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Scrap visa requirement — for now. Post-Dorian, let Bahamians with family in America come in | Opinion

Roshane Eyma, center, cries as she is greeted by members of her church after being rescued and flown to Nassau from devastated Abaco Island.
Roshane Eyma, center, cries as she is greeted by members of her church after being rescued and flown to Nassau from devastated Abaco Island. Getty Images

Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas “in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said last week. Florida’s senators are urging President Trump to ensure that the United States responds accordingly. The Bahamas is the United States’ third-closest international neighbor, after Canada and Mexico. Trump and Congress must move without delay to relieve Bahamians’ suffering after Dorian’s devastating blow.

On Wednesday, Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott wrote to Trump asking that the administration make it easier for Bahamians to visit relatives living in the United States. That’s the least America can do.

An estimated 20,000 people in South Florida are Bahamians or are of Bahamian descent. Many have relatives among the Bahamas’ 332,000 citizens, thousands of whom lost their homes and their livelihoods when Dorian struck. These family connections can open immediate lines of relief, unless paperwork gets in the way.

To visit the United States, Bahamians need a visa — a requirement that can be bypassed by those who can present a passport and a recent police certificate showing that they have no criminal record. Many of Dorian’s most desperate victims lost these documents when their homes were flooded. Many others would need to obtain travel documents from a government that is overwhelmed by rescue and recovery efforts.

In addition, Bahamians coming to the United States must travel on a flight that includes a security check by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection station. Only two airports in the Bahamas — Freeport and Nassau — have these stations, and the Freeport airport is underwater.

Rubio and Scott, therefore, are asking that these travel restrictions be temporarily set aside for Bahamians with relatives in the United States. Their request came at the suggestion of State Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Broward County Democrat with Bahamian roots.

In their letter, Rubio and Scott said a temporary waiver would help “ensure that those who have lost everything, including family members in some instances, are provided the opportunity for shelter and reunification with family in the United States.”

Rubio followed up Thursday with a letter urging the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to devote “all possible resources” to Bahamian recovery.

Scott, meanwhile, called for redirecting aid to the Bahamas and a shift of Peace Corps personnel from China to the Bahamas. He also proposed a bill to make contributions to Bahamian relief exempt from the limit on tax-deductible charitable donations.

It’s heartening to see that Florida’s senators grasp the severity of the natural disaster in the Bahamas and recognize the need for an immediate response. A waiver of travel restrictions can come quickly and would allow Bahamians to make use of family resources at no cost to Americans.

The steps Scott is proposing would take longer and deserve closer scrutiny. A reordering of U.S. aid priorities may be needed in the wake of a calamity such as Hurricane Dorian, but other countries should not be made to feel they are being punished for the Bahamas’ misfortune.

Bahamians are close neighbors. Rubio and Scott are right to ask that America treat them as such.

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