The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision last week to resume deportations of noncriminal Haitians, disingenuously citing improved conditions despite political and economic turmoil and an unchecked cholera epidemic, is inhumane, ill-advised, and shocking to the Haitian-American community. It may rip families apart and curtail life-saving remittances to Haiti.
DHS should immediately reverse it.
It evokes another administration failure that any presidential candidate seeking Haitian-American votes should address. That is DHS’ failure to significantly expand the Haitian Family Reunification Program (HFRP), announced in October 2014 as a way to promote orderly outflow and to help Haiti recover by generating additional remittances.
We fought nearly five years for its creation. What was created was so arbitrarily limited that as of Jun. 30, only 1,952 HFRP beneficiaries had been approved, mocking administration goals and promises. In contrast, more than 100,000 have arrived under DHS’s excellent and recently reinstated Cuban Family Reunification Program.
Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake led to bipartisan calls to create the HFRP to more quickly bring in beneficiaries on wait lists of up to 13 years whom DHS already had approved. We said that it would decrease desperation, save lives, expeditiously reunite families and speed recovery in Haiti at little or no cost to the U.S. taxpayer by generating a significant additional flow of remittances back home.
But eligibility was arbitrarily and inexplicably limited to petitioners whose beneficiaries were within two years of getting their visas anyway. Of about 100,000 on the approved wait list, DHS thought it would interview 5,000 persons per year; but as of Jun. 30, 2016, although beneficiaries three years out are now eligible, fewer than 2,000 had been approved.
This is senseless. Thousands of approved beneficiaries further back on the wait list could be working and sending desperately needed remittances back home. That was the goal in creating the program. Why can the United States properly and generously bring in more than 100,000 Cubans but only a handful of black Haitians?
The eligibility restriction is also a financial “double whammy”: In addition to HFRP’s significant application fees and related costs, each beneficiary also has to pay a hefty $1,070 fee to “adjust their status” to legal permanent residence once their visa becomes available, i.e. within three years or less. This has made HFRP prohibitively expensive for many.
But if a beneficiary six years out on the wait list, for example, were eligible under HFRP, he or she could be earning and saving and would be much more able to afford the $1,070 adjustment fee in the sixth year. (Cubans avoid paying the adjustment fee altogether under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, a significant advantage.)
The Obama administration has failed the Haitian community in at least two important ways. DHS’ recent resumption of Haiti removals, claiming improved conditions, is wrong and tone-deaf. And its much-heralded Haitian Family Reunification Program needs to be expanded to include every DHS-approved beneficiary on the wait list.
Any presidential candidate who wants the votes of Haitian Americans in November should promise to immediately reinstate the halt of deportations to Haiti and to broadly expand the Haitian Family Reunification Program, now a mere shadow of its Cuban namesake. Fairness, the community’s trust and Haitian lives and families are at stake.
Marleine Bastien is executive director of Haitian Women of Miami. Steven Forester is immigration policy coordinator for the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. This op-ed was first published in the Miami Herald.