Virtually everyone in the northernmost Bahamian islands ravaged by Hurricane Dorian has been displaced. Their homes have been leveled, their businesses wiped out, their roads and other basic infrastructure destroyed.
More than a month after Hurricane Dorian's Category 5 winds pummeled the Abacos and Grand Bahama, some 70,000 people on those islands — about a sixth of the Bahamas' population — have lost their homes; others are in desperate straits.
The U.S. government can and should do more to help. It should move forward with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Bahamians. That's the program that allows foreign victims of wars and natural disasters to remain and work in the United States, rather than return to their home countries.
When Haitians were hit by a massive earthquake in 2010, the Obama administration gave almost 60,000 permission to stay in the United States rather than return home to a humanitarian crisis. It was the continuation of a decades-old practice.
Not so with the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has said Bahamians need "totally proper documentation" to stay because "the Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people that weren't supposed to be there ... including some very bad people and very bad gang members."
That smear does not describe the Bahamas we know. At all.
South Florida and the Bahamas are entwined in a familial relationship whose roots go back more than a century to laborers who came here to work. In just the Palm Beach area alone, thousands of descendants of those laborers are now doctors, lawyers, teachers, firefighters and business owners.
Bahamians generally can visit the U.S. without visas, providing they have valid passports and clean police records. But without TPS, those visitor visas only last six months.
These visas do not allow the 4,000 or so Bahamian nationals who've come to the U.S. since Dorian to work. What a waste: They can't contribute to the families that have taken them in or send aid to their struggling families back home.
As senseless as that sounds, it is right in line with Trump's abiding hostility toward people seeking refuge in this country. The president has tried to end TPS for more than 300,000 people from 10 countries living in the United States — mostly from Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador.
U.S. immigration officials decided against TPS for Bahamians due to unspecified "statutory obstacles," the time relief would take and the number of people whom the policy would cover, according to CNN. Roughly 10,000 Bahamian nationals who would be eligible for employment authorization and protection from deportation under a TPS designation.
Several bills that would provide TPS for people affected by Hurricane Dorian have been filed in Congress; there's a broad constituency of support. But the administration has the authority, and a moral obligation, to move even without legislation.
Hurricane Dorian was one of the strongest, most destructive Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history. It left an unfolding humanitarian crisis in its wake just 60 miles off our coast.
Our federal government should do more to help.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD
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