A popular Haitian prayer affirms unequivocally that God exists. The proof? We are alive – Nou La! Those of us born in America, undoubtedly expect more from the Creator than mere existence, and can hardly imagine a life without the comforts of a steady job, a comfortable home, and a secure 401K. As the recession chips away at these elements of the American Dream, it is not surprising to see Americans pulling back in their generosity towards less fortunate neighbors.
Within the Obama administration, nowhere is this more evident than in the decision not to extend a helping hand to a devastated Haiti. The equivalent of four hurricane Katrinas ripped through Haiti last summer, after a food crisis sent the nation’s prime minister packing. Despite the ongoing turmoil, the Obama administration - like the Bush administration before it - refuses to extend the temporary protected status (TPS) generally granted to neighbors facing such strife. Instead, we hear that the Secretary of Homeland Security plans to send 30,000 Haitian nationals back to Haiti. A visit to the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, Florida reveals the harshness of this policy. This center holds some of the 30,000 people slated to be returned to Haiti. The building is engraved with the words “Broward Team” as though it were a place offering workshops on goodwill and solidarity. Adding insult, the building is located across the street from a giant landfill. Imagine the despair of leaving Haiti’s treeless mountains only to be brought here to face a bleak mountain of thrash. Imagine being imprisoned for daring to come to America. Like all other nationals, Haitians have been daring to come to America for generations. In 1779, a man named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable left Haiti and came to America. He married a Native American woman and set up a fur-trading post near Lake Michigan. DuSable’s little settlement grew to become the great city of Chicago- the city that President Obama and First Lady, Michelle Obama, proudly call home.
In 1803, as Haitians edged closer to victory in their 13-year war against France, the United States reaped the most tangible benefit of their struggle: it obtained 13 new states as a weakened Napoleon abandoned the Louisiana Territory at a mere 3 pennies per acre. As the size of the United States doubled, the U.S. thanked Haiti by imposing an embargo intended to cripple the island’s slave-free economy. It took 60 years before the embargo would be lifted by the administration of a president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. Haitians have fought for America in every war from the battlefields of Savannah to the oilfields of Irak. Their names are inscribed on memorials across America: Audubon, DuBois, DuSable, Toussaint. Despite the recession, Americans cannot afford to defer generosity towards a neighbor to whom we owe such an immeasurable debt of gratitude.
As stated by Wyclef Jean, TPS is not about Haitian rights, it is a matter of human rights. TPS status is also temporary, which means that as Haiti recovers, the 30,000 nationals can return home. This is what is expected of a principled neighbor. It is what Florida, Texas, and other surrounding states offered to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It is what America can offer to Haiti and to itself today - a moral foreign policy that will go a long way in restoring our credibility in the Americas and in the world.