Inquirer Editorial: U.S. shouldn't wait until the next disaster to do more for Haiti

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Children sleep over metal sheets in a partially destroyed school used as a shelter after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti. Hurricane Matthew has killed over 1,000 people in Haiti, tens of thousands have lost their homes and some 1.4 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

With so much happening in our country, including a pivotal presidential election and coastal states' daunting recovery from Hurricane Matthew, maybe it's understandable that the storm's impact on Haiti has been an afterthought for many Americans. But the death and destruction in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation shouldn't be ignored.

The United States and Haiti were the first nations in the hemisphere to break free from colonial rule. Americans fighting under George Washington declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776. Haitians led by Toussaint Louverture won their independence from France in 1804. But the Haitian rebellion was, in fact, a slave revolt, which made America's slave-holding states uncomfortable and European nations dismissive.

Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 to protect U.S. financial interests. Ties with Haiti continued during the dictatorships of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, who ruled from 1957-71, and Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who fled into exile in 1986. Haiti subsequently endured further misery under a number of corrupt, ineffective leaders.

A 2010 earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead and sprouted an ongoing cholera epidemic brought the country to its knees. Still struggling to recover from the earthquake, Haiti became Matthew's punching bag on Oct. 4. The storm killed at least 280 people, damaged crops, flooded villages, broke bridges, washed out roads, crippled communications, and made the cholera problem even worse.

Massive financial aid is needed, but the United States can also provide relief in other ways. It can extend to more recent arrivals the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) it provided to undocumented Haitians after the 2010 earthquake. It would be difficult for the immigrants to return to Haiti in its storm-devastated condition. Giving them TPS would allow them to stay here, get work permits, and send money to their families in Haiti.

The United States can also expand its Haitian Family Reunification Parole (HFRP) program, which allows eligible U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of Haitian descent to apply for parole status for family members so they can then apply for work permits and permanent resident status here.

Inviting more immigrants to the United States isn't popular, especially in this election season. But Haiti hasn't been treated fairly. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti says less than 2,000 Haitians have come to the United States since the HFRP program began in 2014. Compare that to the 100,000 immigrants who have come here through the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program.

Haiti too often seems to get the short stick. After the 2010 earthquake, televangelist Pat Robertson blamed the country's misfortunes on a wives' tale that colonial Haitians made a "pact with the devil" in 1804 to become "free from the French." But it's bad leadership and a poor economy that have bedeviled Haiti.

Natural disasters occurring amid everyday calamities make life on the island a bitter struggle. But only when Haitians are dying by the hundreds does the rest of the world pay attention. The world's attention span never lasts as long as it should with Haiti.

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