Haitian migrants seeking asylum in the United States wait at El Chaparral border crossing in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, Oct. 7, 2016.
Imprisoned immigrants are seen at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, Calif., Sept. 6, 2016.
A New Approach
Before the U.S. election, Haitian representatives had focused their advocacy efforts on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In October, 51 organizations and individuals in Florida – home to hundreds of thousands of Haitian Americans – wrote Clinton a letter urging several policy changes to alleviate the plight of displaced Haitians. They called for the re-designation of Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, updating the eligibility date so that people who are currently displaced would still qualify for parole for humanitarian reasons, rather than face deportation. They also argued for an expansion of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program (HFRP) to make it easier for Haitians to join their families in the U.S. Modeled on a similar program for Cubans, the HFRP makes roughly 100,000 Haitians on immigration wait-lists eligible for accelerated processing. But since the program’s enactment in 2015, fewer than 2,000 people have taken advantage of it. Forester said this is due to “prohibitive” costs, as well as eligibility being limited to people who are two to three years away from receiving visas. The Florida letter also called for the release of Haitians currently in detention, as well as an end to the policy of detaining Haitians who present themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. Christian Ramirez, human rights director of Alliance San Diego, an organization involved in the aid effort for Haitians on the U.S. southern border, argues that in the long term the U.S. needs updated policies – rather than increased border enforcement – to address the realities of 21st-century human mobility. “It is a problem of continental proportions, quite literally,” he said of the Haitian crisis. “This is a population displaced for nearly a decade throughout the hemisphere. They do not squarely fit the categories of asylum seekers or refugees or economic migrants.”
Many advocates had their hopes for a new approach to Haitian displacement dashed by the election of Donald Trump. “The president-elect has not been shy about making his stance on policies with regard to asylum seekers, refugees and displaced peoples, and we should all be very troubled,” Ramirez said. Haitian representatives are now pushing for Obama to implement their policy recommendations and stop deportations before his term ends in January. Even if the policies are immediately rolled back, this would give advocates a basis upon which to challenge Trump’s policies. “If deportations continue, no one will be able to blame Trump,” said Forester. “But if Obama does the right thing and stops these deportations – given that they are unsafe and inappropriate – and if Trump were to start them again, then the onus would be on his administration.” Meanwhile, community volunteers aiding Haitians in the U.S. expect people to continue to make the long and dangerous journey to America. Their numbers will depend on “how desperate people are,” said Sam Jean-Francois, a Haitian-American volunteer working with displaced Haitians in the San Diego area. “I can see people still trying to make the trek. It’s not easy – and they still thought it was preferable to staying.” Ramirez points to San Diego’s United Methodist Church, which has temporarily housed many Haitians during the spike in arrivals in recent months, as an example of American values and generosity. “If a church was able to open its doors, I’m sure that our government has the resources – as a matter of policy – to ensure that those who are coming to our country in desperate need are able to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “Shutting our doors should not be an option.”