By Manolia Charlotin, Haitian Times
Two and a half years after one of the most deadly natural disasters in this hemisphere’s modern history, thousands of survivors await the indefensible glacial pace of the United States’ immigration bureaucracy. 16,000 Haitian children and spouses (from a total of 105,000) are beneficiaries of approved family-based visa petitions — which means they are eligible to enter the United States legally. They haven’t been able to do so because the Obama administration has yet to exercise parole authority to expedite the process to reunify families. Scores of legislators, government officials, development institutions, human rights groups, immigration lawyers and social services providers, on the national and local level, have called on President Obama to act on this common sense approach to support Haiti’s recovery.
Such a program already exists for other eligible immigrants. In 2007, President George W. Bush established a Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, which provides a safe entry channel for families and enables capacity to work in order to support others back home.
Though the Obama administration has yet to move on this pressing issue, the recent shift in overall immigration law enforcement signals a reason for cautious optimism, as it provides a teachable moment for the Haitian community.
Last month, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security will exercise discretion to halt deportations of immigrant youth under the age of 30 who are eligible for deferred action. This discretionary protection from removal was done through a memo from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, addressed to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It essentially doubles down on Obama’s immigration enforcement priority — to prosecute and deport immigrants who have committed serious crimes.
Though the timing of this shift has been criticized as a politically expedient move to attract Latino voters — that reposition and the criticism it attracted — illustrates the political influence of the immigration reformers. This influence is earned through decades of coordination, community-based organizing and leveraging top-brass resources. This is the kind of long-view approach the Haitian community (and its allies) needs to master in order to compel this President — and any other political leader — to act on issues that are a priority for us.
As November approaches, had the community been organized, an estimated 650,000 Haitians could have played a pivotal role in a key swing state: Florida. Political priorities align when elections are at stake.