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Congress pushes aid for Haiti- Politico

Congress is pushing for immediate humanitarian aid to Haiti after a devastating earthquake left thousands dead and much of the Caribbean nation’s infrastructure inoperable.

The top congressional appropriators, the White House and House and Senate leaders all said Wednesday that the U.S. will send relief workers, food, water and other recovery supplies to Haiti.

“I am pleased that President Obama has committed U.S. resources to help the people of Haiti rebuild their lives and their country, and the Senate will work with the administration to make sure that we get the necessary assistance to Haiti,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. “America is at its best when our spirit of goodwill and compassion shows in difficult moments like this.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also called for both public and private aid: “While the U.S. is already sending federal aid and assets, I am confident that the generosity of the American people will be what it so regularly is in these tragedies — an inspiring expression of responsibility and benevolence. I appreciate the administration’s immediate response to this crisis and that of our partners around the world.”

But the question is how quickly the help can arrive and how to coordinate the effort on the ground in Haiti. The United Nations building in Haiti collapsed in the earthquake, and the main road from the Port-au-Prince airport is impassable.

“Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. I am concerned that recovery efforts may be hampered by limited resources, as the country relies heavily on international support for emergency response assistance,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), who represents a large Haitian population in Brooklyn. “It is imperative that the United States take the lead in ensuring that humanitarian aid is delivered swiftly and smoothly to help our neighbors in the Caribbean.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who oversees foreign aid appropriations for the House, said the United States needs to not only send immediate help but also lay out a commitment for long-term programs to help Haiti rebuild.

“I stand committed to helping the Haitian people recover from this disaster through emergency and humanitarian assistance, as well as through long-term development assistance,” Lowey said.

New York and Florida have the largest Haitian-American populations in the country, and lawmakers from those states are pushing to make sure that Haitians who are in the United States illegally are not deported.

In a letter to Obama, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said temporary protected status for illegal Haitian immigrants is “needed because there is no way to safely return Haitian citizens to their country.” She continued by outlining precedent for such action. “The United States granted TPS to Honduras and Nicaragua in 1999, following Hurricane Mitch, and to El Salvador in 2001, following several earthquakes.

“Haiti clearly meets the criteria for TPS designation, and extending it would be one way to help address this catastrophe, as well as alleviate additional burdens on American assistance workers,” the letter concluded.

The Miami Herald is reporting that Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Alcee Hastings — all from south Florida — are also pushing for protected status for Haitians who are here illegally.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) traveled to Haiti on a congressional delegation in 2008 and specifically called on African-American charity organizations in the United States to help.

“This natural disaster in one of the poorest countries in our hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world is a heartbreaking setback that requires not only the United States but the entire world to rally to assist.” Norton said.

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