How the United States can bring Haitian families back together
By Congressman Alcee L. Hastings
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced that it will implement a Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (HFRPP) beginning in early 2015. Under the HFRPP, certain Haitian individuals will be permitted to come to the United States up to two years before their immigrant visa priority dates become current. As a Member of Congress, I have long supported and called for such a program to be created, and applaud the Administration’s action on this critical matter. The HFRPP will not only reunify hundreds of families and provide them with increased opportunities for success, but will also save lives, accelerate Haiti’s recovery efforts following the devastating 2010 earthquake, and help to bolster the island nation’s fragile economy.
For countless people throughout the world, the United States remains a shining beacon of opportunity and an enduring symbol of hope. And each year, some Haitians risk their lives – often at the mercy of smugglers – to cross the notoriously treacherous 80-mile-wide Mona Passage strait toward Puerto Rico and eventually reach our shores. Tragically, many do not make it. Still others have navigated the increasingly tighter U.S. immigration process and succeeded with the help of their family members who are already living here. However, due to annual caps, more than 100,000 Haitians with approved family-based petitions remain on waiting lists of up to more than 12 years in Haiti.
The number of Haitian refugees seeking a better life in America skyrocketed after the catastrophic 7.0 earthquake of January 12, 2010 completely devastated the island, killing over 200,000 Haitians. More than four years later, approximately 150,000 Haitians still live in appalling conditions in tent camps or temporary plastic and plywood structures that make up the growing communities outside of Port-au-Prince. Many have no water, electricity, or hope that their government will help them.
Sadly, the United States’ record on helping Haitians has been a mixed one. As a Federal District Judge in Florida in the 1980s, I presided over a case that resulted in the suspension of deportation hearings for several hundred Haitians who were detained, some argued purposefully, in locations where they could not obtain legal representation. As part of a separate case, I also ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to issue 22,000 work permits to Haitian immigrants within 60 days, a proposition at which INS initially balked, but ultimately complied with. Federal Court rulings that favored Haitian immigrants were, at best, scarce and, at worst, nonexistent prior to my decisions. My concern for, and dedication to, our Haitian friends only deepened when I was elected to Congress. Over the years, I have proudly sponsored legislation that would stop the interdiction and return of Haitian refugees, and have supported the commitment of economic and peacekeeping assistance to Haiti.
On May 30, 2014, I was proud to send along with Rep. Mario Diaz-Ba-lart and 61 other Members of Congress a letter to President Obama urging him to direct DHS to create a HFRPP, which will not only reunite families, but help grow Haiti’s economy in the form of remittance payments and promote safe and legal migration from Haiti to the United States.
Creating the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program was the right decision, and its time long overdue. But it is not too late to help those still in need. It is my sincere hope that the Program will be expanded, so that all Haitians with approved petitions may join their families in the United States as soon as possible.
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings represents Florida’s 20th Congressional district and serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.