Haiti.jpgA Catholic Relief Services official is calling Haiti's devastating earthquake this week "the disaster of the century."

It's a disaster that especially hits home for the growing Haitian community in Florida, which has been one of the top destinations for Haitian immigrants starting in the 1960s.

The 2000 Census found that 23 of the 35 U.S. communities with the highest percentage of Haitian-Americans are in Florida, and the Miami Herald is reporting today that South Florida communities are in full-scale mobilization to channel relief to Haiti.

The crisis has pushed the White House to change course on a key issue facing these communities: the U.S. government's controversial plans to deport over 30,000 Haitians. As Facing South reported last spring, many of these were refugees from 2008's deadly hurricanes, which displaced up to 80% of Haiti's population.

Yesterday, U.S. immigration officials said they would stop deporting Haitians back to the ravaged country, but they stopped short of granting them Temporary Protected Status which has been given to nationals of other countries fleeing natural disasters.

In a statement yesterday, the Florida Immigrant Action Coalition argued that granting Temporary Protected Status would have immediate benefits to Haiti's relief efforts:


Granting TPS to Haitians here would allow some 30,000 Haitians to work legally and send remittances to loved ones in Haiti. These remittances are a vital lifeline, particularly in times of disaster. The money goes directly to Haitians on the island, encouraging them to stay and rebuild their country. TPS would, thus, discourage Haitians from attempting dangerous sea voyages to get to the United States.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

With hospitals, water supplies and other vital resources in Haiti in shambles, dozens of charities are mobilizing to provide immediate relief and fill in the gaps.

For those in the Facing South community wanting to contribute to relief efforts, here are several groups that have a strong track record in Haiti and have swung into action, and which may not be as well known:

Doctors Without Borders

Haiti Emergency Relief Fund

Lambdi Fund for Haiti

Madre

Mennonite Disaster Service

Partners in Health

Let us know in the comments about other groups that might be good to support!