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The catch to a new U.S. immigration program seeking to help Haitians

Haiti Visa Program
Odelyn Joseph
/
AP
Haitians line up outside an immigration office as they wait their turns to apply for a passport, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

Families across South Florida are preparing to help relatives get here legally, after President Biden announced an immigration parole program for migrants and asylum seekers.

The scheme, which requires U.S.-based sponsors, allows up to 30,000 people a month to enter the United States from four countries: Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

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But while many welcomed the move, Haitian-American Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick — who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties — says implementing the program in Haiti is nearly impossible.

And Haitian families in South Florida, many who are already dealing with the financial responsibility of family members here, are trying to find other American sponsors to help support relatives.

Cherfilus-McCormick, the first Haitian-American Democrat to be elected to Congress, told WLRN she fears the short and long-term effects of this policy.

“I think it's a step in the right direction. However, it doesn't encompass everything that we need to be going on to be fair to the migrants, especially to people seeking asylum,” said Cherfilus-McCormick, who's been quite vocal about present and historical impact of U.S. foreign policies in Haiti.

Haiti’s Senate, the nation's last remaining democratically-elected institution, recently expired because the country hasn’t held elections since 2019. Now not a single lawmaker is left.

The lack of a functioning political and economic infrastructure in the capital, Port-au-Prince, Cherfilus-McCormick says, makes it difficult for people to process visas, passports, and other necessary paperwork.

It also breeds a black market, “coupled with the gangs that are limiting and blocking off certain roads so you can go get your papers,” she added.

“Now, we see that there's a rise of people who are peddling passports and trying to charge people more money to get these legal documents.”

People selected into the program are allowed to work for two years if they have an eligible sponsor in the U.S.

But Homeland Security has warned that Haitians and Cubans will be sent back to their home country if they attempt to enter the U.S. illegally - part of a carrot and stick policy approach aiming to deter migrants from illegally crossing the U.S. southern border.

Some officials at the Homeland Security Department say they’ve already seen a reduction of Venezuelans at the border. Cherfilus-McCormick says she understands the idea behind it.

“Well, I believe that was the hope of it, is to ensure that instead of people giving their money to coyotes to smuggle them across, taking the dangerous trip across the water. The hope is that they can actually apply for parole at home to come into the country,” Cherfilus-McCormick said.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick Wins Primary 2022
Wilkine Brutus
/
WLRN
Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick arrives to her watch party in Broward after winning reelection to Florida's 20th Congressional District seat

Cherfilus-McCormick said she and the Congressional Black Caucus met with Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to address concerns, such as adding Haitian creole or French on the application app and racial challenges that comes with finding an American sponsor.

“That's going to be very difficult because traditionally we've taken in more non Afro-Latino Cubans into the United States,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “So for the ones who are hitting the shores and coming to our borders, I think it is going to be difficult to find a sponsor.”

She suggests allowing for more organizations and churches to be financial sponsors to “equalize the playing field.”

She has led nearly a dozen lawmakers today in a letter to the Biden administration to urge officials to re-consider the continued use of Title 42 and the effects the parole program will have on asylum seekers.

Family trying to escape the turmoil in Haiti

AUDIO: Some Haitian families already deal with financial responsibility of sponsoring relatives.mp3

Haitians such as Wilmarc Jean are trying to pull his resources together to sponsor his wife and four-year-old daughter who want to escape the seemingly endless political, economic turmoil in Haiti.

Wimarc says his wife is depressed because she’s raising their daughter alone and the separation is hard for the entire family.

“My daughter thinks of me often and is always asking me, 'Dad, I want to see you,'” he said. “She feels that my presence is very important for her and that she’s looking forward to when we can be together because it’s very difficult for us not being in the same place.”

Wilmarc is a college-educated author and radio operator who also works in the cruise line industry in Miami. He’s on Temporary Protected Status after arriving two years ago with a visa.

Now, he helps support his younger brother, Gilbert Jean, who had a more difficult journey here. Gilbert traveled through ten countries and faced organized gangs in 2021 while trekking through the infamous Darién Gap, a jungle between Panama and Colombia.

“They stole my phone. They stole my money. They beat my head with the butt of a gun,” Gilbert said. “I went through a lot of suffering. The most important thing for me was to arrive at the border.”

After arriving at the southern border, Gilbert was detained for two months before reuniting with his brother.  

Wilmarc says he’s in contact with his wife and daughter often as they apply for Biden’s new humanitarian parole program.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.