Africa & Aboriginal Tuesdays: U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings Calls on President Bush To Take An Active Role In Resolving The Crisis in Haiti
U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-Miramar) called on President Bush to take a more active role in resolving the humanitarian and political crisis currently going on in Haiti. In a letter to the President, Representative Hastings urged that the United States work with the United Nations (UN) to increase the UN Police Force from the current level of just over 1,600 to at least 5,000 officers in order to bring stability to Haiti. Additionally, Representative Hastings insisted that President Bush grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitian nationals currently residing in South Florida and throughout the United States until stability is achieved in Haiti.
To address unfair immigration practices toward Haitians in the United States, on May 24, 2005, Representative Hastings introduced the Haiti Compassion Act (H.R. 2592). This legislation recognizes Haiti's current political turmoil and humanitarian crisis and grants TPS to Haitian nationals in the U.S. for a period of no less than 18 months. While President Bush has the authority to grant TPS to Haitians without Congressional action, he has yet to show a willingness in his more than four years in office to help those Haitians most in need.
The full text of Representative Hastings' letter to President Bush follows:
July 14, 2005
The Honorable George W. Bush
United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush:
I write to express my deep concern regarding the humanitarian disaster currently taking place in Haiti. The last two years have been debilitating and tragic for Haiti and her citizens. Haiti remains severely devastated by the combined effects of ongoing political turmoil and the aftermath of the natural disasters of 2004, such as Tropical Storm Jeanne and Hurricane Ivan, and most recently Hurricane Dennis. Additionally, political oppression and human rights violations are rife in Haiti while poverty and homelessness have become the norm for too many innocent people.
There are presently two crisis in regards to Haiti, the first is the obvious humanitarian disaster that is taking place, and the second is the United States' unjust and unfair immigration policy as it relates to Haitians in which our government refuses to grant temporary protective status (TPS) to Haitian nationals, no matter how dire the situation is in Haiti.
Regarding my first concern, I encourage you to take a more active role in resolving the crisis in Haiti. More than 600 people have been killed in violence in Haiti since last October. Haiti's infrastructure is almost non-existent, open-air street killings by armed gangs are an everyday activity, and the present 7,400 contingent of United Nations peacekeepers simply cannot control the mayhem that has paralyzed that country. There needs to be an increase in the number of UN Police officers in order for Haiti to move in the direction of stability. I ask that you work with the United Nations to increase the UN police force from the current level of 1,622 to at least 5,000 officers.
Furthermore, it appears that the goal of free and fair elections in Haiti is far from being realized. Official statistics show that just 200,000 of the country's eligible 4.5 million voters, or less than 5 percent, have registered to vote. If people do not feel safe enough to leave their homes, then they surely won't be able to vote, and democracy in Haiti will be delayed indefinitely.
Regarding my second concern, our current immigration policy towards Haitian nationals leaves me even more disappointed because this is a policy which our government controls directly. We have been generous with granting temporary safe haven to nationals of a foreign state where there is ongoing armed conflict within the state or where there has been an earthquake, flood, drought or other environmental disaster resulting in a substantial but temporary disruption of living conditions. Annually my district offices in Florida receive notification from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) of extension of TPS for Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Ecuadorians, and Guatemalans. The circumstances warranting our granting of TPS to these nationals are quite similar to the conditions existing in Haiti. In fact, the conditions in Haiti are arguably worse.
On March 11, 2005, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning to U.S. Citizens, warning them of the "absence of an effective police force in much of Haiti, the potential for looting, the presence of intermittent roadblocks set by armed gangs or by the police, and the possibility of random violent crime, including kidnapping, car-jacking, and assault." The Department of State's Consular Information Sheet states, "There are no 'safe areas' in Haiti." As a result, "U.S. Citizens should avoid travel to Haiti at this time."
At a time when current U.S. policy is to compel its own citizens not to travel to Haiti, it is morally wrong to return Haitian nationals to this type of dangerous situation. To force a Haitian national to return to Haiti where there is ongoing violence and a devastating environmental situation would pose a severe threat to that person's immediate health and safety. In light of this unfair policy, I recently introduced H.R. 2592, the Haiti Compassion Act. My legislation makes nationals of Haiti eligible for TPS. In the absence of Executive Action, my legislation is needed. However, with your assistance, TPS status can be afforded to Haitian nationals without congressional action. I trust that you will use your executive authority to adjust our immigration policy in regards to Haitian nationals in order to deal with this situation more compassionately.
I have regularly met with representatives from the Haitian American community, particularly from Florida, who are committed to finding a solution to the destabilizing crisis in Haiti, and I share their concerns. Their determination to help those in need is greatly admired. Unfortunately, I am forced to tell them that my numerous requests to the Administration to use its influence to help resolve this crisis have gone unanswered.
Mr. President, I am hopeful that you will do all within your power to work with the UN to finally solve this humanitarian disaster in Haiti and that you will correct our government's immigration policy as it pertains to Haitian nationals. If you would like to discuss this or any other matter, please feel free to contact me. I thank you in advance for your help and cooperation in this matter, and I look forward to your expeditious response.
Alcee L. Hastings
Member of Congress
Alcee L. Hastings
Tuesday, July 19, 2005