Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti earthquake 2 years later: Homeland Security has failed Haitian families

By Steve Forester,
January 12, 2012

Since Haiti’s devastating quake two years ago today, many Republicans and Democrats have been urging President Obama to take a simple step to save lives and speed recovery, one which would cost virtually nothing, reunite families, and help thousands in Haiti.

Ten editorial boards have urged the Obama administration to take the step, as have nine U.S. Senators, the chairpersons of the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Philadelphia’s City Council, 87 members of the U.S. Congress in a December 15 letter, eight Florida Congresspersons including Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson in a December 22 letter, the Center for Global Development and many others.

But for two full years administration officials have stalled them and Haitian American leaders, saying the step is “under consideration,” in effect a way of saying “no.”

What’s the proposal? Consider this: 112,000 people in Haiti are beneficiaries of family-based visa petitions which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has already approved but who nevertheless remain on a 3 to 10 year wait list in Haiti, where many may not survive given the dangerous conditions there.

As it has for others, DHS easily could and should create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program to expedite reunifying them with their petitioning families here. DHS has approved them for U.S. residency and all have a U.S. family support network in place. And for any who, after paying a large fee to the U.S. Treasury, would get a work permit and a job, their remittances — the life-saving money from Haiti’s diaspora which is its most important single source of revenue — would help ten times their number in Haiti.

A July 17, 2010 Boston Globe editorial called this the “most effective way” to show U.S. leadership on Haiti. And a March 22, 2010 Miami Herald editorial — the first of three by that paper urging this, the most recent of which appeared yesterday — asserted, “There is no valid argument for failing to move quickly on this front.” That was 22 months ago.

The United States has welcomed hundreds of thousands of Indochinese, Kosovar and Cuban refugees in recent decades, and there is even more direct precedent for creating this program for the Haitians.

In 2007, DHS created the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, under which since 2009 over 30,000 approved Cuban beneficiaries have been paroled. Many of the editorials now urging a similar Haitian program have decried the “double standard” in not also expediting Haitian family reunification, Los Angeles Times editors for example asking, “Why the disparate treatment?”

On November 2, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was urged by Massachusetts leaders, for the third time in six weeks, to create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program to “mirror” the Cuban one. That state’s 9-member black and Latino Legislative Caucus wrote:

We are deeply concerned about the precarious status of many Haitian children, elders and families as they wait in Haiti to be reunited with their families in the United States. As you know, for many, the conditions in Haiti since the devastating earthquake of 2010 remain unstable and even dangerous. Establishing a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (HFRPP), modeled after the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, would alleviate this crisis by simply allowing Haitians already approved for visas to wait for them in the United States with their families rather than in Haiti.

Their letter cited the proposed program’s “economic benefits,” including “sending more remittances home to Haiti to foster economic development with greater speed.”

Massachusetts Governor Patrick wrote urging Napolitano to do this on September 22, as did that state’s U.S. Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown and U.S. Representatives Michael Capuano, Barney Frank, Stephen Lynch, James McGovern, Edward Markey and John Oliver on October 25.

U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairperson Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, with three other Republicans and four Democrats including John Conyers and Howard Berman, urged her to do this back on March 8, 2010. And Ros-Lehtinen and still other Republicans were among the 87 U.S. Congresspersons including Senators Durbin, Cardin, Kerry and Gillibrand, fifteen representatives from New York and many others who on December 15, 2011 wrote President Obama urging him to instruct Secretary Napolitano to take this action.

But the White House has ignored these calls, as it has the 14 editorials by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express News, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Newsday, Star-Ledger, and Palm Beach Post editorial boards and resolutions by the City of North Miami, Philadelphia’s City Council, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Virtually every Congressional Black Caucus member signed the December 15 letter. But their appeal, like that of Haitian-American leaders who’ve implored the White House for two years to authorize this, has so far been unavailing.

In urging this low-cost step, the authors of “Migration as a Tool for Disaster Recovery: A Case Study on U.S. Policy Options for Post-Earthquake Haiti” (Center for Global Development, June 2011) noted:

Rather than waiting 3 to 10 years for a visa in Haiti, beneficiaries could be paroled into the United States where they can be reunited with family and have employment authorization.

The proposal has merit not only for the humanitarian purpose it would serve but also to enable Haitians to send more remittances home and foster economic development with greater speed.

Instituting a family reunification parole program for Haitians is simpler than it may appear, since it requires no congressional action.

The Cuban program’s rationale of saving lives at sea and proviing for orderly migration applies with equal force to Haiti.

No one would get a “green card” any sooner — like the Cubans, they’d just be able to wait for them here w/their families rather than in Haiti.

And yet another resolution urging the Administration to do this is before New York’s City Council today.

When will the White House instruct DHS Secretary Napolitano to create this program or at least start expeditiously paroling the most vulnerable of these DHS-approved, “legal” Haitians into the United States?

Two days after the earthquake, President Obama promised U.S. leadership to help Haiti. It will be promised again today. But platitudes ring hollow to tens of thousands of Haitian Americans still waiting to be reunited with their loved ones, who remain in danger despite having been approved for U.S. residency. It’s not too late for the administration to give Haitians equal treatment by expediting Haitian family reunification to save lives and help Haiti recover.

Since Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, the Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) has led efforts to persuade the White House to create a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.

Steve Forester is immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. If you’d like to join this effort, please contact the author at

See the two original posts, the second with many photos:

Contact IJDH

Institute for Justice & Democracy In Haiti
867 Boylston Street, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02116

Telephone: (857)-201-0991
General Inquiries:
Media Inquiries: