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Opinion: Let Haitians come to the US

The best way to help Haiti rebuild is through immigration.

A Golden Door Visa could be used for some countries in some years, other countries in other years, and its numbers could change every year — just like refugee visas — to respond flexibly to conditions in the U.S.

How many such visas would be enough to help? For many years now about 20,000 Haitians per year have been given legal permanent residency in the U.S. That is just 2 percent of all U.S. immigration. But even that trickle has done vastly more to help Haitians leave poverty than anything else that the U.S. has done within Haiti. Even reserving a tiny 1 percent of U.S. immigrant visas for Haitians would mean a 50 percent increase in the good that the U.S. has done for Haitians.

This idea is controversial. The editors of USA Today wrote about several objections that are on many people’s minds: migration can’t help all Haitians, it would be hard to decide who deserves the visas the most and a “firm stand on immigration” would help more “in the long run” even though it might not “feel as good” as the “impulse” to let a few of them to emigrate to the U.S.

These arguments don’t make sense. Of course migration can’t help every poor person on earth, or even close to every poor person in Haiti. That’s no reason not to help the limited number that we can. Would you refuse to give a dollar to charity on the grounds that your dollar will not eliminate poverty for all people on earth?

And certainly it would be hard to decide who deserves a Golden Door Visa, but no harder than it is to decide who deserves a refugee visa, and we give about 80,000 of those per year — because it’s the right thing to do.

The most bizarre of USA Today’s ideas is that forcing Haitians to stay in Haiti’s disaster zone is the best thing for them in the long run. Imagine if USA Today had written that forcing people to stay in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, without letting even a few of them leave, was best for those people in the long run.

Half of Haiti’s population lived on one dollar per day even before the horror of the quake; it is abominable to rationalize trapping people in circumstances like that.

The Statue of Liberty stands as testament to the fact that America is a nation built by immigrants. The best way to help Haiti is to allow some Haitians to immigrate to the U.S. They will benefit both the U.S. economy and Haiti’s economy.

Michael Clemens is a research fellow at the Center for Global Development and an affiliated associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University.