Advocacy Groups Urge Improved Immigration Options for Haitians

Posted on Thu, Feb 04, 2010 at 15:32 pm

(Washington, DC) – Immigration advocates today called for the U.S. government to expand its immigration options for Haitians affected by the devastating earthquake in January. At a congressional briefing and press conference sponsored by a wide coalition of faith-based and non-sectarian organizations, activists urged the U.S. to take additional steps to accommodate migrants and potential migrants from Haiti by ensuring access to asylum screenings for those with protection concerns interdicted at sea and by extending humanitarian parole to those waiting in the family visa backlog.

Since the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken several actions to improve U.S. migration for Haitians, including granting temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians currently in the U.S., granting humanitarian parole for Haitian orphans, and expedited processing of immigrant visa petitions for Haitians with family members in the U.S.

Mark Hetfield, Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, stressed appreciation for what the Administration has already accomplished, but stated that more needs to be done.

Hetfield said: “We still have memories of the St. Louis, where a boatload of European Jews trying to escape the Nazis were forced to return to Europe after being denied entry to Cuba and the United States. Back then, there was no Refugee Convention, but now the U.S. claims it doesn't apply at sea. The United States should lead by example in upholding international refugee law - not in inventing loopholes to turn refugees away. The U.S. should provide legal migration opportunities to Haitian victims of the earthquake to prevent a boat exodus, but should remember the St. Louis and not return any boat migrants without a proper asylum screening.”

According to Eleanor Acer, Director of the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First, “U.S. policies for interdicting migrants at sea have long been flawed – and they are particularly flawed for Haitians. The U.S. should revise these flawed policies and create effective and non-discriminatory standards that will ensure this country lives up to its human rights commitments.”
Leslie E. Vélez, Director for Access to Justice at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said, “Humanitarian parole would allow these individuals to wait in the U.S. with their U.S. family, pending the availability of their family visa. Such use of humanitarian parole could be exercised on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security, without further legislation.”

Stephan Bauman, Senior Vice President of Programs at World Relief, summarized by saying: “Consistent, fair immigration policies towards Haiti are part of a holistic approach to rebuilding Haiti, which not only includes relief and development programs on the ground but also the ability for Haitian families to be reunited as quickly as possible in the U.S.”

Today’s congressional briefing and press conference was one of many steps advocates will take to educate policymakers about the need to do more for desperate Haitians. Advocates are hoping to see legislation introduced shortly in the House and Senate, but are focusing on building momentum to ask the Department of Homeland Security to take these much needed actions.