Expedited Haitian Family Reunification Program praised by officials
Elected officials and community leaders gathered Thursday afternoon to praise a new program that will expedite the reunification of Haitian families in the United States.
Councilmember Mathieu Eugene hosted a press conference at 250 Broadway in lower Manhattan to honor the Haitian Family Reunification Parole (HFRP) Program, which will be implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in early 2015. The HFRP Program will enable U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expedite the reunification of Haitian families, hastening the visa petitions of certain eligible Haitian relatives of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.
“I know that this opportunity will save lives and reunite family members who have been separated for far too long,” Eugene said. “Without this program, many Haitian families have been separated for five, 10 and even sometimes 15 years as they waited for visas to reunite them with loved ones.”
Eugene was joined at the press conference by elected officials at the federal, state and city level, including Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo and Jumaane Williams, along with U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke. Also on hand for the press conference were a host of immigration advocates and community leaders, including New York Legal Assistance Group, Brooklyn Defender Services, Haitian Centers Council, Jewish Community Relations Council, African Services Committee, Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, The Black Institute, Council of Peoples Organization, Black Institute For Justice, Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island and St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church.
“It has been nearly five years since thousands of Haitian families were torn apart by the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti,” Weinstein said. “The HFRP will rebuild families, and I commend the federal government for hearing our many voices in support.”
“After several years of crisis in our nation’s immigration system, it’s wonderful to know that we are at the point where this parole program will be enacted,” Clarke said. “Finally, the families who were separated from their loved ones — the parents who were separated from their children — will have the opportunity to enter the United States, be reunited with their families and start their pursuit of the American dream.”
Clarke, whose parents came to the U.S. from Jamaica and whose district includes a large population of Caribbean immigrants, mentioned her previous efforts to pass the Haitian Emergency Life Protection Act, which would have allowed some 55,000 distressed Haitians to join their relatives in the U.S. after the 2010 earthquake in a model similar to measures passed for refugees from Cuba, Kosovo and Southeast Asia. Though that measure failed to pass, Clarke said it provided a model (and push) for the subsequent parole program they were now gathered to celebrate.
“The continued failure of the Republican majority in Congress to enact, or even to debate comprehensive immigration reform continues to separate families,” Clarke added. “I’m hopeful that this program will form the basis for a broader policy that will allow families from around the world to avoid unnecessary delays in uniting here in the United States.”
Two residents of Brooklyn who will benefit from the program also spoke at the event.
“I’ve filed on behalf of my children in 2006, and I’m still waiting for a decision,” said Gerard Paul Filche, who teared up as his words were communicated to the audience through a French translator. “Through the process, we’ve been going through a lot of difficulties. I support the program 100 percent, I’m so excited. If I could see my children tomorrow, I can’t even explain how it would feel to be united with them.”
Brooklyn resident Jean Alexandre recounted his struggles with the application process and advised that he is still waiting for an answer, but that he was thankful for Eugene’s efforts.
Eugene has long been at the forefront advocating for the implementation of an HFRP Program. Under his leadership, the New York City Council overwhelmingly passed Res. 1069-2011, a resolution calling upon the Department of Homeland Security to create a HFRP Program, which would assist Haitians recovering from the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake by allowing Haitians with approved family-sponsored immigrant visa petitions entry in to the United States. Following the passage of the resolution, Eugene spearheaded a petition drive urging President Barack Obama and the secretary of Homeland Security to establish a Haitian family reunification program.
Diverse members of the community also appeared to express their solidarity with the efforts of fellow Brooklyn residents. Mohammed Razvi mentioned how his Council of Peoples Organization serves many Muslim residents but lately has been serving many Haitians, and is happy to do so. Rabbi Moshe Wiener of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island said it was a pleasure and privilege to join in the celebration, describing Eugene as not only the champion of Haitian immigrants, but of all Brooklyn residents who are in need.
Beginning in early 2015, the USCIS will offer eligible beneficiaries of previously approved family-based immigrant visa petitions who are currently in Haiti an opportunity to come to the United States two years before their immigrant visa priority dates are due.
Families who are eligible will receive written notice from the National Visa Center. Also with the HFRP Program, Haitians authorized parole will be allowed to enter the United States and apply for work permits but will not receive permanent resident status any earlier. USCIS is not accepting applications to HFRP at this time and plans to provide full program details before the end of this year.
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