President Obama plans to announce executive actions regarding immigration tailored to Hispanic needs, a key demographic. While that’s smart substantively and politically, his neglect of a key Haitian-American goal may lower voter turnout next month.
The president has so far ignored more than 80 significant calls since 2010 for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (FRPP), like a recently renewed Cuban program, disappointing Haitian Americans previously upset when related 2012 campaign promises weren’t met.
At risk are 109,000 beneficiaries on wait lists of up to 12 years in Haiti, despite DHS approvals of their family-based visa petitions. They’re legal by definition and will be coming eventually, assuming they survive such long waits in struggling Haiti.
The program would speed up the process, save lives, reunite families, serve our national security by creating new remittance support to thousands in need and generate substantial work-permit application fees to the U.S. Treasury. No one would get permanent status any earlier than under current law, and the program should cost little.
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Support for a Haitian FRPP began after the 2010 earthquake as a common-sense recovery measure. It includes at least 17 editorials by 10 major editorial boards; and support from members of Congress, the NAACP, New York and Philadelphia city council, U.S. Conference of Mayors, American Bar Association, Miami-Dade and other resolutions; and petitions from over 6,000 persons nationally.
On Aug. 15, for example, 73 Haitian-American diaspora groups and leaders wrote the president urging the program, as did the NAACP, five African-American Baptist Convention presidents, 63 U.S. House members including the entire South Florida delegation, and Congressional Black Caucus leaders. The Sept. 17 editorial, Advocates, Florida delegation push immigration program to help rebuild Haiti, described these efforts.
President Obama, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and other administration officials have been kept fully apprised of all of the support, which is bipartisan. But there’s no evidence indicating they’ve been listening, nor were Haitian Americans invited to this summer’s White House meetings with immigration advocates to discuss which executive actions the president should take.
The White House has also ignored Catholic leaders’ urgings to create the program.
Creole radio commentators in South Florida are understandably upset about this and are asking publicly why Haitian Americans should even bother to vote if allies can’t get the president to create this fair, urgently needed, broadly supported program.
Only election night will tell if this will lower turnout among Haitian-American voters; conversely, firm signals that the White House will instruct DHS to create the program should significantly increase their enthusiasm and turnout on election day.
Marleine Bastien, executive director, Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami, Miami
Steven Forester, immigration policy coordinator, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Miami