Advocates Push DHS for Action as Situation in Haiti Remains Dire

Posted on Tue, May 11, 2010 at 14:37 pm

(Washington, DC) – HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, in partnership with members of the Haitian Diaspora and other immigrant rights advocacy organizations, met Monday afternoon with Department of Homeland Security and White House staff to push for more action on Haiti. While the U.S. government has responded to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti by offering Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians residing in the United States as of the date of the earthquake, advocates are seeking increased efforts to reunite families.

At the meeting, 30 individuals from the Haitian Diaspora and the advocacy community met with high level officials to discuss immigration and reconstruction related concerns. They came prepared with a letter sent to Secretary Napolitano on March 12 that listed several migration related requests.

Currently at least 55,000 Haitians have been approved for family visas but remain on waiting lists that may take many years to clear. According to Melanie Nezer, Senior Director, US Programs and Advocacy at HIAS, “The U.S. could replicate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program created by George W. Bush’s administration. This program allows Cubans with approved visa petitions to come to the U.S. while they wait for a visa to become available, rather than wait in Cuba. This policy solution has been introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and has bipartisan support. However, DHS can make this change without waiting for Congress to act.”

In addition to advocating for parole for Haitians with approved visa petitions, advocates suggested that DHS grant humanitarian parole to immediate family members of Haitians with TPS. Advocates also called on DHS to make sure that Haitians who arrive by sea have a chance to demonstrate they are asylum seekers entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention.

Advocates at Monday’s meeting also discussed ways to improve the ongoing reconstruction efforts in Haiti to create new employment opportunities and decrease pressure on Haitians to migrate to the U.S. Haitian advocates at the meeting stressed that their friends and family would stay in Haiti if they could find work there.

Gideon Aronoff, HIAS’ President and CEO, recently said, “HIAS has been actively engaged in advocating that Congress and the Administration implement fair and humane immigration policies for Haitians in the aftermath of the January earthquake. The purpose of our work bridging the advocacy community with the Haitian Diaspora is to identify advocacy priorities and build links to strengthen advocacy efforts. The Jewish Diaspora feels a strong connection with the Haitian Diaspora and will advocate for families to reunify because it is our core value as Jews and as Americans.”

Advocates hope yesterday’s meeting will encourage further action by the Department of Homeland Security.