Of Note: Advocating for Haitian Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Posted by Gideon Aronoff on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 16:34 pm

As we watch the heartbreaking coverage of total devastation in Haiti, we are moved as individuals – and as a community – to send comfort and support to the people of Haiti. For all of us at HIAS, it has been a great privilege this week to work with so many of you, our partners in the refugee protection community, and the U.S. government to help desperate Haitians in the U.S. and in Haiti. In this short note I wanted to share how HIAS, as the American Jewish community's international migration agency, has been able to utilize its decades of experience in immigration and advocacy to represent our community in confronting the array of immigration issues arising from the earthquake.

For many decades, HIAS has been an advocate for the fair treatment of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers who have reached our shores, and in the wake of this humanitarian crisis HIAS was among the first national organizations to publicly urge that Haitians in the United States be provided with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The campaign was successful, and TPS now will enable as many as 200,000 Haitians to remain in the United States to work while Haiti rebuilds, which – according to one World Bank expert – will bring an additional $360 million in remittances to Haiti. HIAS also is keeping its national Jewish network of local resettlement and immigration service agencies advised on how to assist Haitians applying for TPS by ensuring that interested Jewish communities have access to free trainings on preparation of TPS applications.

At the urging of several key Jewish community partners, HIAS also became engaged in advocating with the government to expedite processing for Haitian orphans already in the pipeline for adoption by parents in the U.S. There has been significant progress – the first group of 53 orphans was airlifted to Pittsburgh on January 19, and more are in process. HIAS continues to engage in discussions with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on this issue. If you are aware of local agencies or individuals involved with adoptions from Haiti who are in need of assistance, please let us know and we will be pleased to help wherever possible.

Throughout, HIAS has been working in conjunction with an inter-faith coalition of agencies and the U.S. government, which is eager to be responsive to the human suffering so close to our shores. Through HIAS, the Jewish community has had a strong voice at the table, offering technical advice, constructive criticism of government policy – and a message that the Jewish community deeply cares about humanitarian relief efforts to help the Haitian community out of this tragic period.

Now, HIAS has turned its attention to urging the Administration to reverse longstanding U.S. policy and start ensuring that Haitian asylum seekers interdicted at sea receive the protections to which they are entitled under the Refugee Convention. HIAS is sensitive to the issues confronting Haitian boat people; we still remember the specter of Jews aboard the Saint Louis being turned away from the United States in 1939 after being barred from disembarking in Cuba. HIAS vigorously and publicly renews its plea that the U.S. government abandon its policy of declaring that asylum seekers at sea are not protected by the Refugee Convention.

The days and months ahead will be difficult not only for those who remain in Haiti, but for their relatives living in the U.S. We want to assure you that HIAS is available to consult with the American Jewish community and local federations and federation-supported agencies to advise on how local communities can provide immigration support to the Haitian community in the United States. Interested communities should contact Alla Shagalova or Igor Chubaryov at 212-967-4100.

As always, HIAS is eager to be of assistance on these, or any other issues of concern to refugees, immigrants and other newcomers, and looks forward to continuing our common work to welcome the stranger in our communities and protect persecuted refugees around the world.
 

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