Reuniting Haitians

Councilman Jumaane Williams.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Councilman Jumaane D. Williams has joined other Caribbean politicians in the United States in welcoming the reunification of Haitian families in the U.S.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced recently that it will implement the Haitian Family Reunification Parole (HFRP) program that allows legal immigration of Haitians, who are eligible and have approved family-based immigrant visa petitions, to enter the U.S. up to two years before their visa priority start date.

The program’s goal is to expedite the reunification process for those living in Haiti with family members that are based in America, and is expected to be launched in 2015.

Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, commended the Department of Homeland Security “for developing the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program, which will help promote legal and safe immigration for Haitian families in the United States.

“There are many constituents in my district and throughout the city that will benefit from this opportunity,” said Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn, on Saturday.

“For too long, our country has closed its doors to immigrants who need our protection or who try to reunite with family members,” added Williams, who is also Deputy Leader of New York City Council and chair of the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee.

“After the Haitian earthquake (on Jan. 12, 2010), many families were torn apart and have yet to be reunited,” he continued. “Though that devastating day happened almost five years ago, there is still so much more our country can do to help Haiti.

“I believe this country owes a lot to Haiti, (which) deserves a lot more than what has actually been given,” Williams said. “It’s my hope that this initiative is the first step in continued efforts to help Haitians, and will bolster broader immigration reform so that all families, no matter what country they’re from, can be reunited without barriers of bureaucracy.”

On Thursday, another New York City Council Member, Dr. Mathieu Eugene, hosted a press conference in lower Manhattan to “honor the HFRP program.”

Eugene, who represents the 40th Council District in Brooklyn, adjacent Williams’, was joined by several elected officials at the federal, state and city levels, as well as community organizations and immigration advocates.

“I am so delighted that an HFRP program will be implemented early next year,” Eugene said. “As someone who has been calling for the creation of an HFRP program for several years, I know that this opportunity will save lives and reunite family members who have been separated for far too long.

“I commend President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security, and the many elected officials, religious leaders and immigration advocates who have played a role in making this momentous day become a reality,” he added.

“I am also very proud that so many of my fellow Council Members joined with me in 2012 to overwhelmingly pass a resolution urging the federal government to create the HFRP program,” Eugene continued. “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.”

Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, who attended the press conference, noted that the HFRP program is “modeled on a bill” that she introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.

“As we celebrate today, let us remember the work of families and children around the United States, especially in Brooklyn, to achieve the reunification of these families,” said Clarke who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn.

“You raised your voices and, finally, the federal government listened,” added Clarke, is a member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Small Business, Ethics, and Homeland Security, where she is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.

“Finally, the husbands who were separated from their wives, and the parents who were separated from the children, will have the opportunity to enter the United States to start their pursuit of the American Dream,” she continued.

In 2011, Clarke and New York junior senator Kirsten Gillibrand wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to implement the program.

“I am 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 reuniting here in the United States,” said Clarke, who represents many neighborhoods in central and southern Brooklyn, including Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Gerritsen Beach, Madison, Midwood, parts of Park Slope and Flatlands, Prospect Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Sheepshead Bay and Windsor Terrace. “The wait must end.”

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