- - Monday, November 27, 2017


How long is “temporary?” Like the answer to so many of life’s questions, it depends. The man who sits down on a red-hot stove, “temporary” seating will be a very short time. “Temporary” applied to a government program can mean a very long time. The temporary buildings built on the National Mall to accommodate the federal bureaucracy during World War II, for instance, were not razed until the Nixon administration did it more than two decades later.

The Trump administration’s decision last week to put stop to a program that enabled many thousands of Haitians to find “temporary” refuge in the United States after an earthquake there seven years ago strikes us as fair and perhaps even overdue.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Nov. 20 that it was terminating a humanitarian program known as Temporary Protected Status for the Haitians who came here after an earthquake devastated their Caribbean island homeland on Jan. 12, 2010. However, the United States will grant one more 18-month extension to give the refugees ample time to pack up.

The Congressional Black Caucus insists that Haiti has not yet recovered, nor from Hurricane Matthew, which hammered the island in October 2016. The temporary welcome was created to provide protection to those in the United States when it is unsafe for their return, the caucus wrote to the Homeland Security chief, and Haiti “needs more time to recover before Haitian nationals in the U.S. can safely return.” How much more time, the caucus does not say.

The Washington Post, which is friendly to all immigration legal or otherwise, nevertheless concedes that “temporary should mean something” and that “no one is proposing granting the Haitians permanent legal residence, let alone citizenship.” Perhaps not, but with no end in sight, the net effect of repeated, automatic blanket extensions by the Obama administration was de facto granting of permanent legal residence to the more than 50,000 Haitians and to their thousands of children born here.

After an extensive review, Elaine Duke, the, acting secretary of Homeland Security, has concluded that the clock has finally run out on “temporary.” Her review included information on how much money the refugees were sending home and how frequently they were traveling back to Haiti, the latter serving as a proxy for improved conditions.

Haiti is unlikely ever to “recover” in the usual meaning of “recover.” The people of Haiti, warm, kind and welcoming, deserve better, because it is the poorest country in the hemisphere with a per capita GDP of $740 a year. Its political leadership has been one of the most corrupt anywhere. But sympathy cannot determine whether and when these temporary residents must go home. Temporary protected status, with no date certain for ending it, only defers the inevitable, and is not fair to the millions of prospective immigrants waiting their turn to come to the United States.

With the education and job skills they have learned here, these temporary guests should want to go home to help with the rebuilding of their country. The United States does neither refugees nor their country a favor by hindering the Haitian recovery.

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