As rights advocates and lawmakers called on the White House Friday to grant a special shield to thousands of Haitians living illegally in the US, House Rep. Steve King went in another direction.
In an email sent to ABC News, the Iowa Republican argued that deporting Haitians would be good for the island country because it needs their help in the wake of Tuesday's earthquake.
Arguing against granting Haitians "Temporary Protected Status," King wrote: "This sounds to me like open borders advocates exercising the Rahm Emanuel axiom: 'Never let a crisis go to waste.' ... Illegal immigrants from Haiti have no reason to fear deportation, but if they are deported, Haiti is in great need of relief workers, and many of them could be a big help to their fellow Haitians."
Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, would allow undocumented Haitians living in the United States to remain for a set period of time -- usually 18 months. That would allow them to renew or obtain drivers licenses, and work legally.
Supporters of such a move argue that TPS would also help Haiti to rebuild, as immigrants send remittances to loved ones in the poorest country in the Americas, devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday.
That was the argument Andrea Nill made at ThinkProgress when reporting on King's comments.
King blatantly ignores the fact that Haitian immigrants could probably do a lot more to rebuild Haiti by staying in the U.S. than by returning to the little that’s left of their decimated country. Allowing undocumented Haitians who are already living in the U.S. to legally work would help them earn the honest wages they need to send back money to their families and get their country back on its feet.
Nill also points out that several Republicans are among the lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are pushing for a temporary amnesty for Haitians, including Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, authorities are processing deportation orders for 30,000 Haitians now in the United States.
The non-profit Migration Policy Institute said 76,000 illegal immigrants from Haiti live in the United States, with a further 535,000 legally residing here, two thirds of them being adults of a working age.
Rights advocates have long depicted the current immigration laws as uneven, while even proponents of strict curbs on immigration said TPS was appropriate for Haiti now.
Some Central Americans enjoy the immigration shield, while Haitians do not.
"This is why TPS exists," said Dustin Carnevale, a spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform referring to the quake's aftermath. The protection is meant as relief for immigrants from countries reeling from natural disaster or political strife.
"If this isn't a case for TPS, then what is?"
Carnevale said though that TPS had been "abused" in the past with continued extensions. Immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua have enjoyed the shield since Hurricane Mitch, which occurred in 1997.
Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek, who represents a Miami district where many Haitians live, reiterated his support for TPS, but said it was not the most urgent issue.
"Just to be clear: The US government halted the deportation of non-criminal Haitians living in the US nearly a year ago and is not currently deporting illegal Haitian immigrants in the aftermath of this week's earthquake.
"I have always pushed for TPS for Haitians in the US, but right now my concern is for those whose lives hang in the balance."
The temporary status "is in the range of considerations," said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler.
Haitian Consul General in Miami Ralph Latortue said Thursday he was aware of US federal government movement on the issue but was not aware of any decision having been made.
The Migration Policy Institute also estimated that one in every 20 Haitians lived in the United States, more than 70 percent of them in New York or Florida.
-- With Agence France-Presse