New Jersey Star-Ledger Editorial
Odson Pierre Louie, a 32-year-old immigrant from Haiti, had waited a decade to get here when he and his father arrived in Newark in 1995. He has since filed for a visa for his sister, Eusleie, 32, to come to the United States. But he’s afraid he won’t see her anytime soon.
“I filled out the paperwork for my sister three years ago, before the earthquake.” Louie says. “I think we have another seven years.”
Unfortunately, he’s likely to be right.
After the catastrophic earthquake in January, President Obama promised to make relief for Haiti a priority. But his administration has failed to take an easy step that would benefit thousands of Haitian families.
Some 55,000 Haitians have been approved for visas by the Department of Homeland Security, but still face a years-long wait to enter the United States because of immigration quotas set by Congress. These individuals have relatives in the United States who have pledged to sponsor them with jobs or financial assistance so they do not become a burden to American taxpayers.
In February, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) cosponsored legislation that would speed handling of theses visa cases. The bill is stalled in Congress. But Obama could simply order Homeland Security to grant those Haitians quick entry to the United States, effectively moving them to the front of the line because of the devastation in their home country.
Steven Forester of the Institute for Democracy & Justice in Haiti says if those Haitians were given the opportunity to live and work in the United States, it would ease the economic burden on the Caribbean nation while bringing more money back to the island. Haitians in the United States sent home nearly $2 billion last year, a sum that makes up more than 25 percent of the Haitian gross domestic product.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors and Haitian advocacy groups want Obama to create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program which, like a similar program created for Cubans in 2007, would let Haitians who have met the visa requirements live and work in the United States while waiting to be granted legal permanent residency.
There is more than enough reason to give Haitians the same consideration. More than 1 million people in Haiti remain displaced, and tens of thousands of others still don’t have adequate food or health care.
Moving Haitians who qualify for visas to the front of the line would be a move in the right direction.
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