By Latoya Burgess, The Miami Times
Urge Obama to support reunification program
North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre and Haitian-American leader Marleine Bastien joined members of a national, non-partisan, Haitian coalition at a recent press conference to encourage the Obama Administration to implement the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program.
The National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON), a group that works towards immigration reform and improving relations between the U.S. and Haiti, addressed the media on May 24th at North Miami City Hall. The group hopes to encourage President Barack Obama to push forward with a Haitian reunification program that would mimic the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program.
“President Obama approved the Cuban Family Reunification Parole for Cubans,” said Marleine Bastien of Haitian
Women of Miami. “He has refused to give Haitians equal treatment. Haitians voted en masse for President Obama. They really thought that the long-standing discrimination would end with his administration; we’re sad to report the contrary.”
Haitians vow to keep up the pressure
In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security launched the Cuban Family Reunification Program. The program offers local Cuban citizens or residents with family-based immigrant visa petitions to give their beneficiary family members in Cuba a chance to come to the U.S. While Homeland Security has approved 112,000 beneficiaries of family-based visa petitions in Haiti they still remain on a waiting list — and in Haiti.
Joseph Champagne, mayor of South Toms River, New Jersey and the chairman of NHAEON, said he will continue to fight for the cause.
“As long as Haitians and Haitian Americans unite and continue to exert pressure on the Obama Administration, I am very optimistic,” he said. “At some point the President and his representatives will have to at least give an honorable mention and ultimately provide the reunification program. We won’t let go of this issue until someone says ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ We want someone to dignify us with a response.”
Pierre says he hopes to see more supporters willing to contact the President and urge him to aide his fellow Haitians — many of whom have yet to recover from the massive earthquake in 2010.
“I truly believe that a grant of family reunification will benefit both the U.S and Haiti,” Pierre said. “To begin with, it would allow for greater remittances to be sent to aid Haiti’s recovery. Secondly, there will be no risk of maritime migration to the U.S.”
Champagne said he has drafted letters and forwarded them to members of the Obama Administration requesting them to address the reunification program and to minimize the deportation of Haitians. He said he has yet to get a response.
According to the latest census in 2008, there are 546,000 foreign-born Haitians in the U.S. Forty-eight percent of them are naturalized citizens. Between 2000 and 2008, close to 200,000 Haitians were given permanent residence or green cards. These numbers exclude guest workers and foreign students.
Florida is one of the top states for Haitian-immigrant settlement at 251,963 Haitians or 46 percent. Other states following behind include: New York, 25 percent; New Jersey, 8 percent; Massachusetts, 7 percent; and Georgia and Maryland, both 2 percent.