Haiti and Evacuations

My Opinio Juris co-blogger Peter Spiro raises an important question about what the US obligations should be in a crisis like Haiti’s.  Should the US government put its priority on evacuating its own citizens first?

There are an estimated 45,000 US citizens in Haiti, and there’s an assumption that they should be first in line to receive US assistance.  As Hillary Clinton said yesterday, “They are our principal responsibility, to make sure that they’re safe, to evacuate those who need medical care.” …

Should these individuals get priority for US help?  …  But as between a healthy US citizen who lives in Haiti (and who wants to get out because it is not a nice place to be now) and an injured non-US citizen who may die if not taken to a hospital ship or Miami or someplace where there are functioning medical facilities, the choice is not so obvious.  Evacuation capacities are finite.  Putting US citizens at the front of the line means putting others at the back.

I disagree with Peter on many related broader issues – his general cosmopolitanism as a basis for political order, dual citizenship, responsibilities that governments have to their own citizens, the moral defensibility of the category of national citizenship and the concept of the nation-state … but in the extreme circumstance of immediate humanitarian emergency, my first take is that Peter is right, and that the welfare advantages of “membership” in a political community (the United States, as defined by citizenship) are outweighed by overall consequences.  In any case, in my estimation, Peter is the leading legal scholar on transnational citizenship issues, and you might want to read Peter’s book, Beyond Citizenship.