Help get equal treatment for Haitians

Haitian Americans and their supporters can play a vital role in helping perhaps 600,000 Haitians and Haitian Americans in Haiti and the United States by urging Massachusetts’ U.S. Senators Brown and Kerry to get the White House to instruct Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to end a glaring double standard which dishonors our community. Let us explain.

Before Haiti’s earthquake, DHS had approved the immigrant visa petitions of 55,000 Haitian beneficiaries who nevertheless today still languish in Haiti on a wait list, in danger from cholera, tent city conditions, hurricanes, and turmoil. They’re slated to stay there another four to eleven years, waiting for visa priority dates to become current, before eventually joining their families here – assuming that they survive the debilitating environment.

That is wrong, but there is something we can do about it. The age old Haitian motto tells us that “L’union fait la force,” which means that in our unity we can be extremly powerful. We can organize to urge our U.S. Senators to get the White House to bring them in (“parole” them) now.

Over the decades, the U.S. has paroled hundreds of thousands of Cuban, Indochinese, and Kosovar refugees. And just a few weeks ago, DHS renewed and extended a program it created in 2007 — the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program — which lets approved Cubans wait here rather than in Cuba!

The White House knows it makes sense to similarly parole the approved Haitians. If only half of them got jobs here, their remittances would support 300,000 quake victims back in Haiti, at no cost to the United States. This would be like a blood transfusion for Haiti.

According to a recent Boston Globe editorial, this would be “the most effective way” for the United States to show leadership in helping Haiti recover. And that’s what President Obama promised nearly a year ago, on January 14, just two days after the quake.

Support to promptly bring in the approved Haitians includes the editorial boards of the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, San Antonio Express News, Star-Ledger, Newsday, Boston Globe, and Miami Herald, which said on March 22, “There is no valid argument for failing to move quickly on this front.” That was over nine months ago!

Support includes a unanimous U.S. Conference of Mayors resolution, a March 12 letter to Secretary Napolitano from 75 organizations, a March 8 letter to her from four Republicans and four Democrats including incoming House Foreign Affairs Chairperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and chairpersons Howard Berman, John Conyers, and Zoe Lofgren.

Doing this requires no congressional action, only a White House instruction to Secretary Napolitano. It costs nothing. It would give equal treatment. It would help Haiti recover. It would remove them from harm’s way. It would free up resources and create new ones. It would make the 55,000 part of the solution, not part of the problem.

As the World Bank reported on May 17, 2010 “Haiti Remittances Are Key to Earthquake Recovery.” Ten days after the quake, Republican Elliot Abrams urged increasing legal immigration to help Haiti recover in his Washington Post opinion piece. So there’s broad support.

Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown should strongly and forcefully urge President Obama to instruct Secretary Napolitano to promptly parole the approved Haitians. They should do so privately or publicly, but vociferously and urgently. A letter or expressions of sympathy won’t be enough..

But they won’t act unless you — their constitutents, including nearly 100,000 Haitians – strongly urge them to do so.

Let’s organize to achieve this goal, which will help Haiti, the 55,000 Haitians, hundreds of thousands of worried-sick relatives here, and hundreds of thousands of loved ones in Haiti who would regularly get their life-saving remittances, if they were simply accorded the same treatment which DHS a few weeks ago renewed for the Cubans!

As Los Angeles Times editors said in July, citing the ongoing Cuban program,“Why the disparate treatment?”

Help get “Simple Equal Treatment for Haitians” – SETH! If you are interested in joining this effort, we’ll urge you to write e-mails, make phone calls, sign petitions, and attend meetings at the offices of Senators Kerry and Brown. But let’s get this done. We hope you will contact us to finally bring in the 55,000 approved Haitian beneficiaries.

Steven Forester coordinates immigration policy at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti [IJDH] and can be reached at and 786 877 6999). James Dessin is a student at Harvard and an immigration policy intern at IJDH and can be reached at and 617 682-0192.