Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Problems with the Humanitarian Parole Program and its Impact on Haitian Migrants

Guest blogger: Ramya Sinha, law student, University of San Francisco

In January of 2023, President Biden announced the Humanitarian Parole Program which allows up to 30,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to be admitted into the US each month for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit on a case-by-case basis. Under the program, migrants are required to complete an online application in their home country, purchase a plane ticket to the US, undergo rigorous background and security checks, enter through a legitimate port of entry, have a fiscal sponsor who will support them for two years, and have not attempted an illegal crossing after January 5, 2023. The new program is aimed at reducing the number of people crossing outside of an official port of entry without a visa status due to the increase in illegal border crossings that occurred in 2022 from people from Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The program applies steep consequences to anyone who does not follow the program requirements and tries to cross illegally. Anyone who crosses without having a financial sponsor and background checks as required by the program will automatically be disqualified for the program, even if a migrant is from an eligible country of origin and meets the standards. The migrants who cross illegally are authorized to be rapidly expelled to Mexico or their country of origin under the Title 8 statute which states that anyone who illegally crosses the border will be presumed ineligible for asylum and subject to steeper consequences for unlawful entry, including a minimum five-year ban on re-entry and potential criminal prosecution.uH

            Although the new program provides individuals who are experiencing crises another legal avenue for entering the US, the program has issues, as it presents many barriers for highly vulnerable individuals who need to come to the US but may not meet all the requirements. First, Biden’s parole program inherently favors people who are middle-class or those who have the resources to purchase a plane ticket. Many of these people are facing intense economic and political turmoil which greatly reduces their ability to find decent-paying jobs and have monetary stability. It is unreasonable to expect these individuals to have enough money to purchase a plane ticket when their home countries are experiencing extreme economic and political instability which greatly impacts their ability to build wealth and resources.

Second, the program requires each applicant to have a fiscal sponsor who can financially support them during the two-year period. The fiscal sponsor can be the applicant themselves or a third party, and the sponsor does not have to be a US citizen, but if the sponsor is a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, then they will be seen as more readily available to establish their ability to support. Many migrants who must leave their home countries due to violence, economic instability, and political repression, oftentimes do not have family members or friends who have enough resources to financially support them, which is why they are forced to leave their homes in the first place to find a better life for themselves and their families. It is incredibly senseless to expect these folks to have people in their lives at their immediate disposal who also have enough resources to financially support them for two years. Even if they do have family or friends who have the resources to sponsor them, their ability to obtain parole under this program should not be contingent upon them having someone in their lives who has enough wealth to be able to pay for them. This financial sponsor requirement places a barrier on people that requires them to have a certain amount of wealth or know someone who does, which in turn prevents hundreds of people from being eligible for this program all because of a lack of access to resources.

In addition, the program requires people to first apply online in their home countries before coming to the US. This requirement may sound reasonable, but many of these individuals who come from incredibly poor countries do not have steady access to WIFI or computers or may not have any access at all. As a daughter of a Haitian immigrant, I have learned that many of my family members who live in Haiti have very limited access to WIFI and smartphones or devices that allow them to access the web. My family members typically must travel long distances during the day to go to a café that might have WIFI access for purchase, although WIFI is never free and guaranteed like it is in the US at a typical Starbucks or local café. Even if they do find a café, they must have money to purchase WIFI and must already be in possession of a smartphone, tablet, or computer to complete the application which is not easy to obtain, especially with few to no resources.

Lastly, the main problem with this program is that it does not offer a long-term solution for these people to stay in the US. Instead, the program was enacted to offer only temporary relief to these people whose pain, suffering, and turmoil are far from temporary. Haitians, in particular, are unfairly impacted by the program’s limited time frame and unreasonable requirements due to the US government’s historical role in causing Haiti's economic and political problems. For decades, the US government has played an important role in shaping Haiti's economic and political activity. Historically, the US has negatively impacted Haiti in many ways such as: refusing to recognize Haitian independence for sixty years after Haiti declared its independence from France; sending the United States Marine Corps to invade Haiti in 1915 which played a large role in shaping the nation’s national army which is infamous for its undemocratic coups and violations of human rights; sending US military to occupy Haiti from 1994-1997 to “establish peace” which only brought more violence, death, and uprisings due to the US taking control over Haiti’s security and finances, imposing racial segregation, forced labor, press censorship, and deposing presidents and legislatures who opposed the U.S. presence; establishing foreign aid policies such as food aids which are heavily subsidized by the US government so that it solely benefits American farmers which has driven prices down in Haitian markets resulting in Haitian farmers having to give up their farms and move into slum neighborhoods; and even the US government supplying lethal guns and weapons to gang members and anti-government political groups in Haiti to ensure continuous violence, economic instability and political uprisings in the country.

These examples demonstrate only a small handful of ways in which the US has controlled and oppressed Haiti throughout history. Because the US has played a major role in creating and upholding the country’s continuous and long-standing instability, it is unfair for the US to offer Haitians an immigration program that only provides temporary relief based on the program’s inherent presumption that the humanitarian issues these Haitian migrants are facing will eventually end and they can all simply go back to Haiti at that time. This inherent belief in the program is erroneous and it disproportionately impacts Haitians because if the US is the main culprit for Haiti’s instability, then the conditions in Haiti will never end until the US decides to take accountability and create measures that will genuinely bring in wealth, reparations, and resources that won’t be continuously exploited by the US and other countries. Unfortunately, the US may never take accountability and sadly Haitian migrants will continue to be faced with a double edge sword of needing to flee the country due to the horrible conditions, but then being sent back to their country after the two-year limit all because the US recognizes the centuries of turmoil in Haiti as only “temporary.” Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and Haitian migrants make up some of the most vulnerable people who desperately need more wealth, resources, and opportunities. Despite this, Haitians frequently deal with large amounts of racism and are disproportionately denied asylum, humanitarian visas, and other types of visas as compared to people from other Latin American countries, solely due to widespread anti-Blackness.

My hope is that immigrant rights advocates and attorneys will continue working hard to advocate for programs that will give people the opportunity to stay in the US long-term; so many vulnerable people who should have the ability to come to the US and stay are denied the opportunity because of classist and oppressive requirements. We all must do the work to continue to hold those accountable who deny people admission into the US solely because of their dark skin, and we cannot stop until everyone is treated with respect, fairness, and dignity because that is what all humans deserve.



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