U.S.-Haiti Immigration Policy Wins No Friends And Influences No People
July 24, 2009, 05:00 AM
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In a page out of the "it's a small world" book, former president Bill Clinton and I have something more in common than our gray hair.

Both of us made our first trip to Haiti about thirty-five years ago.

At the time, Clinton was a young, recently-defeated Arkansas Congressional candidate traveling with his bride, Hillary.

Remembering Haiti, Clinton said that he became entranced by voodoo religion and culture. According to Clinton, he watched "with fascination" a ceremony in which a man rubbed a flaming torch all over his body without getting burned and a woman biting the head off a live chicken.

Recalled the budding multiculturalist Clinton: "I've always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life, nature and the virtually universal belief that there is a nonphysical spirit force at work in the world that existed before humanity and will be here when we all are long gone." [Bill Clinton's Second Chance in Haiti, by Karen Tumulty, Time.com, May 19, 2009]

In contrast, I came away from Haiti with distinctly less favorable impression.

As part of a business roundtable investment banking group sent to the Caribbean Islands to promote commerce, I viewed Haiti from a strictly practical perspective.

Over a ten day period, our group traveled to Jamaica, Trinidad, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

By the time we arrived in Haiti, our last stop, I had developed a personal game plan. I would go to the meetings, attend the lunches and tour the islands in the chauffeured car provided by our hosts since I was certain that they would drive us only to the most beautiful spots.

Otherwise I would stay in our resort hotel. I knew that if I stuck to its beaches and tennis courts, I'd be fine. Venturing into Port-au-Prince was, and still is, a step into hell.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, I had seen plenty of poverty in the major cities and up in the mountains. While I never saw any headless chickens or watched witchcraft in Puerto Rico, I did see naked children with distended bellies playing in front of their ramshackle huts.

Although in the early 1970s I didn't know anything about federal immigration policy, when I returned to New York from my island trip, I understood why Haitians would do anything—even risking their lives on rickety rafts—to get to America.

Clinton is now the recently-appointed UN Special Envoy to Haiti and Hillary is the Secretary of State just back from Haiti where she delivered $300 million in US aid. [Clinton, in Visit to Haiti, Brings Aid and Promises Support, by Mark Lander, New York Times, April 16, 2009]

And now, decades later, I know plenty about immigration.

What I understand more clearly than either of the two Clintons is that Haiti is still in the same miserable condition it was when they observed the voodoo rituals. Since billions in foreign aid over decades has not helped Haiti one iota, Clinton might as well put a match to our $300 million.

On the other hand, U.S. immigration policy creates a large part of Haiti's instability.

In all the years that have passed since I visited Haiti, three things related to the island and immigration have happened or, depending on how you look at it, not happened.

  • Economically, Haiti is in worse shape today than in the 1970s.

  • U.S. immigration policy has done little to discourage illegal immigration. Nothing underscores federal immigration ineptitude more than our Haitian (vis-a vis our Cuban) policy.

  • U.S. failure to internally enforce existing immigration law has encouraged more Haitian illegal aliens to come to the U.S. knowing that if they get to America, they may be able to avoid deportation

Reviewing the pattern developed over recent decades, the numbers of Haitian who annually cross the 700-miles to the Florida coast by raft or unseaworthy sail boats range from several dozen to hundreds. What the alien navigations never do is abate.

The latest incident occurred in April when a raft carrying twenty-four people capsized.  Twenty died. [Haitian Migrants Drown After Boat Capsizes Off the Bahamas, by Tosheena Robinson-Blair, Associated Press, April 22, 2009]

For those who survived, their future is uncertain.

Unlike Cuban migrants who are put on a path to citizenship because of the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, Haitians are not given a free pass. They can apply for amnesty, a dice roll at best. Or they can sink into the underground economy where, since the Haitians generally have no marketable job skills, they can be exploited by the unscrupulous.

Another potential outcome for Haitians: the ever-present prospect of temporary protected status. Even though Haitians have consistently been denied TPS, as well as deferred enforced departure which has been granted to refugees from other Central American and African countries, their American-based lobbyists always hold out hope.

Good news for the Haitians may soon be forthcoming, however. President Barack Obama is predictably contemplating making exactly the wrong move regarding Haitian immigration.

Specifically, as reported in August by our Patrick Cleburne, Obama's administration is reconsidering issuing TPS to Haitians. Once the prospect of any type of amnesty gets floated, illegal immigration is sure to follow. In the case of Haitians that means more deaths at sea.

In his blog, Cleburne asked the hard question: What is the value added when Haitians come to the U.S?

In America, unlike Haiti, voodoo isn't our unofficial national religion. The culture of crime in Haiti is pervasive, another thing the U.S. doesn't need more of.

An interesting side note is that other countries into which Haitians have migrated eagerly want to deport them. In a Dominican Republic sweep earlier this month, more than 200 Haitians living illegally in the country with which they share a border were deported. Other large groups of aliens escaped when they were tipped off that a raid was in progress. [Dominican Republic Deports 163 Haitians, Latin American Herald Tribune, July 23 2009]

The Dominican reaction to Haitian immigration is much like our own toward all immigration.

Estimating that as many as one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, state officials are concerned that the illegal aliens have taken jobs and worry that many natives may go without medical care because free treatment is given to immigrants.

In the worst cases, Haitians cross illegally every day to beg on the street or work in the sugar cane fields.

Officials in neighboring Barbados also view its current levels of immigration skeptically. According to Denis Kellman, Barbados's Ambassador to the "Caribbean Community and Common Market," the free movement of people "would always create a problem" and add that: "we have accepted enough people into Barbados as it is."

I'm sorry to report that our group of bankers didn't raise any money or even generate any interest stateside in Haitian investment.

Haiti's political instability, poverty, illiteracy, an unschooled labor pool and rampant disease killed off whatever foreign investment prospects there might have been.

The U.S. has a laundry list of errors made in Haiti dating back to 1915 when it first occupied the island, continuing through the Duvalier and two Aristide eras, and going right up to our modern two-faced immigration policy that allows poor, black and desperate Cubans into the country and puts them on a path to citizenship while deporting the equally poor, black and desperate Haitians.

America's best strategy would be to end Cuba's easy access while keeping our Haitian deportation stance intact.

When it comes to Haitians, the U.S. cannot hold out amnesty's lure, offer TPS or permit craven employers to hire the most unskilled of their lot without prosecuting them to the maximum that the law allows.

At the same time, Haitians have to step up for themselves. Eight of ten Haitians with college degrees live outside Haiti. Any Haitian who earns his degree in the U.S. must sign an agreement to return upon graduation.

If Haitians truly want better lives for themselves, then, even though it will be a decades-long climb, Haitians and not Americans will have to make it happen.

Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.