Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic Urges Government to Let More Haitians into U.S. on Humanitarian Grounds

Memo argues earthquake requires U.S. to provide more aggressive help.

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Caroline Bettinger Lopez, acting director of the Human Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School

While the U.S. and the international community have undertaken a remarkable effort to provide humanitarian assistance, including medical care, to the most seriously injured victims, this is not enough.

New York (Vocus) March 2, 2010

The U.S. government should move quickly to allow more Haitians affected by the Port-au-Prince earthquake to enter the country so they can receive urgent medical care and be reunited with family members, a memo to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) co-written by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic argues.

The clinic wrote the memo in collaboration with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Ira Kurzban, a Miami-based immigration law attorney, and other community advocates in Miami.

Citing the magnitude of the quake, which has left more than 230,000 dead and over 600,000 homeless, the clinic, along with signatories that include law professors, law clinics, and human rights and immigrants’ rights organizations, is asking CIS to ease the crisis in Haiti by granting more of its residents what is known as “humanitarian parole.”

This would allow certain Haitians to come into the U.S. on a temporary basis for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant pubic benefit.”

“While the U.S. and the international community have undertaken a remarkable effort to provide humanitarian assistance, including medical care, to the most seriously injured victims, this is not enough,” the memo sent to C.I.S. argues.

So far, humanitarian parole has been granted by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the immigration agency, only to some orphans who needed medical attention. The clinic said the government must move faster to help others.

“Every day, doctors, unable to provide adequate treatment in makeshift hospitals, are forced to make the impossible choice over who will be sent to the U.S. for lifesaving treatment, and who will stay and likely die,” according to the memo, which was prepared by Eleanor Carr, Justin Clarke, and Lisa Knox, students in the clinic, under the guidance of Acting Director Caroline Bettinger-Lopez.

Humanitarian parole should also be used, the memo contends, to help Haitians reunite with family members who are legal U.S. residents, and who may be their only living relatives after the quake.

“In the long term, it will reduce the numbers of the destitute in Haiti requiring assistance, ensure an orderly and safe outflow of inevitable migrants, and allow more Haitians to work in the U.S. and send cash remittances to their families in Haiti,” according to the memo.

The clinic cited previous government programs that eased the way for Cubans fleeing their country and Indochinese migrants who fled at the end of the Vietnam War to enter the U.S. The memo calls those situations “arguably less dire humanitarian crises” than Haiti, and to deny Haitians the same benefits would violate international human rights law.

“The U.S. has exercised such authority in the past to assist victims of other tragedies; and doing so now would be consistent with traditional American ideals of generosity,” the memo says.

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