Health epidemics and deadly natural disasters in recent years have devastated Haiti and hampered its government’s ability to properly function.
Yet our nation — especially my home state of Florida — has not only offered a helping hand to Haitians seeking refuge from these grave challenges, but also benefited significantly from their presence in and contributions to our country.
Since 2010, the United States has designated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians, recognizing the island country’s perilous conditions brought on by a historic earthquake, a subsequent cholera epidemic, and most recently Hurricane Matthew.
Moreover, the Executive Branch has appropriately extended the TPS designation because of the extraordinarily difficult living conditions that persist in Haiti and the Haitian government’s temporary inability to absorb thousands of people back into the population.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), however, now has until November 23 to make a determination on whether to extend the TPS designation once again.
If TPS is not extended, Haitians sent home will face dire conditions, including lack of housing, inadequate health services and low prospects for employment. Failure to renew the TPS designation will weaken Haiti’s economy and impede its ability to recover completely and improve its security.
South Florida has benefited greatly from the remarkable contributions made by many Haitian Americans in politics, business and culture. I have seen firsthand the potential of the Haitian community when given the opportunity.
Haitians who have been in the United States under TPS have played a significant role in rebuilding their country. Personal contributions from the Haitian community in the U.S. make up nearly 25 percent of Haiti’s gross domestic product. Many Haitians depend on the financial support from family members abroad, which amounted to $2.4 billion in 2016 and has grown steadily every year since 1998.
That said, ongoing natural disasters and global health challenges like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and unchecked cholera, have undermined Haiti’s ability to meet its full potential. Haitians were first struck by a cholera outbreak after United Nations (UN) peacekeepers transmitted the disease during the 2010 earthquake recovery efforts. Since then, nearly 800,000 Haitians have contracted cholera, resulting in 10,000 deaths from the disease alone.
Moreover, in October 2016, Hurricane Matthew significantly set back progress in the country, destroying the clean water supply and water sanitation infrastructure and exacerbating the spread of cholera. As a result, access to clean water is limited. Thousands are still displaced and living in tents. Haiti remains in the midst of a humanitarian crisis that has hampered the country’s economic stability and full recovery.
To add to the current situation, the Haitian National Police is not fully equipped to confront current security challenges. After the United Nations diminished its presence in the country last month, it is more important than ever that the United States support international efforts to enhance and maintain security in Haiti and build up its capacity for ensuring the country’s security.
While Haiti is still simply unable to absorb a large number of returnees at this time, new leadership in that island country provides the United States with a renewed opportunity to empower the Haitian people to advance our shared principles of freedom and democracy and to ultimately rebuild a stronger and even more resilient Haiti. We must remain committed to those principles and stand with our neighbors in Haiti as they tackle their challenges.
That’s why I continue to urge the administration to extend Haiti’s TPS designation for 18 more months. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I continue to strongly support U.S. initiatives that promote good governance and security, combat poverty and health epidemics, and advance economic opportunities for the people of Haiti.
I earnestly hope the administration will account for these concerns when they make a determination on whether to extend TPS for Haitians. Its decision will have an immediate and serious impact on individuals, families, and communities in Florida, and a consequential and enduring impact on our friends in Haiti.
Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.