(Boston Globe, July 17, 2010)
Haiti: Expedite visas for family members
Two days after a calamitous earthquake erupted in Haiti in January, President Obama rightly called it “one of those moments that call out for America’s leadership.’’ Since then the United States has done many things to help Haitians, delivering food, medical assistance, and temporary shelter to the island. Sad to say, however, the administration has yet to do one thing that could help significantly: allow the 55,000 Haitians who have already been approved for immigrant visas to join family members here in the United States.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is empowered to grant this relief simply by ordering it, with no act of Congress needed. Congressional quotas created the current backlog of approved visa recipients; children and spouses of legal residents have to wait four years, while siblings of US citizens must wait 11 years. These Haitians approved for entry to the US will come here eventually. If they are enabled to come now, and if they are permitted to work here legally, the money they remit to Haiti will serve as an efficient form of foreign aid, greatly accelerating the island’s economic recovery.
In the past, bureaucratic obstacles have been removed, for humanitarian or national-security reasons, so that refugees from Cuba, Indochina, and Kosovo could enter this country. Haitians are no less deserving.
Obama should instruct Napolitano to allow the 55,000 Haitians approved for visas to come to these shores now, and to expedite decisions on the visa applications of 19,000 other Haitians. This would be the most effective way to take the leadership role America should have in helping Haiti cope with the catastrophe of last winter’s earthquake.