Decades-Long Failed U.S.-Haiti Immigration Policy Continues

Published on January 16th, 2012

One of the constants in the United States’ failed struggle for a sensible immigration policy is its continued mismanagement of Haitian policy. After decades of repeating the same mistake and billions of wasted federal taxpayer dollars, the United States is about to fast-track already approved visas.  As is often the case, the government insists it’s motivated by “humanitarian concerns.” But by inviting more Haitians to reside stateside where they are unlikely to find meaningful employment when they could instead be home restoring their country, the United States assures that Haiti will remain a mess, maybe forever.

According to reports from the Associated Press, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging the Obama administration to speed up the visa process for about 100,000 Haitians whose petitions to join their relatives have already been approved. Co-signatories include Democrat Frederica Wilson, whose Miami district represents more Haitians than any other in Congress, and Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs. [Help Sought to Get More Haitian Visas, by Jennifer Kay, Associated Press, January 6, 2012]

One proposal on the table is to make available H-2A and H-2B low-skilled, temporary worker visas to the arriving Haitians. Currently, Haiti is not eligible for either visa category. If authorized, this would be devastating to America’s own low-skilled working population that includes the most vulnerable in our society, blacks and Hispanics.

The Massachusetts Congressional delegation led by Sens. Brown and Kerry has sent similar letters.

Superficially, it sounds cruel to object. But the reality is that taking Haitians out of Haiti does nothing to help the country rise out of poverty or establish a meaningful democracy.

For years, the federal government has promised that more Haitians working in the U.S. (most of them at low wage jobs that Americans would do) translates into more money sent home to rebuild the country. But even if each one of the projected 100,000 Haitians who would be covered by the Nelson-Rubio plan sent 50 percent of his salary back, it wouldn’t make a dent in the country’s reconstruction costs. Two billion in donations since the 2009 earthquake have mostly been wasted or tied up by Haitian banks. And removing 100,000 people from Haiti’s population of eight million doesn’t alleviate its miserable living conditions.

To eventually make permanent United States residents out of large groups of Haitians who will, in all probability, live in poverty does nothing for the long term good of Haiti or the short-term good of unemployed Americans.

Haiti’s fate rests in the hands of Haitians. In addition to sending money, the United States might consider sending family planners. In recent years, Haitian women’s total fertility rate has declined to 3.8—a step in the right direction but still too high. Haitians’ goal should be to bring their fertility down to European below-replacement rates for at least two generations to allow the nation to fully recover. At that point and with any luck, many fewer will want to leave Haiti.

Read more about Haitian immigration policy and its adverse impact on U.S. sustainability in the 2010 CAPS Fall Newsletter here.

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