Even after Obama’s immigration policy change, Haitian families’ dreams deferred

OPINION - President Obama appealed to Hispanic voters by protecting 'DREAMers' from deportation. But he has yet to address the dream of concerned Haitian Americans...

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On Friday, President Obama appealed to Hispanic voters by protecting “DREAMers” from deportation.  But he has yet to address the dream of concerned Haitian Americans.

On May 24, Haitian-American elected and community leaders held a press conference at North Miami City Hall to express their disappointment with the president for failing to expedite Haitian family reunification, despite bipartisan support for such relief dating back 29 months to Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake.  Their disappointment was widely reported locally and could have national repercussions.

The issue involves 112,000 beneficiaries of family-based visa petitions who, despite Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approvals, remain on 3 to 11-year waiting lists in Haiti, where many may not survive given the conditions there.  Expediting their entry into the United States has precedent and bipartisan support because it would save their lives and generate badly needed remittances to help Haiti recover, while costing virtually nothing.

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Nor is congressional action needed; just a White House instruction to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.  But it hasn’t been forthcoming: there has been only silence, thus the Haitian community’s disappointment, now being increasingly expressed in public.

There’s a palpable sense of unfairness: DHS in 2010 extended the excellent Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (FRPP), which it created in 2007 and under which over 30,000 approved Cuban beneficiaries have been paroled since 2009.

Support for doing the same for Haitians is bipartisan and began 29 months ago right after the earthquake.  In March 2010, Republican U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (of Florida), now  Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined Democratic Rep. John Conyers (of Michigan)  and six other House members urging DHS to create a Haitian FRPP to “mirror” the Cuban one.

They’ve been joined by nearly 100 Congresspersons, including virtually every member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Scott Brown, and Senators Kerry, Leahy, Durbin, Cardin, Gillibrand, Menendez, Lautenberg and Bill Nelson.

Also urging the President to do this are the Republican-controlled Florida State Senate, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, the city councils of New York City, Philadelphia and other cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and ten major newspaper editorial boards, among many others.

And earlier this month, Massachusetts State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry submitted to the White House petitions from over 6,000 persons urging creation of a Haitian FRPP.

A full 27 months ago, on March 22, 2010, the Miami Herald’s editorial board wrote: “There is no valid argument for failing to move quickly on this front.”  Later Miami Herald editorials referred to a “double standard” in failing to create a Haitian FRPP; and a Los Angeles Times editorial asked,“Why the disparate treatment?”

In July 2010, the Boston Globe editorial board called this the “most effective way” to show U.S. leadership to help Haiti recover, and the editorial boards of the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express News, Washington Post, Newsday, Star Ledger and Palm Bach Post have also supported this.

No one would get a “green card” any sooner; but like the approved Cubans, they’d be able to wait for them here rather than in Haiti.  And as a Center for Global Development paper said last year, the Cuban program’s rationale of saving lives at sea and providing for orderly migration applies with equal force to Haiti, as a recent sea tragedy underscored.

But the administration’s silence on this issue has been as deafening as the political and editorial support has been broad, and as unfortunate as the merits are strong.

The May 24’s North Miami City Hall press conference of Haitian American leaders and similar and increasing expressions of community disappointment with the White House over this may have political consequences, if attention isn’t paid.

For example, the press conference was broadcast for three consecutive days on Island TV, a leading Haitian community television station, and there have been expressions of frustration on local Creole radio.  The leaders’ disappointment was reported in Miami Times and Sun-Sentinel news articles and on WLRN/Miami Herald radio.  And the Haitian American Professionals Coalition wrote the President expressing “frustration and disappointment.”

There’s an irony here.  The assumed reason for administration inaction is feared political consequences, not any question about the merits.

But there would seem to be little political risk in instructing DHS to at least begin quietly paroling some of the most vulnerable or deserving of the approved Haitians.  For example, it could begin with some of the 15,800 minor children and spouses of legal permanent residents whose wait time in Haiti, without such action, remains years.

And what might be the actual political consequences in November if the South Florida Haitian American community’s sense of being taken for granted by the administration, due to its inaction on this issue, is not assuaged with appropriate and merited action?

Haitian Americans too have a dream, Mr. President.

 Steven Forester is Immigration Policy Coordinator for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.