Trump’s stance on Bahamas not the Greene County way

The Trump administration last week refused to grant Temporary Protected Status in the United States to refugees from the Bahamas whose homes, businesses and lives were devastated Sept. 1 and 2 by Hurricane Dorian.

That is heartless.

About 70,000 Bahamians living in the northern islands were left homeless by Dorian. The death toll as of this writing stands above 50, and some 2,500 are missing, ensuring a sure climb in the number of fatalities.

About 20,000 people of Bahamian ancestry already live in Florida, and that state is the go-to destination for the islands’ residents who now have no homes or possessions. They desperately need help. 

But President Trump’s not having it. 

His Sept. 9 tweet:

“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation. The Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there. I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

It’s probably true that there are some bad people in the Bahamas. 

There are bad people everywhere in the world, including the United States. There are also thousands of good people who had a very bad thing happen to them, and who need our help.

In fact, that started to happen immediately after the hurricane. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, recognizing the emergency, allowed about 1,500 folks from the Bahamas to come to the U.S. by ship. As of last weekend, over 3,000 had been allowed to enter our borders.

But starting Sept. 9, that changed.

Over 100 Bahamian refugees were ordered off a ferry bound for Florida because they didn’t have visas and documentation of a clean criminal record.

Visa and papers of someone whose home and its entire contents, to quote a recent op ed, were blowing toward Nova Scotia? How could they possibly lay hands on their passports?

Temporary Protection Status (TPS) designation was created in 1990 by Congress in a law signed by then-President George H.W. Bush. 

It allows the Department of Homeland Security to grant temporary legal status to those making it to the U.S. whose home countries have been rendered unsafe for them through armed conflict or environmental disaster. 

TPS recipients can be allowed employment in the U.S., but cannot be granted permanent residency thereby. To send them back to dangerous circumstances is inhumane, and also creates more problems for their home country trying to recover from a disaster.

It’s a program designed especially for situations like what residents of the Bahamas face today. 

TPS itself doesn’t allow individuals to enter the U.S., but it provides a haven for them once they’re here. 

TPS was granted to survivors from Honduras and Nicaragua in January 1999 after Hurricane Mitch wiped out entire villages in those nations. Earthquakes earned the same status for residents of El Salvador in 2001, Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015. 

And wartime conflict brought TPS in America for civilians from Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

But apparently not this time, even though the Bahamas has traditionally maintained close relations with the United States, with most of the island nation’s 400,000 residents holding Christian beliefs and with English as their official language.

Trump’s denial of TPS is not in the American tradition. 

Nor is it in Iowa’s tradition. 

Gov. Bob Ray welcomed Southeast Asia refugees to our state in the 1970s, many of whom with their descendants are now proud Iowa citizens.

Nor is it in Greene County’s tradition.

We hosted several of those Southeast Asia folks, and in 1999, after war’s horrors chased 17 members of the extended Gashi family from Kosovo, we made a home for them in Jefferson until they felt comfortable to return to their homeland.

Americans everywhere are better than what Trump has tarred us with.

There are way more than enough generous hearts in the U.S. to do right by Bahama’s unfortunate refugees, if given the opportunity.

There’s something very wrong with this picture.

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