Haiti: international law and disaster.

Position:International Law in a Time of Change - Proceedings of the 104th Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law - Discussion

This panel was convened at 10:45 a.m., Thursday, March 25, 2010, by its moderator, Hope Lewis of Northeastern University School of Law, who introduced the panelists: Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute Office at the New York University School of Law; Janet Lord of BlueLaw International LLP and the Harvard Law School Project on Disability; Claire Nelson of the Institute of Caribbean Studies; and Jonathan Todres of Georgia State University College of Law. *

* Claire Nelson did not submit remarks for the Proceedings.


A massive earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, killed more than 230,000 people and displaced perhaps 2.1 million more. Increased numbers of unaccompanied children, sick or injured people, and Haitians with physical or mental disabilities created new pressures on an already inadequate social system. Important governmental and private infrastructure was destroyed or seriously damaged.

The catastrophe also highlighted the importance of transnational connections before, during, and after natural or man-made disasters. Professional help from Haitian-American and Haitian-Canadian medical and rescue workers, as well as remittances from the broader Diaspora, were crucial sources of support. Humanitarian response teams rushed in from Latin America and Caribbean countries, North America, Europe, and Asia. The thousands of non-governmental organizations already on the ground before the earthquake provided deepened international understanding of local conditions, but also led to problems in coordination and priority-setting. With government and United Nations infrastructure weakened, who best could implement international legal standards on food and water distribution, housing, sanitation, health care, and the rights of "vulnerable groups" such as the elderly, women with children, and persons with disabilities? How had international trade and development policies contributed to the situation?

Shortly before the Annual Meeting, Program Co-chair Hari Osofsky organized this roundtable to discuss key transnational legal issues associated with the disaster. The session occurred a few days before participants at a major donors conference at United Nations headquarters pledged more than $5.3 billion toward Haiti's recovery. Yet the country faced an urgent humanitarian crisis as the hurricane season approached. Furthermore, long-term questions remained about the roles of international law in ensuring a sustainable, participatory, human fights-based future for all of Haiti's people.

Our first speaker will discuss changes to U.S. immigration law in response to the disaster, examining the role of remittances, the need for migrants to participate in sustainable development efforts, and new policies on temporary protected status (TPS) for Haitians in the United States. Muzaffar Chishti is director of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) Office at New York University School of Law. He is a leading expert on U.S. immigration law, especially as it relates to civil liberties and the intersection of labor and immigration law. He is the former director of the Immigration Project of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees (UNITE) and has chaired the National Immigration Forum board.

The second speaker, Janet E. Lord, will discuss the under-examined challenges of disability-inclusive and rights-based responses to disaster. She is senior partner at BlueLaw International LLP, a research associate with the Harvard Project on Disability, and adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. Ms. Lord has extensive experience in international development and democracy programming in transitioning and post-conflict societies. She participated in the United Nations negotiations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We hear next from Jonathan Todres, Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law. He will address the troubling issues raised by the coordination and implementation of child protection measures and children's rights post-disaster and in the context of widespread poverty. Professor Todres is an expert on children's rights, public health law, and international and comparative health law. He serves as advisor to several non-governmental organizations working to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Finally, Claire Nelson will discuss responses to the disaster in the Caribbean region and among Haitian-American and Haitian-Canadian communities. She will also explore support for community-based efforts to maintain security and the rule of law in the displacement camps. Dr. Nelson is founder and president of the Institute for Caribbean Studies. She is a former technical cooperation specialist with the Inter-American Development Bank and vice president of its Staff Association. She has led programs aimed at deepening and broadening development and recognition of the Caribbean region as well as Diaspora support activities among Caribbean-Americans.

([dagger]) Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law.


In the aftermath of the devastation caused by the tragic earthquake in Haiti, the role of immigration policy has emerged as a central consideration of the relief and reconstruction efforts. A number of policy proposals emerged quickly after the disaster, including measures aimed at temporarily halting the repatriation of unauthorized Haitians and proposals to increase the flow of Haitian immigrants to countries such as the United States and Canada. In the United States in particular, the discussion over immigration relief for Haitians has rekindled larger debates over the role of immigration in economic development, and the impact of humanitarian crises on existing immigration laws.

In many respects, the U.S response to the earthquake was quick and decisive. A day after the earthquake, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the United States would temporarily suspend all deportations to Haiti in light of the country's widespread destruction.

On January 15, 2010, the DHS announced that it would grant certain Haitian nationals in the United States temporary legal status and permission to work--a designation known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Since 1990, the United States has granted TPS to certain immigrants who cannot safely return to their home countries as a result of armed conflict or environmental disaster. Because this status is granted only in the context of a severe humanitarian crisis and is thus intended to be temporary, TPS does not provide a pathway to permanent resident status. In addition to Haiti, five other countries are currently designated for TPS: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, and Sudan.

To qualify for the Haitian TPS, an applicant must show that he or she is a Haitian national who was residing in the United States as of January 12, 2010. DHS will grant TPS to both unauthorized Haitians and Haitians whose authorized status in the United States is about to expire. Haitians who were not present in the United States as of the date of the earthquake are ineligible for TPS. Potential applicants who have been convicted of one felony or two misdemeanor offenses are disqualified. The registration period for eligible Haitians ends July 20, 2010.

Recipients of TPS will receive work permits valid for eighteen months, as well as temporary protection against deportation, and this period can be extended by the government. TPS recipients may request permission to travel abroad and return to the United States. In order to expedite the process, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) put Haitian TPS applications on a fast track, issuing work permits to applicants within ninety days. It also offered to waive the $470 filing fee for applicants who are unable to pay.

The quick designation of Haiti for TPS was widely lauded in U.S. political and policy circles. Politicians on both sides of the aisle noted that that the earthquake was exactly the type of disaster that should qualify a country for TPS. The quick U.S. government...

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