UPDATE: The AP is reporting at 5:16 PM ET Friday afternoon that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitian refugees already in the U.S. before the earthquake.
The original post below was written earlier in the day on Friday before this announcement. Thank you to everybody who spoke out on this issue. Here is a report from The Washington Post with some details.
Additionally, some advocates are looking for more information on family reunification policy and how Haitian orphans can be adopted by their family who might be living in the United States.
(This post updated at 6:23 PM ET on Friday, January 15, 2010)
In responding to the tragedy in Haiti, President Obama wasted no time in initiating one of the largest humanitarian mobilizations in U.S. history. In doing so, he sent the world a clear message that the Haitian rescue and recovery effort is a global responsibility. Other nations followed with an outpouring of aid, as did individuals with contributions to charities around the world.
An important next step is for the U.S. to protect current and future Haitian refugees by granting them Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Homeland Security grants TPS to those who can't return to their home country because of armed conflict, natural disasters, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. TPS allows these refugees to stay and work legally in the U.S. until conditions in their native countries improve.
Already an effort is underway in the progressive religious community to grant Haitians Temporary Protected Status. Today, Catholics United called on its 42,000 members to sign a petition asking President Obama to extend the protections through executive order. (Meanwhile leaders on the Religious Right like Pat Robertson are bringing shame with their hurtful and bigoted remarks.)
Right now the most urgent priorities are to rescue those trapped in the rubble and provide food, water, and medical care to the earthquake survivors. But soon will begin a long and painful rebuilding process -- in a country that was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere even before the disaster hit.
While larger immigration reform is needed, TPS will go a long way toward easing the burden on Haiti's decimated infrastructure and allow Haitians living in the U.S. to provide much-needed financial support to their families back home.
Tragically, the anti-immigrant community will likely oppose TPS. It's important to remember that TPS is already a longstanding component of U.S. immigration policy. In the past, it's been granted to refugees from Somali, El Salvador, Sudan, and Honduras. There is absolutely no reason to deny it to Haitian refugees.
The U.S. is taking a leading role in the Haitian recovery, and extending TPS protections is an essential component of that recovery. It's also the right thing to do.