Haitians in the United States feel compelled to sponsor friends and family back home

By Brian Ellsworth

(Reuters) – Haitians in the United States face enormous pressure to help family and friends under a U.S. migration program announced this month that could help some people escape escalating violence in Haiti, but which is also straining the country’s diaspora.

Giubert St Fort, a South Florida resident from Haiti, said he was inundated with calls almost immediately after the Biden administration said Jan. 5 it was opening a new legal avenue for migrants from four countries, including Haiti which had American sponsors.

“Things are very tense because everyone is waiting for a call from someone,” said St Fort, 59, a social worker who already sponsors family members.

“A lot of people are unfortunately not able to sponsor family members or friends back home, but they get calls all the time.”

Haitians living in the United States, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, say they are wanted by everyone from immediate family members to distant acquaintances or neighbors they have not spoken with for years, said community advocates and immigration lawyers.

The desperation to leave has grown in Haiti amid a political crisis and a spike in violence that recently included a wave of police killings, sparking protests from angry officers who attacked the Prime Minister’s residence. Acting Minister Ariel Henry.

US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has struggled with record numbers of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, including the arrival of more than 10,000 Haitians in South Texas in September 2021. Many asylum seekers sent back to Haiti or quickly deported, despite objections from human rights groups and a career U.S. diplomat who said it was “inhumane”.

In response, Biden expanded pandemic-era restrictions put in place by his Republican predecessor, former President Donald Trump, to rapidly deport migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to Mexico. . At the same time, his administration opened up the possibility for up to 30,000 migrants from those same countries to enter by air per month by applying for humanitarian “conditional release”.


The parole program aims to encourage migrants to make it safely to the United States instead of braving boats or grueling overland journeys through Central America to the border. US officials say illegal crossings by the four nationalities have already dropped dramatically.

A senior administration official said last week that about 1,700 people from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua have arrived in the United States under the program in recent weeks, and thousands more have arrived. been approved to travel.

But finding willing sponsors is proving difficult for many Haitians, as many immigrants already in the United States fear they won’t be able to provide for others with the rising cost of living and soaring rents, officials said. lawyers and lawyers.

Tammy Rae, an American lawyer who works in Haiti, gave a radio interview to describe the humanitarian parole program and was later inundated with calls from people looking for a sponsor.

She said her clients have described being expected to sponsor entire extended families and, in some cases, face threats.

“It’s true that this is a program that will unite families,” Rae said. “I would say it’s also a program that will put undue stress on families and cause family divisions.”

The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, did not respond to a request for comment.

Guerline Jozef, executive director of the nonprofit immigration advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance, which helps Haitians find sponsors, described the dilemma.

“People will say ‘I have more than one cousin I would like to sponsor, I can only sponsor one,'” Jozef said. “And that creates a major problem because how do you choose which one to sponsor?” She also opposes deportations of Haitians and other migrants arriving at the southwestern border, many of whom are seeking U.S. asylum.

Jozef said immigrant advocates have long fought for measures such as humanitarian parole, but said the program should not be tied to the systematic deportation or deportation of asylum-seeking immigrants.

“Unfortunately, it’s associated with a lot of bad policies. It’s used to literally deter people from seeking protection at the US-Mexico border.”

(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington DC; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Aurora Ellis)

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