Haitians in the US feel pressure to sponsor friends, family back home

By Brian Ellsworth

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

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

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

“Many people are sadly unable to sponsor family or friends back home, but are getting calls nonstop.”

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 haven’t spoken to in years, community advocates and lawyers said. ‘immigration.

Desperation to leave has grown in Haiti amid a political crisis and a spike in violence that has most recently included a spate of police killings, sparking protests by angry officers who attacked acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s residence.

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 of the asylum seekers are been deported back to Haiti or swiftly deported, despite objections from human rights groups and a US career diplomat who said it was “inhumane” to do so.

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 has opened up the possibility for up to 30,000 migrants from those same countries to enter by air a month by applying for humanitarian “parole”.


The probation program is meant to encourage migrants to travel 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 come to the United States through the program in recent weeks, with thousands more approved for 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 rising costs of living and rising rents, attorneys and lawyers said.

Tammy Rae, an American lawyer working in Haiti, gave a radio interview describing the humanitarian probation program and was subsequently inundated with calls from people looking for a sponsor.

He said his clients described having to sponsor entire extended families and in some cases facing threats.

“It’s true that this is a program that will bring families together,” 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 manages the program, did not respond to a request for comment.

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

“People will say ‘I have more than one cousin I’d like to sponsor, I can only sponsor one,'” said Jozef. “And that creates a big problem because how do you choose which one to sponsor?” He also opposes the expulsions of Haitians and other migrants arriving at the southwestern border, many of whom are seeking asylum in the United States.

Jozef said immigrant advocates had long campaigned for measures such as humanitarian probation, but said the program should not be linked to the systematic deportation or expulsion of asylum-seeking immigrants.

“Unfortunately, it’s linked to a lot of bad policies. It’s being used to literally dissuade 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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