What do Haitian Earthquake Survivors and the Super Bowl Have in Common? – Heide Castañeda
University of South Florida
What do Haitian earthquake survivors and the Super Bowl have in common? They both need the city of Miami.
This week Florida Governor Charlie Crist, in a letter to Kathleen Sebelius, head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, claimed that the state could not take on any more Haitian medical evacuees without straining services. The governor has asked for an end to emergency airlifts, following two flights that delivered additional earthquake victims to Tampa hospitals this week. Currently, about 500 Haitian survivors are being treated in the state’s hospitals, primarily in the Miami area. The “strain on services” comes as the city prepares for “upcoming events such as might result from the large crowds at the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl,” according to a spokesman for the US Army Southern Command.
The NFL has been a strong supporter of relief efforts to Haiti, with the league, the Player’s Association, and personal donations by owners and players totaling over $3 million in the past two weeks. In addition, the NFL and its network partners have included pregame and in-game messages to promote donations via the Red Cross text-to-give line (text “HAITI” to “90999”). Football fans have been generous. There is little doubt that media exposure during next week’s Super Bowl will be instrumental in raising additional money for relief efforts.
Meanwhile, outside of Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, the message will be: We can’t help you. We might need those hospital beds for the football fans. And this in a state that emphasizes hospital readiness and adequate operational capacity as part of its own ongoing disaster mitigation plan?
Flag on the play. This isn’t about hospital capacity.
This is about the cost for the long-term treatment of seriously injured survivors. In fact, federal officials had planned to evacuate as many as 50 seriously injured patients a day from the devastated island to the U.S. – with Florida one of the primary destinations due to geographic proximity – before Governor Crist reacted. This would be for an indefinite period once they are released from critical care, still needing follow-up and rehabilitation. Worried hospital administrators and local politicians might have been assuaged with a clear plan for who will cover the bill. Crist’s request that the federal government shoulder some of the cost of the care should be supported.
However, I believe what we are also seeing are the early stages of a renewed debate about the status of Haitians as refugees in the US in the years to come. Florida has the highest percentage of Haitians and Haitian-Americans in the country. Their reception has long been characterized by negative stereotypes and hostility, and even those with legal status are often treated as unauthorized immigrants. In Miami, home to both Little Havana and Little Haiti, immigration policy has benefited Cuban political refugees over Haitian “economic” refugees, despite the fact that many Haitians who arrive in the United States have fled political oppression in their home country. Evidence suggests that the local community does not have a clear understanding of the differences among refugees, asylees, and immigrants in South Florida, nor of the preferential treatment of some groups over others. In contrast to Cuban nationals, Haitians do not benefit from the policy that allows them to the right to stay if they reach the US by boat.
Last year, the US Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency stated that they would proceed with the deportation of the estimated 32,000 Haitians residing illegally in the US. In a turn of events, on January 13 ICE announced that it would temporarily halt all deportations in response to the devastation caused by the earthquake. Paul Farmer and colleagues, in a recent op ed in The Miami Herald, have supported this move and called for a stop to all deportations as part of the long-term resettlement and reconstruction effort of Haiti.
Although discussed for many years, it is now time for the federal government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians already living in the country. Further, a clear humanitarian policy and financial plan should be developed to assist with the evacuation and treatment needs of those who cannot be helped by the devastated medical infrastructure just 600 miles to our South. The suspension of medical flights out of Haiti could be catastrophic for patients, especially those with head, spine or pelvic injuries who need surgery that cannot be performed there.
Here in Florida, I am sure we have a few hospital beds left.
Heide Castañeda, PhD, MPH is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. A medical anthropologist who has worked in Germany and in the United States, her primary research interests include migrant and refugee health, social inequality and medicine, and health policy. She is a founding member of the ACCESS DENIED blog team.
Castañeda, Heide. 2010. What do Haitian Earthquake Survivors and the Super Bowl Have in Common? AccessDenied: A Conversation on Un/authorized Im/migration and Health. Accessed (date) at https://accessdeniedblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/what-do-haitian-earthquake-survivors-and-the-super-bowl-have-in-common/