Biden administration helps Haitian nationals remain in the U.S. How about helping Haiti? | Opinion

U.S. Coast Guard

The Biden administration looked toward the unraveling and desperate situation in Haiti this week and recognized the suffering of a beleaguered people.

Acknowledging that “extraordinary” conditions exist in the Caribbean nation, so close to Florida’s shores, the Biden administration on Monday extended and expanded legal protections for undocumented Haitians living in the United States. The measure included those who have been here for years and those who arrived as late as Nov. 6 of this year.

It was the right thing to do, given the disturbing surge in political upheaval and economic troubles in Haiti.

Temporary Protection Status, or TPS, is heartening news for up to 100,000 Haitians, many of them living and working in South Florida. Some of them have arrived in the last few months as Haiti undergoes the largest migration crisis by sea in nearly 20 years.

Life in Haiti, as difficult as it has been, has only worsened since last year’s assassination of President Jovenel Moise, his murder still unsolved 17 months later. A Miami Herald investigation by Caribbean correspondent Jacqueline Charles, published Wednesday outlined a plot to murder the Haitian president and its ties to Miami.

The brazen murder of Moise, ambushed and killed in his bedroom, aggravated the already terrible situation for Haiti, sending it deeper into crisis. The country’s ills are many: political turmoil, murderous gangs , rampant kidnappings, crippling fuel shortages, lack of safe drinking water and medicine and, recently, a return of deadly cholera.

The Biden administration’s decision to extend TPS to Haitians is a solid first step and recognition that things aren’t just bad in Haiti — they are desperate. Desperation is leading people to seek safer harbor at their own peril. The next step should be a push to help fix this multidimensional crisis that only appears to be worsening with each passing day.

Despite pleas from some Haitian leaders and those living safely in the U.S., the Biden administration has not interfered militarily in Haiti. We understand the reluctance and the history.

So what else can the U.S. do? Even its recent promise to sanction those who support and finance gangs appears to be hitting stumbling blocks, as some Haitian nationals have legal protections in the U.S. because of citizenship or U.S. residency status.

Times are growing hard in Haiti, and the number of Haitians fleeing to our shores continues to escalate. A new smugglers’ route has brought several overloaded, rickety boats to the Florida Keys in recent months, within view of the posh Ocean Reef Resort, and to deserted islands off the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Some trips have even ended tragically.

Those who embark on the perilous trips — which included 46 children who recently arrived off Key Largo and were sent back to Haiti by U.S. authorities — are escaping rape and murder, kidnappings, hunger and deadly disease.

The mantra that “this is a Haitian problem to be solved by Haitians” isn’t working. Although we understand the reasoning, the U.S. must try to create a path toward solving this crisis and addressing the long-term needs of the country.

Assurances that the international community and the United Nations will step in have yet to materialize. Resolutions to address the Haitian crisis have barely been worth the paper they’re written on.

As the Editorial Board has written before, this is a conundrum for the U.S. The United States has not been shielded from blame or criticism for its past failed policies when it comes to Haiti. But the Biden administration needs to do more than just hope law and order will miraculously return a failing state overruled by gangs into something better, or that other countries will step up. There is no indication that either will happen, at least not anytime soon.

This month, on Dec. 12, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the arrival on South Florida shores of the first documented boat of Haitian refugees. Those Haitians were fleeing the dictatorship of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, whose 1986 fall from power ended a near 29-year dictatorship that we at times supported.

In the five decades since the first Haitian “boat people” arrived here, efforts to help Haiti have failed miserably. But there are things we can do: For example, the country still needs a U.S. ambassador in Port-au-Prince. An ambassador would show Haitians that its problems are under serious consideration in Haiti, and that the administration is looking to do more than wait for a “Haitian-led solution.”

Another step is for the U.S. to do more than talk — convince its partners, and Haiti’s friends, that the time has come for a collective political will to help address the country’s problems.

For now, the extended TPS status is all the good news Haitian will get from the Biden administration. They’ll take it — while waiting for more.