Haitian-Americans throughout the United States voted for President Obama in overwhelming numbers in November and appreciate the Department of Homeland Security’s designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status after the devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010.
But there is an important step DHS should take on the quake’s third anniversary, one which has bipartisan support and would save lives, reunite families and help Haiti recover — without costing the U.S. taxpayers a dime.
DHS has already approved family-based visa petitions for 106,312 Haitians, 11,715 of whom are the minor children and spouses of U.S. green card holders, who nevertheless must wait 2 ½ to 12 years in Haiti despite those approvals. This makes no sense, and many may die waiting, given conditions there, if they haven’t already.
Expediting their entry has strong precedent: the Obama administration in 2010 renewed the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, under which over 30,000 Cuban beneficiaries have been paroled since 2009. Haitian-American advocates for nearly three years have urged the administration to create a similar Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. The United States has welcomed hundreds of thousands of vulnerable immigrants before.
Creating a Haitian Family Reunification Program needs only the president’s approval, not any congressional action, and we hope he will instruct DHS accordingly.
Support for this step began soon after the earthquake. In March 2010, South Florida’s U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, then-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined seven other House members urging a Haitian program to “mirror” the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. And nearly 100 members of Congress have joined them, including Florida’s U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, nearly all Congressional Black Caucus members and South Florida U.S. Reps. Alcee Hastings, Mario Diaz-Balart, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
Florida’s Republican-controlled state Senate and the American Bar Association urged this action last year, as have Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; the New York, Philadelphia, and North Miami city councils; the U.S. Conference of Mayors in two resolutions; other leading U.S. senators and 10 of the nation’s major editorial boards in no fewer than 16 editorials — including four by The Miami Herald — among many others. Last June, for example, 6,000 persons signed petitions to the president urging this step submitted by Massachusetts state Sen. Linda Dorcena-Forry.
As the Herald’s editorial board wrote on March 22, 2010, “There is no valid argument for failing to move quickly on this front.” Indeed, various editorials in several newspapers have referred to a “double standard” given the renewed Cuban program.
No one would get a “green card” any sooner under such a program but, like paroled Cubans, they could wait for a green card safely here rather than in devastated Haiti. Nor would this cost much of anything, as by definition these already-approved persons have family support networks in place waiting to help them, and they would have to pay significant sums into the U.S. Treasury to individually apply for work permits.
Three years ago, the president pledged U.S. leadership to speed recovery in Haiti. A reunification program would meet that pledge by generating much-needed remittances into the indefinite future and saving lives.
A Haitian family reunification program should begin with the vulnerable minor children and spouses of legal permanent residents whose wait time in Haiti remains a few years.
Before Obama’s re-election, we and other Haitian American officials and advocates met with administration officials to reiterate our unanimous desire for this sensible, fair, and much-needed program. Today, Haiti remains in need, her people still suffering, and we ask the president to finally take this sensible step to save lives and help our Caribbean neighbor.
On the earthquake’s third anniversary, it is our sincere hope that the president will promptly instruct Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to implement a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program. This would signal that the president meant what he said about Haiti being a priority after the 2010 earthquake that left 250,000 dead.
Today, an estimated 400,000 Haitians are still living under tents, and two storms — Isaac and Sandy — have created havoc for the population, leaving them vulnerable with grave shortages of food, shelter, and access to healthcare. It has taken too long for Haitians to receive equal treatment, and justice delayed is justice denied.
Marleine Bastien, is executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, Inc./Haitian Women of Miami. Steven Forester is immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.