Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Republican Senator George LeMieux and Cuban-American U.S. House members Lincoln Diaz Balart, Mario Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen mobilized this morning to help alleviate the suffering of the people of Haiti on account of the strongest earthquake the Caribbean nation has endured in 200 years.
The State of Florida, which witnessed a massive migration of Haitian refugees on board rickety vessels during the 1980s, has a large Haitian community, driven to our shores by decades of political upheavals and severe poverty. Many of its members have been unable to obtain permanent residence status in the United States. The members of the Florida delegation to the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to President Obama, requesting that Haitians currently in the United States be made eligible for Temporary Protected Status. This category, known as TPS, is extended to citizens of foreign countries present in the United States who may not safely return to their country of origin on account of wars, political turmoil, or natural disasters. In recent times, citizens of Honduras were granted TPS after hurricane Mitch devastated large parts of that Central American nation. While the Obama administration has not yet commented on the request, Governor Crist stated today that Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano had assured him that deportation of Haitians had been stopped. Crist spoke from the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center, where he discussed Florida’s role in the rescue and relief efforts. While Coast Guard cutters from Florida are already on their way to Haiti, the Governor said that the State is coordinating with FEMA to assist with the response. In the past, Fire-Rescue teams from Florida departments have helped in earthquake search and rescue in Mexico and Nicaragua among other places.
For his part, at the news conference, Senator LeMieux called for expedited Federal government efforts to help the people of Haiti. In a statement released today he said:
“Our role as one of Haiti’s closest neighbors is to help in whatever way we can. The magnitude of devastation requires both military and civilian assistance. I commend our Coast Guard, the military, USAID and Florida’s governor for preparing and coordinating response efforts. This is a large-scale catastrophe and much assistance will be needed in the coming days, weeks and months. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti.”
Donations to help the victims of this disaster may be channeled through your local Red Cross or Salvation Army chapters.
(Above right: Sen. George LeMieux and Governor Charlie Crist. AP photo/Phil Coale).