Haiti to open identification office in Miami, elsewhere

People vote at a polling station during a presidential runoff in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, March 20, 2011.
People vote at a polling station during a presidential runoff in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, March 20, 2011. AP

Soon Haitians living in South Florida and elsewhere will no longer have to fly to Haiti to get a national identification card, a critical document to obtain a Haitian passport or the ability to vote in the country’s elections.

The head of Haiti’s civil registry, the National Identification Office (ONI), said beginning next month, the agency will open an office in Haiti’s Miami consulate and other consulates in the diaspora to register Haitians. Approved applicants will be issued a card, valid for 10 years, with an assigned number similar to a Social Security number.

With the registry key in determining who can vote in upcoming elections, ONI’s Executive Director Jean-Baptist Fils St. Cyr said demand at the consulates will also dictate where voting bureaus outside of Haiti will be installed to allow Haitians to vote. Under the country’s revised Haitian constitution, Haitians living in the diaspora will now be allowed to vote in future elections.

The logistics of diaspora voting remains a work in process in Haiti, where there is still no schedule for the country’s legislative and local elections now three years delayed.

“There is a motivation among some people in the diaspora, when they come to [Haiti] for 15 or 22 days, they rush to our office to get a number,” St. Cyr said during a Wednesday news conference at the Little Haiti Cultural Center that was broadcast live in Haiti. “Even though the process is long, they never hesitate. So we decided that if you have this kind of determination, why not bring the services to the people living in the diaspora?”

Given the Haitian diaspora’s critical role in Haiti’s survival, “it’s not normal for them to stand outside of the political sphere,” St. Cyr said.

Identifying Haitians through documentation is a huge challenge. Only 6 million numbers have been assigned in Haiti, even though every Haitian is required to have a number from birth. The issue is even more problematic outside of Haiti, where Haitian migrants are increasingly facing immigration backlash in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, and it’s not easy for them to prove their Haitian heritage.

“There are a lot of opportunities people lose because they don’t have any identification,” St. Cyr said, adding that the expansion of the office out of Haiti has become “a matter of necessity.”