Haitians with visas want to enter U.S.
55,000 people in the balance amid political struggle in U.S.
Thousands of Haitians living amid the rubble in Haiti six months after the Jan. 12 earthquake and whose requests for visas to come to the United States to join family members have been approved should have their cases expedited, according to supporters, activists and elected officials.
These supporters, which include 74 national and international organizations, members of Congress, mayors and both liberals and conservatives, are petitioning Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to approve the Haitian Family Reunification Program that would allow as many as 55,000 Haitians with approved visas into the United States.
Six months after the earth shook the coast of Haiti, killing nearly 300,000 people and destroying as many as 285,000 structures, the needs remain great. Though food and water and health care are available, up to 1.5 million people remain without shelter, living under tarps in camps spread throughout the capital and other cities.
During the coming months, hurricanes and rain could make the situation in the earthquake-affected zone more dire.
Napolitano acknowledged as much, saying that “at this moment of tragedy in Haiti it is tempting for people suffering in the aftermath of the earthquake to seek refuge elsewhere. But attempting to leave Haiti now will only bring more hardship to the Haitian people and nation.”
Though their visas are already approved, those Haitians with visas are being held back by annual limits set by Congress on the number of immigrants allowed into the United States from a particular country. Nineteen thousand other Haitians who have applied for visas to join family members are still awaiting approval from the U.S. consular offices in Port-au-Prince.
Marleine Bastien, a candidate for the Florida District 17 seat in Congress, said the U.S. government should do the right thing by these Haitians, considering that conditions continue to deteriorate, with millions of people requiring access to basic services such as sanitation, electricity and education.
“These people are coming here anyway,’’ said Bastien, an activist for Haitian immigrants and the founder and past president of Fanm Ayisien Nan Myami, known in English as Haitian Women of Miami.
“They have been rewarded visas through family unification,” she said. “All we are asking for is to speed up the process. It’s unacceptable.’’
Bastien added that “the smartest thing to do is let them come here; we have given them visas, we approved them. It’s a matter of common sense.’’
By all measures, Haiti’s government so far has received approximately 10 percent out of $5 billion that has been pledged by the international community to help rebuild the country.
Supporters say that allowing Haitians with approved visas to come into the United States will reduce the burden on families struggling to find necessities such as shelter, water and food.
Once in the United States, those new immigrants will find jobs and will be able to earn money to send back home to help their families, they say.
The idea of expediting the case of the Haitians with approved visas has gained support among political leaders as well, including U.S. mayors. The Conference of U.S. Mayors this year came up with a resolution, urging President Obama as well as Napolitano to approve the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.
This resolution, though it would stretch resources of cities in this country, would allow approved Haitians with relatives here to come into the United States without having to wait for their appointment dates with consular officials back in Haiti, which could be anywhere between four to 12 years.
Andre Pierre, the mayor of North Miami, a city with a large population of Haitian Americans, is one of those urging a change in U.S. policy.
“All they need to do is basically allow these folks to be reunited with their family,” said Pierre, who brought the resolution to the mayors conference.
“They are on their way to the United States sooner or later anyway,” wrote Elliot Abrams, who served in State Department in the Bush and Reagan administrations and now is a policy analyst.
In an editorial that appeared in the Washington Post this January, Abrams explained that “migration would mean that Haiti needs to provide fewer hospital beds, schools, meals and jobs – and migrants’ remittances will be key to Haiti’s economic recovery for decades to come.”
Soon after the earthquake, Napolitano granted Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the United States, allowing those already in the states at the time of the earthquake to stay and work here for 18 months, though not guaranteeing permanent resident status.
In 2007 President Bush allowed 28,000 Cubans to come and settle in the U.S. while their visa were being processed. According to the State Department, that was done “to expedite family reunification through safe, legal, and orderly channels of migration to the United States and to discourage dangerous and irregular maritime migration.”
The same should be done for Haitians, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial earlier this month.
In the editorial, the Inquirer said “no congressional act is needed for the president to expedite the handling of these immigration cases. The sooner he does that, the sooner the Haitians will be able to find employment in this country that allows them to send help home. That aid over time will improve Haiti’s ability to stand on its own legs without as much foreign assistance.”
Steven Forester, with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, is trying to get public support behind the Haitian Family Reunification Program.
“The question is why haven’t they done it yet? It’s morally and practically the right thing to do,’’ Forester said.
“We think they only see the political down side, they don’t see the upside. They will do it if we build support.”