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WLRN News evaluates a key plank of the Biden administration's immigration agenda — one year later.

'I'm going to pinch to help them': The Biden parole program from a sponsor's perspective

Illustration by Camila Kerwin

Paulette Francois has two homes and constantly feels torn between them.

One is in Palm Beach County, where she has lived since 1981, when she arrived from Jérémie, Haiti, after a perilous journey on an unseaworthy vessel. The other is in her home country, where her family lives under political instability and the constant threat of gang violence. Their suffering is never far from her mind.

"It's like you're living a double life," Francois said.

Since Francois immigrated to the U.S. 42 years ago, she has brought a dozen family members here — including her two nephews who arrived recently through the Biden administration's humanitarian parole program for Haitians. Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans also are eligible.

Nearly 250,000 people have arrived in the U.S. through the program since last October, and many of them are settling here in South Florida, as WLRN has reported in our Waiting for America series.

READ MORE: 'Like a kidnapping ransom': Passport scammers exploit Haitian parole applicants

"My sister, their mom, was so overjoyed that they're with me, because she feels safe. It was their dream to come live with Auntie," Francois said. "Because of the kidnappings and all that's going on in Haiti, their safety was my first priority. Whatever I have to pinch to help them with, I'm going to pinch to help them. Because if I was in my sister's position, I would want her to try to help me save my kids, to put my children to safety."

Paulette Francois
Courtesy of Wilkine Brutus
Paulette Francois has brought a dozen family members to South Florida from Haiti, including her two nephews who arrived recently through the Biden's parole program.

One of Francois' children is our Palm Beach County reporter Wilkine Brutus.

WLRN's All Things Considered anchor Catalina Garcia also has family members involved with the program.

The fact that our team includes two people affected by the program goes to show how many lives it has touched in our community.

"It was just taking too long," Garcia said. Her brother is sponsoring six of their cousins. Five of them left Cuba and moved to Ecuador where they waited for their applications to be considered. The sixth remained in Cuba. As WLRN has reported, the last year has been a time of anxiety for people who are applying for the program and their families, as they wait in some cases almost a year for an answer.

READ MORE: Migrants from some countries wait months for employment permit — while others can work right away

Garcia said when the program first got going, she heard stories of people arriving quickly.

"So [my family members] packed their bags and they were ready to go," Garcia said. "And days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. And then here we were eight months later, and nothing."

Garcia said she called the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office weekly to try to get answers but she always got the same response: the case is being processed. Feeling like time was running out because her family had decided to cross the border, she reached out to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, both Cuban-American Republicans from South Florida.

Catalina Garcia and her recently arrived relatives enjoying a weekend together.
Catalina Garcia and her recently arrived relatives enjoying a weekend together.

"I sent them a package of what's going on. I sent them news clippings about the situation in Ecuador. My cousin is a surgeon. He's a doctor. Surgeons were being kidnapped. Hospitals were being bombed. So I sent them that information. I had him write a personal letter, and I just did everything that I could possibly think of," Garcia said.

"And I can't say … that it worked. But I can tell you that two weeks later, they were here," she said.

In this special episode of the South Florida Roundup, we hear reflections from Francois and Garcia and dig deeper into the WLRN series Waiting for America. It's available in English and Spanish, with select stories in Haitian Creole.

South Florida Roundup host Tim Padgett and reporters Danny Rivero and Verónica Zaragovia discussed the series in Spanish in a special livestream conversation on YouTube and Facebook Live.

Watch and share that video here:

The stakes are high for migrants desperate to escape Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela — and for President Biden's re-election campaign. In the WLRN News series Waiting for America, we take a deep look at a humanitarian parole program for people from crisis-torn countries in Latin America and the Caribbean — a key Biden administration immigration policy — one year later.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
Helen Acevedo, a freelance producer, is a grad student at Florida International University studying Spanish-language journalism, a bilingual program focused on telling the stories of diverse communities.
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