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The Most Effective, Least Used Tool for Disaster Relief: Limited Humanitarian Entry

This is a joint post with Tejaswi Velayudhan

A year and a half ago, an earthquake wrecked Haiti. So many Haitians were killed that if the same fraction of the U.S. population were cut down, the deaths would outnumber the entire population of Tennessee. Commendable relief efforts are ongoing, supported in large part by U.S. assistance, but economic and political disarray have led to widespread perception that those efforts are inadequate.

Unfortunately, as it proceeds with the hard work of disaster relief for Haiti, the U.S. government has chosen not to use its most powerful tool: migration policy. Migration out of Haiti has caused more poverty reduction for Haitians than all attempts at poverty reduction within Haiti combined. Remittances to Haiti have amounted to at least double foreign aid, for years. Remittances also—unlike foreign aid—go directly into the pockets of needy people, and they rise more quickly after disasters than aid does. While the U.S. government has recently and sensibly suspended the deportations of some Haitians who arrived in the U.S. after the earthquake, it has not systematically used migration policy to help even a small number of Haitians starting out in Haiti arrive in the U.S. as a humanitarian gesture. It could easily do so.