By Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Families across New York will be reflecting this week on the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake that ravaged Haiti. The tragic loss of life and hardship from this disaster has anguished the people of Haiti and their families here at home.
While we mourn the more than 300,000 people who died during this tragedy, we must also not forget the over one million displaced Haitians who are still living in crowded camps and many others still without basic services.
Now that the cameras have gone, we cannot leave Haiti behind.
In the aftermath of the earthquake there was an outpouring of support from governments, ordinary Americans and people across the globe. And while we have made some progress, a number of events from deadly storms, to a cholera outbreak, and contested local elections have further complicated long term reconstruction efforts.
We must not let up on our pledge to help rebuild Haiti.
The way forward requires commitment and vision. I saw the challenges firsthand when I spent time in Port au Prince last year, and I believe there are opportunities to tackle the country’s serious needs.
First, the Haitian people deserve free, fair and inclusive elections and a stable, working government that responds to their needs. Election fraud must be addressed and corrected. Only then can the Haitian people have confidence that their government will effectively use international and Haitian resources to help move the displaced out of camps and into permanent homes, strengthen schools, and create new economic opportunities. I am closely following the Organization of American States (OAS) review of the election results and will work to ensure a fair election process.
Second, we must do a better job of partnering and working with the Haitian people and the Diaspora community. I have consistently raised this issue with the Administration and will continue to urge the USAID Director to ensure that we stay true to our government’s commitment to engaging with all the stakeholders in supporting a Haitian-led recovery.
Third, I will continue to call on the United States to make a high quality, public school system a top priority in our relief efforts. It was inspiring to see eager schoolchildren in backpacks on their first day of school during my visit. If Haiti is ever going to rebuild, and if these children are ever going to succeed, Haiti needs a strong publicly funded school system serving as community cornerstones, offering health clinics, immunizations, literacy education, job training and nutrition for children and families.
While we seek to rebuild Haiti, we must protect Haitian nationals residing in our borders. In the hours after the earthquake, I called on President Obama to grant temporary protected status (TPS) for Haitians living in America. I am grateful the Administration took swift action, allowing Haitians in the US to continue to live here without fear of returning to a country ravaged by devastation.
With TPS set to expire in July of this year, I am urging the president to once again extend temporary protected status for an additional year through 2012.
I am also renewing my push to help 35,000 Haitians who have US government-approved family immigrant petitions reunite with their families in the US.
Due to visa backlogs, some Haitian spouses and minor children of US permanent residents or adult children of US citizens could wait for years to come to America. This month I will re-introduce legislation in the Senate to allow such individuals to leave Haiti and work in the US.
Haiti faces a series of enormous challenges and there is more work to do. We must do more to ensure that the problems of Haiti do not become a forgotten cause. The survivors of the tragedy remind us of the strength, resilience, and hope that emerged from the rubble. We must stand in unity with the Haitian people and remain steadfast in our mission to see Haiti overcome, recover, and succeed.
January 10, 2011