By now, people are aware of the earthquake’s toll in Haiti. Two months later, the smell of dead bodies trapped under the rubble still lingers in the air, and food, water, and security barely exist. On top of this devastation is a second natural disaster that followed: girls and women, from 2 to 72 years old, are being raped in their make-shift shelters.
Just as we assisted in the aftermath of the earthquake, we now need to assist in the aftermath of this new devastation. We do this by invigorating a policy already in place, called humanitarian parole, an immigration status that allows the most vulnerable to enter the U.S. for a temporary period of time, for an urgent, compelling reason such as life-threatening medical need, or to promote a significant public benefit.
Consider Solange, a 16-year-old straight-A student whose dream was to become a nurse. In forty seconds, her life collapsed as her parents and siblings lay under the crumbled blocks of her home. She wandered the streets alone until an elderly man offered to help. He brought two men to rape her.
Solange received no protection, and cannot find food or water. The cement wall that took her family also injured her back, but she cannot receive the urgent surgery in Haiti that is required to fix it.
The earthquake demolished safety networks of family and community. Women are fearful of going to get distributed goods protected by men who demand sex-for-aide. They have lost their husbands in the earthquake, and are forced to become financially independent without the skills or educational background. With children and orphans dependent on them, they are not free to relocate for work.
Sexual predation after societal devastation is not particular to Haiti. We tend not to think of ourselves as forces of nature, but we are. As agents of nature, when people experience acute trauma, some may multiply disaster by forcing their power onto others, out of psychological strain on the moral poise of being idle, angry at losing control, or frustrated with a lack of basic needs and uncertainty about the future. Indonesia had rape and abuse that threatened the physical and psychological safety of women and children in temporary camps after the tsunami. New Orleans endured rapes and sexual violence in the aftermath of Katrina.
Humanitarian parole has been used in the past, for Hungarians escaping communism, Cubans fleeing their country, Indochinese migrants who fled at the end of the Vietnam War, and others from China, Iraq, El Salvador, India, Iran, and Lebanon to name a few. No one disagrees that Haiti is a dire humanitarian crisis right now. As responsible neighbors, we need to act quickly to offer relief to these women and their children who are the future of Haiti.
Secretary Napolitano allowed humanitarian parole for Haitian orphans in the process of adoption, but parole should be extended to Haitians in need of emergency treatments, especially when treatment is only a short few hours away.
Haitian-Americans are weaving into the fabric of American politics and culture. Massachusetts and Florida both have Haitian-American officers in the state legislature. There are eight Haitian-Americans in elected office in South Florida and there is talk about sending a Haitian-American to Congress. New York and New Jersey also have Haitians that are running for state and local offices.
Americans are weathering difficult economic conditions ourselves. Many worry about immigrants (undocumented or otherwise) using publicly funded health-care, taking unskilled jobs away, using public resources like schools, and resisting assimilation.
But countries are becoming more dependent on each other, so it may be useful to build communities with our neighbors. Humanitarian parole would allow Solange admission to the U.S., to contribute economically to our country by finding meaningful work, to obtain health care for her life-threatening medical concerns, and to learn skills to provide a life for herself and help re-build her country.
We can help parole Solange out of the prison of human squalor that she’s wrongly been subjected to, surrounded by death, destruction, and rape. We can offer her humanitarian treatment for her potentially life-threatening medical and psychological suffering.