The relief effort in Haiti is progressing from rescuing the trapped to caring for the wounded. The United States has admirably taken the lead in this effort. Domestically, the U.S. government has halted deportations to Haiti and designated Haitian nationals in the United States for temporary protected status. These actions are steps in the right direction, but we should do more.
For some of the worst injured earthquake survivors, hope lies only in the life-saving treatments available in U.S. hospitals. Despite the willingness of U.S. hospitals to accept these patients and the availability of NGOs to coordinate care, bureaucratic red tape makes medical evacuations nearly impossible.
Quake survivors may die because they lack approval from the Department of Homeland Security to enter the United States temporarily for emergency care. Instead of receiving available care only a short plane ride away, many Haitians will fall victim to the U.S. border bureaucracy.
There is an easy solution: The Department of Homeland Security should send a special team of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service officers to Haiti to grant humanitarian parole to those in need of urgent medical treatment in the United States.
U.S. immigration law is designed to address situations like Haiti's. Under U.S. law, Citizenship and Immigration Services officers can bypass normal visa-processing protocols by using their humanitarian parole power, which allows foreign nationals to temporarily enter the U.S. because of a compelling emergency. Secretary Napolitano recently announced that DHS will use its humanitarian parole power to bring to the U.S. Haitian orphans already in the process of adoption.
This policy of granting humanitarian parole should be extended to Haitians who need emergency medical treatments in the U.S. Special humanitarian parole assessment teams dispatched to Haiti could work with NGOs like Partners In Health and Project Medishare, both of which have longstanding ties to U.S. medical institutions and long histories of coordinating similar medical evacuations. Once an individual's humanitarian parole request is granted by these officers, that person could fly to the U.S. to receive emergency medical care.
Earthquake victims should not die when life-saving resources are available a few hours away. DHS should use the humanitarian parole framework and open the door to life-saving treatment for seriously wounded earthquake survivors.
The recovery effort in Haiti is far from over. Enormous humanitarian challenges lie ahead. Ensuring access to food, water, sanitation, and security in Haiti is a monumental undertaking. However, for the most seriously injured, this may not be enough. They will need medical assistance that only U.S. hospitals are ready and willing to provide.
President Obama should cut through the red tape and dispatch a Citizenship and Immigration Services team to Haiti to help extend humanitarian parole to Haitians so that they can get the medical care they desperately need.
To contact the White House about humanitarian parole for Haitian earthquake survivors, visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact.