By Steve Forester, Sun Sentinel Op-ed
Jan 17, 2011
South Florida’s congressional delegation can play a key role in helping hundreds of thousands of Haitians and Haitian-Americans in Haiti and the United States by strongly urging Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama to end a glaring double standard.
Before last January’s quake, DHS had approved immigrant visa petitions for about 55,000 Haitians who nevertheless remain in Haiti today, and in danger from cholera, tent city conditions, and environmental and political turmoil. Unbelievably, they’re slated to stay on a wait list there up to 11 more years — inevitably, some won’t survive — before joining their families here, even though DHS approved them over a year ago.
On Jan. 11, Florida U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson joined Sens. Kisten Gillibrand, Patrick Leahy, John Kerry, Bob Menendez, and Frank Lautenberg in a letter to President Obama urging his prompt parole of these DHS-approved beneficiaries. House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both from South Florida, with six other U.S. House members, did so last year in a March 8 letter to Secretary Napolitano. The letter cites the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. Created by DHS in 2007 and renewed last month, it lets DHS-approved Cubans wait in the United States for their visa priority dates to become current. Ten editorial boards and the U.S. Conference of Mayors also say Haitians deserve no less.
The approved Haitians include the adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens and even the spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents who hold green cards. As the U.S. senators note, “They would be allowed to work in the United States while awaiting their turn in line, but receive no federal benefits, thereby not impacting the federal budget.” And thousands of worried-sick relatives would be thrilled if their loved ones, like Cubans, could wait here with them and not in their devastated homeland.
More importantly, the money these legal immigrants would start sending home would benefit Haiti and our national security. Remittances from Haitian Americans are crucial, as the World Bank and others note, leading the Boston Globe Editorial Board to call this the “most effective way” to show U.S. leadership to help Haiti recover. Which is what President Obama promised on Jan. 14, two days after the earthquake.
Doing this requires no congressional action, only a White House instruction to Secretary Napolitano. It costs nothing and would give equal treatment, help Haiti recover, remove our community’s loved ones from harm’s way, free up desperately needed resources in Haiti and build new ones to help quake victims, making the approved beneficiaries part of Haiti’s solution, not part of the problem.
Please urge your congressional representatives’ active attention and support. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti with many supporters leads this effort, which we hope you will join.
Steven Forester coordinates immigration policy for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 786-877-6999.
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