US to begin long-awaited Reunification program for Haitian families

After years of lobbying by Haitian leaders and activists, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has finally agreed to launch an official effort to reunify Haitian families displaced by the catastrophic earthquake of Jan. 2010. In a statement sent to the Reporter this morning, the department says that the Haitian Family Reunification Parole (HFRP) Program will begin in spring 2015.

The program will "expedite family reunification for certain eligible Haitian family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. and to promote safe, legal and orderly migration from Haiti to the United States."

The program will impact "eligible Haitian beneficiaries" in Haiti who have been pre-approved for family-based visas. They will be allowed entry to the United States "up to approximately two years before their immigrant visa priority dates become current," according to the Homeland Security department.

In announcing the program, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas emphasized that Haitian migrants should not attempt to come to the Unites States before the program begins.

"The United States strongly discourages individuals in Haiti from undertaking life-threatening and illegal maritime journeys to the United States," said Mayorkas. "Such individuals will not qualify for the HFRP program and if located at sea may be returned to Haiti."

In a statement, Mayorkas added: "The rebuilding and development of a safe and economically strong Haiti is a priority for the United States. The Haitian Family Reunification Parole program promotes a fundamental underlying goal of our immigration system - family reunification. It also supports broader U.S. goals for Haiti's reconstruction and development by providing the opportunity for certain eligible Haitians to safely and legally immigrate sooner to the United States."

The program is modeled on a parole program instituted for Cuban nationals in 2007. It comes after many calls from Haitian-American elected officials and their allies in Congress.

Mayorkas said that full details of the program will be made public "before the end of this calendar year." Only individuals who receive a written notice of program eligibility from the Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC) will be eligible to apply.