haitians depend — namely, cash sent back to the island by their relatives working in the United States.
In December, the same immigration agency now urging expulsion issued a report saying that the horrendous conditions that prompted the TPS designation in 2010 persist, including a housing shortage, the cholera epidemic, scanty medical care, food insecurity and economic wreckage.
Haiti’s fundamental economic situation is unchanged since that report. The effects of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm when it hit Haiti last October, were particularly devastating, leading to catastrophic losses to agriculture, livestock, fishing and hospitals in rural areas, plus nearly 4,000 schools damaged or destroyed, according to the World Bank. The value of those losses is estimated at $1.9 billion, more than a fifth of Haiti’s gross domestic product; the storm left more than a million Haitians in need of humanitarian aid.
In addition to Haitians, citizens of a dozen other war-torn, poverty-stricken and disaster-struck countries living in the United States have been granted temporary protective status, including El Salvador and Nicaragua, both of which are richer than Haiti. For the United States, the hemisphere’s richest country, to saddle Haiti, the poorest, with what would amount to a staggering new burden would be cruel and gratuitous. It may also be self-defeating. It’s hardly unthinkable that a sudden infusion of 50,000 jobless people could trigger instability in a nation with a long history of upheavals that often washed up on U.S. shores. Food for thought, Mr. Kelly.