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Editorial

Helping Haitians in the U.S.

The Obama administration extends 'temporary protected status' to an estimated 58,000 undocumented Haitians, who can remain in the U.S. until 2013.

May 21, 2011

The Obama administration this week extended what's known as "temporary protected status" for Haitians living in the United States. The decision means an estimated 58,000 undocumented Haitians can remain here for an additional 18 months while their homeland struggles to rebuild from a deadly 2010 earthquake.

Temporary protected status was designed to provide a haven for foreigners in the United States who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of an armed conflict, an environmental disaster or some other extraordinary but temporary situation. The program has drawn criticism because it has been abused: Some immigrant groups have been allowed to remain long after the crisis back home had passed. Critics also argue that such relief is all too often granted based on political influence rather than need.

The criticism may be merited in some cases, but not this one. Haiti is barely hanging on. Nearly a million people remain homeless, many of them living in tattered tents amid debris. Medical care, food and water are still hard to come by. The rubble — a constant reminder of the more than 300,000 dead — has yet to be cleared. And with hurricane season set to start next month, heavy rains could trigger mudslides.

The Department of Homeland Security isn't giving Haitians a free pass. Rather, officials understand that sending thousands of people back to a nation brought to its knees by hurricanes, earthquakes and a deadly cholera epidemic would surely deepen the humanitarian crisis that has already claimed too many lives.

Allowing Haitians who are already here to remain will also benefit their families at home. Haitians in the United States sent more than $842 million in remittances last year, according to the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank. That money helped feed and house an estimated 1 million people.

Allowing Haitians to remain in the U.S. until January 2013 is the sensible and compassionate thing to do. It will give some breathing room to the country's new president, Michel Martelly, who has vowed to speed up reconstruction efforts. Sending thousands of people home now would only hurt an already deeply wounded nation.

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